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Q: infant-family bonding ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: infant-family bonding
Category: Reference, Education and News > Education
Asked by: jolly-ga
List Price: $150.00
Posted: 29 Jun 2002 01:26 PDT
Expires: 29 Jul 2002 01:26 PDT
Question ID: 34806
Discuss, with research references, how infant-family bonding develops.
Identify important factors that facilitate or interfere with the
development of appropriate bonding. How will bonding be affected for
infants born (a)premature (b)with visual and/or hearing problems? What
suggestions do you have for the parents of these children to
facilitate bonding?
Subject: Re: infant-family bonding
Answered By: rhansenne-ga on 29 Jun 2002 03:13 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi jolly-ga,

There are many articles on the net covering the infant-parent bonding
process, so I tried to make a compilation of the ones I believe you
will find most interesting:

"In the first month of life, an infant experiences herself as one with
the surrounding environment. The basic developmental task is for an
infant to achieve a physiological balance and rhythm. This balance
evolves out of numerous completions of the infant bonding cycle and
prepares the way for bonding and attachment.

From months 2 to 6, an infant’s experience shifts from feeling merged
with her environment to feeling "one" with the parent. There now
appear a number of signs of an infant’s developing attachment to his
primary caretaker: smiling, making eye contact which expands from a
few seconds to a few minutes during this period, a preoccupation with
the parent’s face and making happy noises. By the sixth month, an
attaching infant is showing the full range of emotions, is responsive
to parental wooing and initiates wooing exchanges.

By 6 or 7 months, an infant has usually begun to experience stranger
anxiety. Paradoxically, stranger anxiety testifies to the strength of
an infant’s attachment to her parent. It is this attachment that
defines everyone else as strangers. Without an attachment, there are
no strangers; everyone is of equal emotional importance or
unimportance. Behaviorally, this anxiety manifests as distress in the
presence of strangers and a checking back in with the parent for
reassurance. Over the next two to three months, stranger anxiety
intensifies before fading into its successor: separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety usually begins at 9 to 10 months, peaks between 12
and 15 months, and can last until somewhere between 24 and 36 months.
Separation anxiety emerges from the infant’s growing awareness of
separateness from her parent. It is yet further testimony to the
strength of the infant’s attachment."

Excerpt from "Bonding and attachment, when it goes right", from the
Washington Parent Magazine:

"The regulation of emotion in the brain first occurs during
mother-infant mutual gaze dialogues. The regulation and organization
of an infant's emotional perceptions continue to develop through
ongoing interaction with its mother or primary caregiver.

Research has shown that a mother who is pleasantly responsive to the
infant through early eye contact is stimulating positive social
learning. In contrast, a mother who is not responsive to that early
eye contact isn't providing a positive social learning experience and
is hindering the human attachment process, which is critical to
healthy emotional growth.

Similar social learning opportunities occur when an infant attempts to
communicate through its cries. Crying may be spurred because the
infant is hungry, in pain, uncomfortable or frightened. Often upon
waking, an infant will begin to signal to its caregiver with soft
whimpering, which eventually accelerates into frantic crying if it
receives no response.

Sometimes crying is misconstrued as an idealized expression of anger
or manipulation. Yet, such distressed crying in a young infant might
better be described as a fear response. A fear invoked by the
uncomfortable feeling of being soiled, the rumbling of stomach pains,
or the vulnerability of being alone in the dark.

Crying infants who are unattended have been known to cry desperately
for an hour or more until the amygdala eventually shuts down. The
infant in turn, learns after repeated episodes that it can not expect
comfort and response to its cries, and it may decide its needs are
unworthy of attention and nurturing--a decision which may ultimately
affect the infant's development of self-worth and connectedness to the

Please find the full article on "The emotional Infant brain", by Lynn
M. Johnson, on this page:

Information on premature babies and the bonding process:

When a baby is born prematurely, many mothers and fathers worry about
the lack of opportunity to have "bonding experiences".

While "full term bonding" involves picking out baby bunny wallpaper
for the nursery and snuggling with the baby after delivery, "preterm
bonding" can involve walls lined with blaring monitors and being
afraid to touch the baby for days after delivery. Nevertheless, the
tenants of bonding that hold true for full term parents also hold true
for preterm parents: Bonding is a process that occurs over time,
bonding has peak moments, and bonding is flexible, dynamic and

It is very important for you to remember that bonding is what happens
over time as you get to know your baby. You are not missing out on a
critical period for bonding when you miss the last part of your
pregnancy, or when you can’t hold your slippery newborn against your
body. When your baby is in the NICU, you’re not "missing the boat" and
if you feel detached, you are not a "bad" parent. While feelings of
detachment can look and feel like you don’t care about or feel
anything for your baby, in fact, your detachment is an important
feature of how you cope with the trauma of premature delivery. There
is no way your mind can absorb all that has happened, the vast changes
in plans, and the future implications of this turn of events. You need
time to adjust to this new reality, time to learn how to navigate your
new world, and time to emotionally come to terms with it all. If you
find yourself avoiding the NICU and/or your baby, particularly early
on, this is a normal and natural reaction to the stress and trauma of
having an early, medically compromised baby. Feelings of detachment
don’t mean you’re an unfit mother or father. It means you are a new
parent adjusting to a new baby and to a different situation than you
were prepared for.

Bonding during pregnancy doesn’t have to include knitting booties,
preparing the nursery, stroking your big belly and childbirth classes.
Bonding after birth doesn’t have to include snuggling, feeding,
cooing, and smiles. While these activities can be evidence that
bonding is occurring, they are not mandatory. You may still not be
able to knit, nest, or nuzzle, but by simply wanting what is best for
your baby, you are bonding.

A lot more on premature babies and bonding can be found on "BONDING IN
THE NICU AND BEYOND", Mara Tesler Stein, Psy.D. and Deborah L. Davis,

"The premature infant is often not physically ready to adapt to the
world outside of the uterus. Less fat to insulate the body leaves baby
less able to keep warm. There may be a lack of immunity to infection
and muscular strength necessary to expand the lungs for breathing. The
capillary network of the lungs may also be inadequate to provide
sufficient exchange of respiratory gases. Therefore, baby is placed in
an incubator as soon as possible, and in many cases given oxygen.

Until the eighties, the theory was that preemies were better off left
undisturbed in the incubator with minimal handling. Needless to say,
my mother was kept from touching or holding me. In fact, she wasn't
even allowed in the same room with me, but was merely allowed to peer
at me through a glass window...

When it comes to growth and development of preemies, doctors typically
evaluate an infant's progress according to an adjusted age. To
calculate this adjusted age, subtract the number of weeks or months
between your baby's birthdate and his due date. For example, if your
baby is now 5 months old and he was born 2 months early, he has an
adjusted age of 3 months. Standard guidelines for accessing growth and
development can generally be used after the second year, unless there
are extenuating medical circumstances. "

From "Preemie Care and Development" from

On the infants senses:

"Although newborn vision isn't particularly impressive, it is
reassuring to know that the other sense modalities are considerably
more advanced. For example, at birth infants will show different
patterns and degrees of body movement depending on what touches them
(e.g., a puff of air directed at their bellies vs. stroking). Their
sense of smell is also reasonably sophisticated; for example, based on
the direction they turn their heads, newborns can distinguish between
the smell of their mothers from that of a stranger. Finally, their
sense of taste is also well developed. Indeed, infants not only prefer
sweet solutions over salty or bitter tasting solutions (based on how
much they eat) but they also prefer some types of sweets over others
(e.g., glucose is preferred over lactose; note, however, that it has
not yet been determined if they prefer bitter-sweet chocolate over
sweet chocolate!).

Although hearing develops somewhat later than these other senses, it
is more sophisticated than vision. For example, in work that is now
widely known, Anthony DeCasper (University of North
Carolina-Greensboro) has demonstrated (based on patterns of sucking
behavior) that newborns just a few hours old are able to recognize
their mother's voice (but not their father's). The basis for this
recognition has been thought to be prenatal experience in hearing the
mother's voice. Note, though, that it is not until about 3 months that
infants will recognize their mother's face. And, it is likely not
until 6 or 7 months that infants begin to think of their mothers as a
very special person in their world (Dads also become "special" about
this age).

Like the newborn's cognitive abilities, the development of social and
emotional behaviors have a relatively long incubation period. Although
newborns do smile, such smiles are generally more of a reflex than a
response to a social situation; social smiling as a rule doesn't occur
until 6 to 8 weeks. Similarly, although newborns might be able to tell
the difference between a smiling face and a sad face, they have no
idea what these faces mean to humans. This latter ability may not
begin to develop until closer to the first year of life, and likely
undergoes further development over the next 1 to 2 years . Their own
production of emotion is also limited; emotions that adults interpret
as excitement and/or joy are frequently seen, but more differentiated
emotions like "afraid" or "angry" or "sad" develop later in the first

The long-term effects of the attachment-relationship:

"Interesting differences exist between children who had secure versus
anxious attachments. Children with secure early attachments are more
likely in later years to:

- be better problem-solvers 
- form friendships and be leaders with peers 
- be more empathetic and less aggressive 
- engage their world with confidence 
- have higher self-esteem 
- be better at resolving conflict 
- be more self-reliant and adaptable 

In contrast, children with anxious attachments are more likely in
later years to:

- be socially withdrawn from peers 
- be overly dependent on adults (e.g., teachers) 
- have lower self-confidence 
- victimize or be victimized by peers 
- form fewer friendships 
- be less emotionally healthy "

A lot more research and articles can be found on "Attachment and
Bonding", University of Minnesota

On infants with vision and hearing impairments:

"In early interaction, bodily contact is central during the earliest
weeks but then vision is the most important avenue in communication. A
normally sighted infant expresses the joy she or he feels in
communication; we understand the infant without any explanations
(Figure 1.A). A visually impaired infant may not see enough to copy
the smiles of the adult persons and therefore needs enforcement
through tactile and auditory information (Figure 1.B). Since the
visually impaired infant often has to concentrate on listening and
does not have the usual eye contact, the infant is in danger of being
thought to be uninterested in interaction.

The most important task in the assessment of infants is to find out
how much vision there is for visual communication, whether  the infant
uses central vision and thus has a possibility to have normal
eye-contact or uses an extrafoveal area of the retina to look straight
ahead and seems to look past when looking at a persons face and how
close an adult needs to be to be seen by the infant.

Our expectations of the infant's responses are based on interaction
with normally sighted infants and therefore it is difficult to accept
and understand another type of response as a normal response in the
case of visual impairment. The communication situation needs to be
explained to the adult persons several times. Video recordings of
early interaction are effective in demonstrating to the adult persons
that the infant wants to communicate and enjoys interaction.

Early interaction of a normally sighted infant and an infant with dual
sensory impairment (visual and hearing impairment). A. At the age of
three months, visual communication of a normally sighted infant is an
effective bonding function; the infant and the adult person understand
each other right from the start. A visually impaired infant may not
have normal eye contact and may seem to look at the hair of the adult
because of eccentric fixation. The infant uses tactile confirmation of
auditory communication when lip movements cannot be seen. In such a
situation the parents and caretakers need support and training in
early interaction"

From "Vision in Early Development", Lea Hyvärinen, MD

On hearing impairments:

"Every one of our senses plays an important role in early development
hearing certainly leads the way.  Much of early parent/child bonding
has to do with the child’s ability to respond to their parent’s voices
by gurling and cooing.  One of the main reasons an infant desires to
move around and explore the environment is partially because the child
hears something that intrigues them or attracts their attention.  When
a child cries, he or she can hear their parents coming to comfort
them.  The ability of a child having full use of his or her auditory
capacity is seriously linked with early development .  However, when
the sense is not in full operation everything is affected.  It is
extremely important for early identification of hearing loss simply
because the first three years are the most important for speech and
language acquisition.  Skills that may be gained in early intervention
cannot be made as quickly when a child is older.  The main motive for
early identification of hearing impairment in infants speaks about the
consequences of hearing impairment on speech and language acquisition,
academic achievement and social development.  Limiting these harsh
consequences is the main principle of early identification.

Communication difficulties can affect a child’s relationships with
others.  When hearing loss is present, the social development of the
child is greatly affected.  To better deal with possible rejection
from peers, children with hearing disabilities should first be exposed
to early intervention methods.  The feeling of isolation, feeling
lonely without friends and being unhappy in school, during social hour
with normal students is a feeling reported by many children with
serious hearing loss (Effects of Hearing Loss, 1997).  However, these
social problems are more prominent with children who suffer from a
mild form of hearing impairments.  Children with hearing impairment
cannot speak or pronounce certain letters, thus making speech to be
difficult.  Not having the capability to speak clearly makes it
difficult for a child with hearing loss to adapt any type of a social
life.  Usually children with hearing loss do not have the ability of
hearing their own voices when they talk, causing them to speak too
loud or not loud enough (Effects of Hearing Loss, 1997).  Because they
have high-pitched voices it may seem like they are mumbling resulting
in rejection from their peers (Effects of Hearing Loss, 1997). "

"Exceptional Children, by Mimi Fikre

Some more interesting articles on the subject:

Born Too Soon, by Amy E. Tracy

"Care of the Premature Infant", AAFP:

An article on father-newborn bonding:
"Human Attachment and Bonding", by Lynn M. Johnson

"Parents of preemies"

"The Importance of the In-Arms Phase", by Jean Liedloff

"Bonding with your newborn", from

"Bonding and attachment, when it goes awry", from the Washington
Parent Magazine:

"MOTHER-INFANT BONDING", A Scientific Fiction by Diane E. Eyer

Hope this answers your question,

Kind regards,


Search terms used:

"bonding" "infant" "newborn" "parent" "premature" "vision" "hearing"

Request for Answer Clarification by jolly-ga on 29 Jun 2002 04:30 PDT
Great information and resources ! One futher request. Important
factors that interfere with the development of appropriate
bonding.Example would be drug addicted mother.Inability to accept
child with disabilities. I need research references on this. This is
for Master's in early childhood education comprehensive exam question.
Thanks again! I can't believe how fast you got the infor.-jolly

Clarification of Answer by rhansenne-ga on 29 Jun 2002 08:52 PDT
Hi again jolly,

Here are some factors that may interfere with the bonding process
between infant/child and parent:


"Normal hospital events can interfere with bonding by causing
separation. Many procedures which are designed to decrease

perinatal health risks have increased bonding risks. For example,
bonding can be jeopardized when a child is separated

because of illness, when placed in an intensive care nursery, when
placed in an incubator, or when the mother is anesthetized

at delivery. In addition, there are other circumstances which may
reduce the possibility of bonding: when the infant is a

twin or triplet, when the mother is sick, when the child is adopted."


"From these and related studies, the negative consequences of physical
separation at or near birth for both mother and child

seem well established. In addition to physical separation, humans have
a capacity to become emotionally separated. They

suggested that a mother's ability to bond with her child can be
impeded if she is experiencing a competing emotion. Such an

emotion must be so intense that it could block out the bonding
emotions. Such emotions include grief: grief for the death or

loss of someone close, grief following a miscarriage, or the shock of
a divorce or separation."

"Other competing emotions include intense fear, the severe depression,
and extreme marital problems. In addition, in our

clinical practice, we have seen addiction act as a competing emotion:
it is though the mother is powerfully bonded to the

drug and hence unavailable to her infant. And almost invariably, when
a mother states that she has never wanted the child,

there is an emotional barrier present and bonding is unlikely to have


"Klaus and Kennell state that other variables may well contribute to
bonding failures, including the mother's background and

her own birth and bonding, as well as other unknown environmental
factors. We have observed, however, as did Klaus and

Kennell, that although these variables may contribute, the factors
most highly correlated with bonding failures are physical

and emotional separation."

Above excerpts come from "Maternal-Infant Bonding and Asthma", by
Antonio Madrid, Ph.D, and Dale Pennington, Ph.D.:


"Disruption of the bonding process during the critical period just
after delivery, by the absence of the skin intimate

contact of the new-born with the mother, by removal of the child from
the mother, or by the impediment of breast feeding

Disruption of the bonding process by diminishing or suppressing the
feelings of the delivery, thus impeding the

transformation of the woman into a mother 

Systematic attacks of the mother-child symbiosis during the breast
feeding period, due to jealousy or hate around the mother,

of the part of the father, of the part of family or of the part of
practitioners, or due to detrimental breeding or

educational procedures, or due to male domination attempting to
prevent adequate feminine functioning
Inaptitude of the mother to accept the bonding process and/or the
symbiosis, either by the rejection of the child of by

rejection of the mother state (usually unconscious)"


"When the evidence mounts that a baby or toddler who recently joined
the family is in fact impaired, the family undergoes a complex
emotional process of internalizing its situation: among the stages
experienced will be denial, anxiety, anger and hostility and even
depression, until a ripening of the adaptive coping ability occurs.
The bonding process that constitutes a kind of 'emotional umbilical
cord' between the toddler and his parents is not always possible when
the child is impaired, for a number of reasons: First, the impaired
child, the one suffering from mental (retardation), motor (C.P.),
emotional (PDD), sensory (blindness, deafness, severe regulatory
difficulties) or combined handicaps, often tends to be
incomprehensibly uncommunicative toward his parents; no smiling,
averse to touch or indifference to stimulation - all having a highly
disruptive effect on the bonding process. Dysmorphic characteristics
and impairment of the toddler’s external appearance affect the
parent’s tendency to connect emotionally with his child. Further,
there is the added burden of burnout from exhausting daily care and
constant coping with community agents who are supposed to provide the
family with various treatment options: burnout that leaves
insufficient emotional availability for the task of weaving the
delicate fabric of the parent-child relationship."


"Untreated depression may interfere with your ability to enjoy your
pregnancy. Early bonding with your baby may be hindered

which may lead to long term consequences for you and your baby. If
illness persists in the postpartum period, this impaired

bonding may become chronic. This has long-term consequences for the
child in terms of cognitive and behavioural problems in



"There are still a variety of individual, contextually ruled
conditions that can place a child at risk for developing

reactive attachment disorder. They include but are not limited to
severe neglect of the infant’s emotional, social, and

physical needs, including pathological or inadequate childcare and
physical or psychological abandonment by mother; sexual,

emotional, or physical abuse; poverty and low quality day care
provision; painful or undiagnosed illness or injury; sudden

and prolonged separation from the primary care-giver; prenatal abuse
including alcohol and/or drug abuse and poor maternal

nutrition; young mothers with poor parenting skills; frequent
foster-care placements and failed adoptions; premature birth

and low birth weight factors; and exposure to environmental toxins
and/or trauma . Other factors that interfere with

mother-child bonding and may impair a healthy attachment relationship
include multiple and inconsistent care-givers;
invasive or painful medical procedures, hospitalization, or
institutionalizations; and neurological problems"

"Children With Reactive Attachment Disorder"


"Even before a child is born, the building blocks of development are
being laid. During the critical nine months the child is

within his mother’s womb, he must receive sufficient nutrition and be
free of harmful drugs if he is to develop into a

healthy baby. Many of the children who hurt were born to mothers
addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. These children can be

viewed as life’s earliest abuse victims, as their systems fail to
develop properly. Many times, these children are primed not

to attach to a caregiver. With immature neurological systems, they are
often hypersensitive to all stimulation. They don’t

like light and may perceive any touch as pain. A child in chronic
pain, even with the most loving caregiver, may develop

attachment disorder as the pain short-circuits his ability to bond. 

Sadly, a baby born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or with drug-induced
problems is most often tended to by a substance-addicted

mother, incapable of providing even basic care. His heightened
sensitivity and irritability may set him up for further abuse

or neglect from his mother as she attempts to parent a baby who is
often fussy and upset. "


"Children whose developmental interruptions have resulted in an
attachment disorder may exhibit many, or even all, of the

following symptoms: 

- Superficially engaging and "charming" behavior. 
- Indiscriminate affection toward strangers. 
- Lack of affection with parents on their terms (not cuddly). 
- Little eye contact with parents (on normal terms). 
- Persistent nonsense questions and incessant chatter. 
- Inappropriate demanding and clingy behavior. 
- Lying about the obvious. 
- Stealing. 
- Destructive behavior to self, to others and to material things
(accident prone).
- Abnormal eating patterns. 
- No impulse controls (frequently acts hyperactive). 
- Lags in learning. 
- Abnormal speech patterns. 
- Poor peer relationships. 
- Lack of cause-and-effect thinking. 
- Lack of conscience. 
- Cruelty to animals. 
- Preoccupation with fire. 

"The Cycle of Bonding", How it's interrupted by Abuse and Neglect, by
Gregory C. Keck, Ph.D. and Regina M. Kupecky, L.S.W.

Kind regards,


Clarification of Answer by rhansenne-ga on 29 Jun 2002 08:55 PDT
Sorry about the messy layout of some of the texts above. This must
have occurred when pasting the clarification.
jolly-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thankyou for the valuable information and great resources.I now have
what I need to clearly answer one of my Master's Comprehensive
Examination Questions.

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