For humans the bonding process can be described as the affectionate connection that develops between infant and caregiver over time. The quality of the bond between infant and caregiver affects all later development of the infant, and it influences how well children will react to new experiences, situations, and stresses.
Bonding has been understood to relate to the period shortly after birth when the baby and parents are optimally able to begin to get to know each other (IAIM, 2005). Emotionally and physically healthy parents are attracted to their infant. They naturally feel a physical longing to smell, cuddle, and rock their infant. They look at their baby and communicate to the baby. In turn the infant responds with snuggling, babbling, smiling, sucking, and clinging. Usually, the parents’ behaviours bring pleasure and nourishment to the infant, and the infant’s behaviours bring love and satisfaction to the parents. This reciprocal positive maternal and paternal-infant interaction initiates attachment. Attachment is the lasting emotional bond between a child and the people who care for them.
In humans bonding is a process rather than an event, and is a matter of reciprocal interaction. It is a “dance” which builds trust and intimacy. Humans can consciously create this bond at any stage of life, and it is not purely biological. This is reassuring for parents separated by their children at birth due to medical issues, children raised by extended relatives and foster families (IAIM, 2005).
A secure attachment relationship is one which provides a secure base to explore the world and build new relationships, and at the same time provides a safe haven to return for comfort, love and acceptance. Overtime, where a secure attachment develops, infants will grow into adults that see the world as a place where they can be confident to explore and trusting enough to build strong and lasting relationships. They will also be more resilient in times of stress or disappointment and more capable of regulating their emotions.
An insecure attachment can result when there are barriers that prevent infants having relationships that meet their needs for exploration and comfort. Unattached and anxiously attached infants can grow up to exhibit a range of disorders from difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships at one end of the scale to sociopathic criminal behaviours at the other. Lack of early bonding and attachment may lead to later abuse, neglect and failure to thrive.
In our work as infant massage instructor’s bonding and attachment can be linked together with little or no differences (Vimala McClure, 2000). We refer to bonding and attachment as the “action involved in the connection between two human beings and the quality of that connection” (IAIM, 2005). We have a great opportunity as infant massage instructors to help set the bonding/attachment in the right direction. We teach “positive touch” communication in a nurturing environment, which in turn builds on the strengths of each individual and the relationship itself. Infant massage instruction uses gentle touch, careful observation of baby’s cues, quiet words of encouragement, and soothing lullabies to create an environment where parents and babies can bond with each other. As instructors we have an opportunity to provide positive feedback to parents that helps to build the confidence they need to listen and respond appropriately to their infant’s needs. Parents can also apply these skills to a myriad of parenting situations in daily life.
Written by Julie Davies – IAIM Certified Infant Massage Instructor
IAIM (2005) Manual for infant Massage Instructors Chapter 5
IAIM (2012) Compendium Section 5: Theoretical Basis of the IAIM Program Part 2 Attachment Theory,
Vimala McClure (2000) Infant Massage A Handbook for loving parents Chapter 3