How baby attachment works

Our interest in looking at other people forms an important part of what we call the bonding process. This is the baby’s ability to form an attachment to one or two of the people closest to them – usually their parents. By learning more about how baby attachment works, you can strengthen the bond between you and your baby.

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Mum holds her baby in her arms, the baby bond can be strengthened in many ways.
Photo: Johnér

You are the most important person in your baby’s life and that’s the way it should be. This can be seen in many ways. For a very young baby, there’s no greater joy than looking at Mum or Dad’s face.

Your baby can spend a long time just watching your eyes and your mouth. A baby finds this exciting from the moment they’re born.

Researchers know that two-hour-old infants make their first attempts to communicate by intensively studying Mum or Dad’s facial expressions and gestures, and listening to their tone of voice.

BABYBJÖRN Parental Magazine – Baby and Mum playfully communicate with facial expressions and gestures.
There’s nothing more fun for a young baby than looking at your face.
Photo: Johnér

During the first few months in your baby’s life, they find faces the most exciting thing to watch. But at first your baby will react to virtually all faces and will often respond with a big smile. After a while, your baby will be more selective and begin to prefer the faces of their regular caregivers.

The intensity of the bonding process is greatest during your baby’s first year.

Baby bond from day one

The intensity of the bonding process is greatest during your baby’s first year and they enjoy being close to you from day one, preferably skin-to-skin and listening to the sound of your voice.

Your baby’s ability to form an attachment to the person closest to them originally served as a means of protection from the dangers of the great big world. Otherwise the baby would have no chance of surviving alone.

And the bonding process between you and your baby begins during your baby’s first hours. It remains ongoing throughout your child’s first year of life – it’s during this time that the relationship between you and your child develops most intensively.

Simply put, it’s about your child learning to trust one or two of the people closest to them, and your baby realizing that Mum or Dad is always there to provide comfort, food or a cuddle.

Good baby attachment is important and strengthens your child’s self-esteem throughout their life. Your child knows they have someone caring and supportive in their life, and this knowledge will benefit them as adults too.

BABYBJÖRN Parental Magazine – Baby and Mum cuddle; this is important for strengthening your baby bond.
Carry your baby and respond to crying by touch and small talk.
Photo: Johnér

Baby attachment has a lifelong influence

“It’s vitally important for you and your baby to bond with each other. Carry your baby and respond to your baby’s crying with touch and small talk,” advises Doctor Amanda Weiss Kelly from one of the largest university hospitals in the U.S., Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

“Think of your baby’s crying as a signal that something is wrong. This is your baby’s way of trying to let you know that they need your help with something. By responding to their crying, you’re showing your baby they can depend on your presence and willingness to help.”

Babies also tend to be soothed by listening to the sound of Mum or Dad’s heartbeat and breathing. These are small everyday sounds that your baby recognises from their time in the womb.

Think of your baby’s crying as a signal that something is wrong.

When your baby learns that you come when they cry, and by encouraging your baby’s interests and showing that you care, the bond between you grows stronger and stronger – this is how baby attachment works.

“Babies usually like to make contact by looking at your face, so by all means carry your baby so they can look up at you from time to time,” advises Amanda Weiss Kelly. “The bonding patterns your baby develops will be reflected in all of your child’s future relationships.

By creating bonding opportunities, you will be promoting your child’s lifelong willingness to trust other people and their belief in their own abilities. So baby attachment is more important than you might think.”


Text: Anna-Maria Stawreberg

The medical opinions in this article

The quotes come from Dr Amanda Weiss Kelly, who practises medicine at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Dr Weiss Kelly is a leading specialist in paediatrics and sports medicine.