The Strength of the Mother/Child Attachment

Take an in-depth look at the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship.
Table of contents

The Strength of the Mother/Child Attachment

Building Blocks

Bonding is the attachment mothers rapidly form with their infants after birth. It is a positive emotional attachment that stimulates desire for rewarding interaction, initiates lactation, and changes the psychological state of a mother.

Babies do not come into the world with a blank mind as people believed in the 1940s, says Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California and author of Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection (Pantheon Books, 1999). Hrdy says infants are, in fact, programmed to reach out for warmth and closeness.

It is widely accepted that human infants enter the world with a need for a primary attachment to a human figure, most notably the mother. The German psychologist John Bowlby introduced the concept of Environment and Evolutionary Adaptation. His ideas help explain why infants became attached to mothers—notably physical contact with their mother's skin, stomach, heartbeat, body heat, smell, and movement. By flailing their arms and crying looking for comfort, infants could achieve what Bowlby called "the set-goal of proximity to mother." This proximity then made them feel sufficiently secure.

Bonding, the Contemporary Version of Attachment

Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., author of The New Don't Blame Mother (Routledge, 2000) espouses another opinion on attachment and does not believe that mothers innately bond with or love their child immediately after childbirth. Rather bonding occurs sometime after birth.

While theories go in and out of vogue, as is evidenced by a thorough reading of the collective information on motherhood, so do practices that are spawned from these new ideas. Today in delivery or post-delivery rooms a nurse is likely to place the child (once the infant is cleaned off) on top of the mother, explaining that she needs time to bond with her offspring. In turn the child is supposedly introduced to his or her mother's scent.

Not all pairs of mothers and daughters have had this post-birth experience. But do not panic! Studies show that if mother and child did not have the opportunity to "bond" immediately after childbirth, there are no ill consequences.

Emotional Development, the Value of Attachment

Feeling the attachment of a child isn't just something that makes mama feel good. There is a real purpose for it in terms of the child's development. And, in fact, attachment is not solely focused on mothers. The attachment that encourages healthy emotional development can be for multiple caregivers.

Woman to Woman

Moms, this ought to make you feel better about leaving the nest for work or play. According to Hrdy, "A securely attached infant is an infant secure about his world in general, present and future. A secure infant is far more comfortable, even in his mother's absence, than an infant in doubt about his mother's commitment."

Secure attachments are created from reliable, consistent, and pleasurable patterns for comfort that are fixed in a baby's brain through smell, touch, and sound, explains Kyle D. Pruett, M.D., psychiatrist at the Yale Child Study Center.

Kids who form secure attachments exhibit more self-control and ability to self-regulate emotions later in life. Furthermore, children who achieve attachment to at least one caregiver feel more secure and are more comfortable venturing out into the world and exploring it.

Attachment, Mother-Daughter Style

Those who have studied this complex relationship under a microscope say that mothers readily identify with children of the same sex and consciously or unconsciously expect their daughters to become replicas of themselves. This includes values, tastes, and lifestyles. Caplan warns us not to get carried away with this concept and its ramifications. It seems too much of this has already been done and has fueled the notion of "mother blame."