Sharanya Misra

Parenting

Building A Secure Attachment With My Baby

March 04, 2023, By Sharanya Misra

Did you know that everything we do in our child’s first year could be a great opportunity to build a Secure Attachment with them? Here’s how I followed my instincts and realized this is real Science!

It was around the time that my baby was 7-8 months old, when a close friend brought my attention to a peculiar parenting behaviour of mine. She (a new mother herself) was over for lunch and saw me running to soothe my baby each time she stirred or cried in sleep. The third time this happened (my baby is a very light sleeper), she finally asked me – “Why the need to rush each time? What’s the hurry even if she does cry?”.

The question took me unawares. I fumbled and stuttered. She may fall off the bed. Her sleep may get disturbed and she would wake up cranky. I couldn’t convince myself, or her, with my responses. The question remained a gnawing thought in my mind for a long, long time. And while I continued to rush for my baby’s cries, I questioned it each time – Was I ‘spoiling’ her by being so overly responsive? Why did I have this urge to run to her?

Did you know that parents, mothers in particular, are biologically wired to respond to their baby’s cries with a sense of extreme urgency? The heightened levels of Oxytocin in a mother’s brain chemically changes the way we respond to auditory signals.

So there, I had found my answer. I wasn’t being a paranoid mother – I was just responding to the chemicals in my brain! But have you ever wondered, why this need biologically for a parent to be so protective, to urgently respond to their child’s cries? Why do we feel so restless and uncomfortable listening to our babies sob? Surely there must be something a child must be gaining from this urgency, this response from their caregivers. There is. Psychologist Erik Erikson calls this the “Trust Vs Mistrust” stage of PsychoSocial Development.

Babies have an innate need to be heard, to be responded to. Just imagine yourself being a tiny creature with basic needs of food and love, yet with absolutely no way to communicate those needs verbally or to do them yourself. How helpless would you feel? All you could possibly do is CRY out for help. But imagine now that your caregiver does not respond to your cry.

The reasons could be manifold. He has just had his milk, he can’t be hungry again. He’s just calling for attention. Lifting him again and again would spoil him. Let him cry it out, it’s high time he learnt we can’t always be around. Whatever may be the reason, the result – The baby internalises that his needs are not important enough. Sure, you will find the baby cries lesser and lesser eventually. But not because he learns to self soothe. It’s because he no longer believes anyone cares enough to soothe him. Just imagine. A tiny being, already internalising such damaging beliefs. My heart breaks even thinking about it.

Looking back though, I had no knowledge of any of this Science, I didn’t know what Secure Attachment was. Without realising that my actions had any biological or psychological references at all, I simply chose to go with my instincts all through my baby’s 1st year.

  • I accepted that I had a strong urge to calm my baby down, to let her know that she was THE PRIORITY for us, to make her feel safe and to make her comfortable no matter how uncomfortable it made me.
  • I strongly believed and reminded myself often that bringing our child to this world was our CHOICE and now that she was here, it was our RESPONSIBILITY to nurture her in every way possible.
  • I changed my sleep pattern to match hers. I had realised she slept best when I stayed with her throughout, her head close enough to my chest to hear my heartbeats. That meant sleeping with her at 7 PM and waking up at 6 AM, not to mention being with her through MANY naps during the day. I did it.
  • I often spent most of my mornings completely devoted to her coos and cries. I would wait for my husband to return from work to even make myself a cup of tea or take a quick shower.
  • I held her close, kissed her often and rocked her to sleep.
  • I gave her looong massages. I absolutely loved looking into her eyes and chatting with her. I didn’t want any maid to do it, no acrobatics with my child, no matter how many generations we believed it from. My gentle touch was enough for her.
  • I immediately soothed her when she cried. I refused to question why she was crying for the umpteenth time (or forced myself to overlook it grinding my teeth!!), and picked her up to calm her.
  • I would sometimes spend hours with her on my lap, unable to move lest she woke up, reading ebooks on Kindle.
  • As she grew up a little, I was always close by for every fall, for every food tantrum, for every inexplicable cry…I just made sure when she needed me, I was there for her.

Now let there be no mistaking. It was NOT easy.

  • I didn’t have much time for myself or for family and friends.
  • At one point, this meant I hardly spent any time with some of our closest friends who were visiting the UK. By the time they would return from sightseeing at 8 PM, I would already be in bed with my little one.
  • I was advised by many to not make her this attached to me. Put her down and go about the house, they would say! She will get used to your lap, they would say. Let her cry, she will learn, they said.
  • But I knew that I had what she craved – my bodily warmth, my comforting presence, my soothing voice – and it was my JOB to give her to her. I knew that this time with friends and family (and for myself too) could come again, but not the time with my newborn. I owed it to her to give her my all!
  • It was a matter of one year, and I would give it to her with no compromise. And so, for one year, I chose to go with my instincts, no matter the many warnings I received, and made myself unconditionally available, physically and emotionally, for my child.

Little was I aware that as a result of these thoughts, I had embarked on the journey of building a secure attachment bond with my child. But not without fear. I constantly worried – would my child grow up overly dependent on me?

She didn’t. 😊 She has grown up extremely attached with me. But also, an extremely independent child in every sphere!

  • No, she did not get used to my lap! She comfortably began to sleep on the bed when she felt she was ready.
  • No, she didn’t need to always be rocked to sleep. She began sleeping to stories soon enough.
  • No, she doesn’t always need me to calm her down when she falls, she rubs her wound and says ‘I’m fine, Mommy!’
  • No, she doesn’t cry all the time today just because she found me responding to her cries as a baby.
  • And no, she doesn’t throw tantrums all the times or behave like a ‘spoiled’ child. She’s just a regular child (as EVERY child is!), having her moments with every emotion.

So how did this happen? Based on what we are often told, my constant presence for my baby should have spoiled her, making her rely completely on my presence, my immediate response to her falling down and hurting herself should have robbed her completely of any capacity to learn to calm herself down. But she does it today anyways. How? The answer lies in Attachment Science.

John Bowlby’s attachment science talks of Secure Attachment Bonds.

When our needs are met during childhood, we develop what are called secure attachment bonds with our caregivers. The satisfaction of having someone around to take care of their needs all the time, puts babies at ease, gets them to focus less on their core needs, and more on their developmental ones. When they begin to trust that their caregivers have their backs, babies can dedicate their minds to learning to turn over or crawl and explore…they are no longer held back by fear. The more we soothe them as babies, the more they learn to soothe themselves as they grow up. How will they learn to calm themselves down if we don’t show them in the first place? So much of parenting lies in modelling! Isn’t it amazing that the same kid we are worried would be over-dependent, actually grows into high independence when the base attachment is one of love and trust. It isn’t much to fathom actually. Just close your eyes and imagine yourself all alone in the world, vs with the one person you trust most – ready to have your back. While one makes you feel anxious, the other lets you breathe in confidence and peace. In the end, no matter the Science, truly all it takes is empathy!

So for all the new parents out there, here is my advise for the first year of your baby’s life :

  1. Follow your biological instincts.
  2. Be there unconditionally for your child.
  3. This is the most wonderful opportunity to forge a beautiful bond, a secure attachment, with your little one, don’t let anyone (including yourself) stop you from doing it!
  4. Don’t listen to voices blindly, back then people had no way of researching parenting ideologies, today we do.

I would like to end this long article though with some cautions:

  1. Being constantly available for your baby can be EXHAUSTING. Make sure you balance the art of connecting with your child while also focussing on yourself. Take turns as parents, or with other caregivers and make sure you give yourself breathing space too.
  2. Unconditional responses to your BABY cannot be continued into toddlerhood too. I mean by this, that as the child grows, the parenting strategy needs to change too. Secure Attachment must still be maintained, but not by becoming Helicopter or Permissive Parents. Children need space and autonomy as they grow.
  3. While a lot of my experience above is as a mother who constantly breastfed her child, fathers or other significant caregivers too CAN find ways to build this secure attachment with the baby. Breastfeeding need not stop a caregiver from bonding with the child. Baby wearing, massages, bath time, bed time, co-sleeping can be great opportunities for non-breastfeeding parent to connect with the child too. All it needs is the will to connect and empathise with your child!

Read more of my Parenting Articles Here.

Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash

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