Pearls of Wisdom: Parental Attachment

Bonding between a parent and a healthy baby begins right after birth, but there is a fine distinction between a strong, nourishing connection and unhealthy attachment. It’s a natural instinct for mom to seek ways of comforting her crying and fussy baby by cuddling, caressing, kissing and rocking. Both parents offer security and warmth to this new, but almost instant closeness; especially true with a mother-infant relationship. That bond will eventually have a profound impact on how this tiny human being functions in the world.

A baby communicates by cooing, smiling, gesturing, crying, and moving his body. When his needs are met by his mother and father, he feels safe, wanted and worthy. A stable parental-child relationship sets the foundation for the establishment of healthy circuitry in his brain which can impact his language skills as well as his emotional and social development as he matures.

Unfortunately, attachments between parents and infants are not all perfect. Some parents are apathetic to their baby’s needs to the point where neglect is a very real issue. Whether it’s because they’ve read that newborns must “cry it out,” or because other family members warn that holding a newborn too much is “spoiling” the baby, many new parents avoid consistent responses to a newborn’s cries.  But a lack of nurturing, even in an otherwise stable home environment, will have a negative impact on a baby’s healthy maturation. Even parents who respond inconsistently to baby’s cries reinforce this behavior, sending signals to the baby to scream harder and louder. Parents worry about over-coddling their little one and sometimes ignore their baby’s screaming, but in doing so, fail to understand that babies do not know how to manipulate or test them on purpose.

Many decades of pediatric research have shown that babies develop socially, mentally and emotionally in direct relation to the parents’ responsiveness and sensitivity. Oftentimes, parents who failed to provide a comforting and secure base are linked to insecurity and even aggression in young children. Studies suggest that these aggressive tendencies can affect their social interactions with family and friends as well as their academic performance later in life. Babies whose needs were ignored early on habitually experience delays in speech and emotional maturation.

A securely attached child seeks mom’s reassurance, receives it, and then calmly returns to their activities even in an unfamiliar setting or in the presence of strangers. Children who spend a good deal of time with non-maternal childcare showed little impact on parental attachment as long as the mother’s responsiveness and sensitivity are at a reasonably attentive level. Quality not quantity of time spent with your child is what matters most, which is notably helpful and positive for working moms.

Parenting is never a simple, made to order skill. To complicate things further, moms and dads are saturated with information about parenting fads, they often get pressure from grandparents, and receive a great amount of advice from “experts.” Parents must develop their own bonding and attachment with their child by relying more on their good judgment and intuition. Every family works it out uniquely and differently. The secret to healthy parenting is to give babies a secure foundation so they can venture out in the world, explore their environment, face obstacles and challenges, overcome these tests and then make gratifying developmental breakthroughs on their own.


All information contained in this blog and on our web site(s) should be independently verified by you by a medical professional of your own choosing and you should always conduct your own research and due diligence before making any decision related to the subject matter of this blog or our web site. 


Dr. Pearl


Dr. Pearl Cenon

A pediatrician in private practice in New Jersey for over 15 years, Dr. Cenon (we like to call her Dr. Pearl) also has two children of her own. Dr. Pearl’s husband, Kevin McDonough is also a pediatrician and they work together. She writes basic posts about topics that interest many parents, from skin care and nutrition to seasonal issues, such as allergies and colds. Her kind, approachable tone in each blog post will have you looking forward to the next one.