You’re the very first per­son your baby will have a re­la­tion­ship with, and your love will help build her world

Mother & Baby - - CONTENTS - Pro­fes­sor Pasco Fearon is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don.

Make the most of this eter­nal bond with your baby

L OOK­ING at your baby in your arms, it’s crazy to think she’s go­ing to have a life that’s shaped by re­la­tion­ships with all sorts of peo­ple you don’t yet know. From the con­nec­tions she’ll make with school friends to those she might one day cre­ate with her own chil­dren, these bonds will play a vi­tal part in what makes her per­son­al­ity. But right now, you’re the cen­tre of her uni­verse, and the very first per­son she’ll have a re­la­tion­ship with. You are her first love.

And it’s from the bond she makes with you that she’ll learn how to han­dle all those future con­nec­tions as she grows. Re­search sug­gests that the qual­ity of the re­la­tion­ships in your child’s early years will af­fect al­most ev­ery as­pect of her later de­vel­op­ment, from her self­con­fi­dence to her mo­ti­va­tion to learn and her abil­ity to forge friend­ships. Yep, be­ing the most im­por­tant per­son in her life is a big deal! By un­der­stand­ing how your baby bonds with you, you can help these skills develop. And as in any re­la­tion­ship, the mo­ment true love strikes is dif­fer­ent for every­one: some mums feel a strong bond grow­ing with their bump, some find love at first sight hap­pens at birth, while for oth­ers it forms and strength­ens over the next days and months. At­tach­ment is based on fa­mil­iar­ity, so sim­ply be­ing with your baby grows your bond. From your baby’s point of view, this connection hap­pens from the get-go. “From birth, if not be­fore, babies ap­pear to have in­nate mech­a­nisms that prompt them to learn about who looks af­ter them and can teach them about

so­cial in­ter­ac­tion,” says clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Pro­fes­sor Pasco Fearon. Skin-to-skin con­tact with your new­born re­leases oxy­tocin, a hor­mone that pro­motes bond­ing. Ex­per­i­ments show that babies as young as 12 hours old show a pref­er­ence for watch­ing their mum’s face over those of strangers, and for her voice. In fact, babies in the womb have been shown to turn their heads in re­sponse to voices out­side from just 24 weeks into preg­nancy, so your baby will have grown used to yours well be­fore she makes her ap­pear­ance. Your bond grows as you spend time to­gether. “The at­tach­ment process is a two-way street,” ex­plains Pasco. When your baby bab­bles, you re­spond with a smile and your voice. When she pulls a face, you re­spond with a ges­ture. Re­searchers have shown that these ‘serve and re­turn’ in­ter­ac­tions cre­ate new neu­ral con­nec­tions in your baby’s brain, link­ing the ar­eas re­spon­si­ble for mem­ory, lan­guage, mo­tor skills and more. “Bab­bling, pulling faces and mak­ing ges­tures are al­most like proto-con­ver­sa­tions,” ex­plains Pasco. In a study, new­borns were shown a film of a stranger pulling faces—for ex­am­ple, stick­ing out his tongue. Just 20 sec­onds af­ter seeing the video, the babies were more likely to make the ex­pres­sions they’d seen. They were copy­ing! Re­search shows that your baby will develop faster if you are quick to im­i­tate the ges­tures and sounds she makes. Babies have also been shown to pre­fer it when you make eye con­tact, as well as when your face is an­i­mated and re­spon­sive. And chil­dren who have re­spon­sive re­la­tion­ships with their pri­mary care­givers are more likely to develop in­sights into other peo­ple’s feel­ings, needs and thoughts. “Par­ents and other fam­ily mem­bers who are alert to these early in­ter­ac­tions can help lay the build­ing blocks of so­cial in­ter­ac­tion,” ex­plains Pasco. So don’t feel guilty if you just gaze into your baby’s eyes and coo for half an hour— you’re do­ing a re­ally im­por­tant job! As your baby grows, the mech­a­nisms through which she bonds with you in­crease. “One of the clear­est mile­stones comes be­tween seven and nine months, when babies tend to be­gin ex­hibit­ing a pref­er­ence for par­tic­u­lar care­givers,” says Pasco. “Your baby might go from be­ing hap­pily passed around fam­ily mem­bers to want­ing to be car­ried by just you. It may feel like grandma is be­ing given the cold shoul­der, but this is a pos­i­tive sign that your baby is ac­tively choos­ing a par­tic­u­lar at­tach­ment. So rather than seeing ‘sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety’ as a prob­lem, we should see it as evidence of a great bond be­tween a mum and her baby: she’s sim­ply ex­press­ing her view that she’d rather be with you!” But don’t think this means you should be the sole per­son car­ing for your baby. Re­search sug­gests that young chil­dren benefit sig­nif­i­cantly from strong re­la­tion­ships with a wider cir­cle of peo­ple, as long as the pri­mary at­tach­ment bond—the one with you—is se­cure. “This means your child feels she has some­one she can go and feel safe with,” says Pasco. “Her so­cial world ex­pands enor­mously in her first three years, but it’s sup­ported by hav­ing a strong bond to fall back on.” Your child be­comes in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated at this re­la­tion­ship busi­ness. “We now know that tod­dlers be­gin to build the ba­sic abil­ity to grasp what might be go­ing on in other peo­ple’s minds from the age of about one or even younger,” says Pasco. Stud­ies show that some­where around the age of 12 months, a child typ­i­cally be­gins to follow the gaze of peo­ple around her. Try it for your­self: if you look at a ball, your baby will prob­a­bly look at it too. This new skill helps her be­gin to pre­dict what might be in other peo­ple’s minds, or what they might do next. It opens the gates to a new kind of so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, one that might even­tu­ally in­clude tak­ing turns, for ex­am­ple, and other two-way in­ter­ac­tions. It’s won­der­ful to watch your child develop new skills and slowly broaden her hori­zons, and even more so when you re­mem­ber that it’s your love that’s set her up for suc­cess. So if you ever find your­self doubt­ing that you’re do­ing a great job at this par­ent­ing lark, give your baby a cud­dle and ask your­self: would she rather be any­where else in the whole wide world? Sim­ply by lov­ing your baby, to her, you’re the best mum in the world.

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