BabyGym®, Bonding and the Attachment Theory

Spesifieke Voordele van Daaglikse Beweging vir Ouer Volwassenes
October 29, 2018
Learning ready, school ready
November 30, 2018

Sonja Basson and Cozette Laubser

Over the last few years, I have observed how many new mothers struggle to bond with their babies. I see this when there is no or very little eye contact between mom and baby or when mom is reluctant to massage baby. Some moms find it very difficult to talk to their baby and other moms prefer to stick to the checklist of feeding, burping, bathing, and sleeping in a robotic manner with very little emotional interaction.

Life is rushed and due to the current economic climate moms need to return to work even sooner. Most of us long for a happy close-knit family, but the reality seems so different.

This article aims to provide information about bonding and attachment, as well as tools on how to bond with your little one if things didn’t go according to plan.

It is okay if bonding with your baby did not happen spontaneously for you, motherhood is a roller-coaster ride and no two rides are the same. It is never too late to bond with your baby or toddler. BabyGym will guide you mommy, to fall in love with your little one!

Where do we start?

Dr Melodie de Jager, the founder of BabyGym says: “You need to spend time with your baby to get to know him and to learn to understand what he is saying. You need to spend time making eye contact and discovering his little body while you bathe, dress, massage and feed him. You, Mom, also need time to eat and to relax in order to ensure that your body and the milk you are producing stays healthy and free of stress hormones. You need time to rock your baby and talk to him. You need time to put him down in a safe and healthy environment free of smoke, noise and flickering lights so that he can rest while you take time to relax. A mom is a baby’s place of safety. Baby bonds with mom through her soothing voice, smell and touch”.

Dr de Jager continues to say “the most natural way to relax mom and baby is to unwrap baby and place him skin on skin on mom’s chest. Mom’s warm chest is the safest place on earth. Mom’s smell, her body rhythm and her soothing voice have an immediate calming effect on baby, allowing the stress hormones to dissolve.”

Late Edward John Mostyn Bowlby, was a British psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst, notable for his interest in child development and for his pioneering work in attachment theory. Bowlby refers to mother and child bonding as attachment. In his book, A Secure Base, he defines attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” Attachment is not just a connection between two people; it is a bond that involves a desire for regular contact with that person. The earliest attachments we form are with parents and caregivers. These early attachments with caregivers serve to keep an infant safe and secure, thus ensuring the child’s survival.

In BabyGym we learn that people adapt or learn because they need to survive. A newborn is helpless and relies completely on the care of their mother to adjust to this new life – life outside the womb. It is for this reason that BabyGym encourages skin contact, eye contact and dialogue between mother and baby- these are all bonding tools that translate into survival tools. If baby can attach to mom, baby can also grow, develop and flourish in this challenging world. 

Bowlby suggests that there are critical characteristics of attachment

  • We have the desire to be near those with which we share an attachment because it creates a safe place.
  • Attachment figures also offer a secure base, allowing a baby or toddler to feel confident and secure which gives them the freedom to explore the world while knowing they can still return to the safety of their mommy, the attachment figure.
  • The reason why babies and children become upset when their parents leave them in the care of others is because they might experience separation anxiety.

Why is attachment important?

According to Paul McLean’s Triune Brain Theory, the window of opportunity for emotional development is more or less from 14 months to 3 years. Social development follows after emotional development at approximately 3-4 years of age. From McLean’s theory one can derive that a child is dependent on an available and caring parent or caregiver to attach and feel safe during the first 3 years of life. Especially in the time frame when the emotional brain develops at an accelerated rate. If a mommy and baby, and later a toddler, have bonded (attached well), that child has a secure base from where confidence and social skills, like making friends, can develop.

Researchers including Ainsworth, Bowlby, Main and Solomon suggest that how a child is attached to his or her parent can have a major influence both during childhood and later in life. In other words the relationship between mother and baby writes the recipe for all future relationships. If mother, father and baby bonded spontaneously and well the chances are very good that that baby will grow up to be an individual who seeks interaction and makes friends. Our relational experiences in childhood provide a blueprint for our relationships throughout life – parenting, friendship, adulthood and even marriage.

While forming a secure attachment with parents is normal and expected, as Hazen and Shaver have noted, it doesn’t always happen. Researchers have found a number of different factors that contribute to the development (or lack thereof) of secure attachment, particularly a mother’s responsiveness to her infant’s needs during the first year of a child’s life. The research found that mothers who respond inconsistently (or who constantly interfere with the child’s activities) tend to produce infants who explore less, cry more, and are more anxious. And mothers who consistently reject or ignore their infant’s needs, tend to raise children who try to avoid contact altogether.

The opposite is also true, mothers who acknowledge their children, take interest in them, allow them to explore, initiate their own games and activities – these mothers raise children who are happy, self-assured and emotionally and socially secure children. 

A study by Harry Harlow on rhesus monkeys

This study confirms that massage, physical touch, and skin-to-skin contact is pivotal in bonding and mother-baby comfort. Here follows a summary from his study:

A well-known experiment was conducted by Harlow and Zimmerman in 1959, which showed that developing a close bond does not depend entirely on hunger satisfaction.  They conducted an experiment with rhesus monkeys where the babies were separated from their natural mothers and reared by surrogates. There where two groups of surrogates, terry cloth covered “mothers” and wire mesh “mothers”; but only the wire mesh “mothers” had a feeding bottle attached to them.  Even though the wire mesh “mothers” were able to take care of the hunger needs of the babies, the babies still preferred the cloth wire “mothers” for the softness and comfort they provided.

Can BabyGym facilitate bonding between mother and baby?

YES!

The BabyGym 1 programme educates expectant parents on birth choices and explores how the natural birth process will prepare the baby to welcome touch after birth. When a baby’s skin is receptive to touch the baby is more likely to latch and breastfeed spontaneously after birth. This boosts mother-baby interaction. A baby who had a difficult pregnancy and birth and who was not exposed to deep pressure contractions during the birth process might withdraw from touch and resist being hold and cradled. To some mothers this might feel like instant rejection! But the good news is that the withdrawal action can be overcome by deep pressure massage. Massage once a day will herald great results!

The BabyGym 2 programme shares with parents how the sense of smell can be used to facilitate the bonding process. For 9 months the baby smelled mom in utero, and while the eyes and ears adjust to life outside the womb, baby primarily relies on the sense of smell to locate his or her mommy. That is also why skin-to-skin contact and kangaroo-mother-care is encouraged straight after birth.

The sense of smell is also a strong emotional anchor and can be used to combat separation anxiety. It can be used in a variety of ways to create a sense of emotional safety and security, even when mom needs to be separated from baby at times. For instance, if a baby needs to sleep out or spend some time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), far from the familiarity of moms touch and smell, mom can wrap baby in her ‘slept in’ night gown or shirt. When baby is surrounded by mom’s natural smell, baby perceives mom to be in close proximity. A relaxed and content baby will feed better and sleep better, which will also improve the baby’s immunity, which has another positive effect – it will shorten the hospital stay.

I tried to teach my child with books, he gave me only puzzled looks. I used clear words to discipline, but I never seemed to win. Despairingly, I turned aside, “How shall I reach this child?” I cried. Into my hand he put the key: “Come,” he said, “Play with me” – Adapted by Aletha Solter

 

De Jager, M. 2009. BabyGym Brain and Body Gym for Babies. Welgemoed: Metz Press.

De Jager, M. 2011. Brain development MILESTONES & learning. Johannesburg: Mind Moves Institute.

John Bowlby, 1988, A Secure Base.

De Jager, M. 2011. BabyGym1 Instructors’ Manual. Johannesburg: BabyGym Institute.

Harlow, HF & Zimmermann, RR, 1958.  The development of affective responsiveness in infant monkeys.