Why are some babies unable to bond with their primary caregivers during the first twelve months of life, despite best efforts to the contrary?
Development psychologists have posited various explanations for the problem of “insecure attachment,” ranging from a focus on the primary caregiver’s health, to the baby’s temperament, to the immediate family environment.
Lauren Bader, an IAST research fellow and development psychologist, shows, in her recently completed paper (awaiting peer review at a journal) that a mother’s mental health, both during pregnancy and in the twelve months after birth, may play an important role in determining how securely babies will attach and bond with their mothers.
In a study conducted in a predominantly middle-class white neighborhood in the United States, Lauren and her co-authors studied 69 pairs of mothers and babies over the course of a year, and tracked the effects of each mother’s mental health on her baby’s ability to bond with her.
They found that mothers who had declining depressive symptoms during pregnancy, and in the first 12 months post-partum, were more likely to have babies that bonded well with them, compared to mothers who had increasing depressive symptoms over time.
This finding underscores the importance of early identification, intervention, and management of maternal depressive symptoms. More importantly, it suggests that mother-baby bonds can recover and flourish, even if they started off on a weak footing, if the mother’s mental health is prioritized. Maternal mental health is thus, this study shows, an important factor for ensuring a baby’s overall development.
To read more about Lauren’s work, visit her page here: https://www.iast.fr/people/lauren-bader