This article was published, citation information below.


Ang, M. (2006). The Second Ideal of Attachment Parenting: Bonding with your Baby. In Infanity magazine, March 2006 issue.

AP parents always pick up their babies, often pre-empting the need to cry, and most certainly responding promptly when they actually do cry. AP babies are never ever left to “cry it out”. AP philosophy does not believe that young babies can be spoiled by too much cuddling or carrying, instead prompt response to baby’s cries now lead to secure parental attachment, self confidence and independence later on when your child is ready for it. AP’s rationale is that babies never cry without a reason – it’s up to parents to discover what that reason is and to meet that need, which could be anything ranging from hunger, tiredness, discomfort and loneliness to over stimulation, picking up on mom’s stress, needing to be held or needing to be put down, colic, or just needing a little love.

Having worked with hundreds of young people during the course of my career (I have been a university lecturer, school teacher and a youth worker among other things) I can say without a doubt that the number one underlying issue facing almost every single person that I have ever met and counselled has been a lack of self acceptance and self confidence. Most young people have a problem believing that they're truly lovable, and this self-doubt eats away at their self-image and confidence. Many seek peer acceptance and in so doing give way to peer pressure to conform, and this often leads to further breakdown in communication with parents who typically put it down to the "generation gap". Even adults often have trouble believing that they are truly lovable. How many of you reading this article have struggled with self-doubt or a lack of self-confidence? Why is this such a common problem?

Attachment Theory [1]

At the heart of AP is the practice of responding promptly to your child’s needs, not only physical needs but emotional ones as well. This nurturing parenting practice creates strong emotional bonds, also known as secure attachment, between the child and parent(s), which in turn leads to the building of a good self-image, self-confidence and true independence. From late pregnancy through the second year of life, the human brain experiences a critical period of accelerated growth. This process consumes higher amounts of energy than any other stage in the lifespan, and requires not only sufficient nutrients but optimal interpersonal experiences for maximal maturation. [2].

The human cerebral cortex adds 70 percent of its mass after birth and grows to 90% of its adult size in the first three years of life [3]. The expanding brain is directly influenced by its environment, creating an interplay between biology and social environment [4]. With the help of neuroscience and technologies such as EEG, PET, and MRI, we can see how this interplay looks. What has emerged is mounting evidence that stress and trauma impair optimal brain development while healthy attachment promotes it [5,6].

Babies are born with the capacity for feeling deep emotions, but are unable to regulate either the intensity or the duration of those emotions [5]. Without the assistance and monitoring of a caregiver, babies become overwhelmed by their emotional states, including those of fear, excitement, and sadness [7]. In order to maintain emotional equilibrium, babies require a consistent and committed relationship with one caring person. The research indicates that the person best suited for this relationship is the mother [8]. Babies have their own spontaneous expressions of themselves. When you pay attention to these expressions you communicate that you understand what they are doing, feeling, and even thinking. This assists brain development and creates a foundation for the negotiation of all social interactions. When these needs are not met, babies experience distress, typically displayed by crying. If their need remains unmet, crying intensifies, followed by screaming. Extended crying sometimes leads to nausea and vomiting as well. At some point, the child disengages from the external world's stimuli and retreats to an internal world. This reaction involves numbing, avoidance, compliance, and lack of reaction [9]. This stage occurs in the face of a stressful situation in which the baby feels hopeless and helpless [10]. All the baby's regulatory systems are thus focused on coping. Such early relational traumas become part of the structure of the forming personality [11] as the brain is developing at its fastest rate and is thus at its maximum vulnerability to influences and stimuli affecting growth and development [5]. While this stress reaction is occuring, the infant brain cannot develop in other ways, thus missing opportunities for learning at the critical period of brain development [5].

Practical Implications

It is clear then that promptly responding to your baby's emotional needs is crucial to your baby's overall development and has lifelong impact. What does this mean in a practical sense?

Our opening paragraph sums it up nicely - there's no such thing as too much cuddling and you can't spoil a baby by responding to his/her needs! Having said this, it goes against mainstream "wisdom" - I mean, how many of you have heard others telling you to just let baby cry because she needs to "exercise her lungs" or not to pick up your baby too often or else he'll grow up to be a spoilt child? Someone even told me babies need to cry to find their voice or they'll never learn to talk! All this so-called "wisdom" is at best misguided and at worst very damaging to the child's vulnerable growing brain, as explained in the previous section. Parents, and mothers especially, need to learn to trust their own instincts when it comes to responding to your baby's cues - I have a special message for mothers and mothers-to-be here: YOU are the prime expert in understanding YOUR baby, NOBODY else! After all, he/she first came into being inside your womb, and he/she has been living inside you for more than three quarters of a year, growing through drawing nutrients and sustenance from your body - not your mother's, not your mother-in-law's and not your confinement lady's. While they may have more experience than you with children in general, you certainly have more experience than they with your own baby - so trust your initial instincts when it comes to responding to your baby. Please do read the first article in my reference list below for details as to the scientific basis of my claim here. You will see that this is no mere theory, but advice based on hard scientific facts.

Babies cry for a reason - it's up to us as parents to discover that reason. It could be hunger, it could be discomfort, it could be they just feel lonely and need a cuddle - please don't ignore your baby's cries, ever. If you can't seem to find the reason (for example, you offer the breast but baby doesn't want to nurse, their diaper is dry, and you are in fact cuddling them but they're still crying) look for less obvious reasons. Sometimes your baby may have a medical problem, sometimes it could be something as simple as discomfort from the material of their clothing - this is true! Some babies may feel uncomfortable in synthetic cloth, or maybe they're just too hot - I've seen so many Malaysian babies bundled up as though they were living in a winter climate! If you feel hot, your baby will feel hot too - if you don't believe me, ask your paediatrician. Some babies need more mental stimulation than others - for example, mine was/is always happy when we go out to the supermarket or somewhere like that because she just loves looking at things - and this was from when she was one week old, so don't be surprised if your baby gets bored - some can at a very young age! Some babies need more sleep, some need less. Every baby is different, so trust your instincts with your own.

It will take some courage to go against what your elders tell you to do, but take heart in knowing you are doing what is best for your baby. Oh yes, and one other thing - emotional responsiveness and bonding doesn't stop when your baby hits some magic age such as 3 years or something - it's a lifelong commitment, it may just take a slightly different form as they grow older. Since this magazine focuses on the 0-3 age group, I am keeping my examples age-relevant, but don't forget that as your child gets older, he/she needs your support and guidance just as much.

  1. L.L. Porter, "The Science of Attachment: The Biological Roots of Love," Mothering (Issue 119, July/August 2003).
  2. J. Dobbing, Developing Brain and Behavior (San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1997).
  3. J. Lipari, "First Impressions Count with Your Newborn: Early Months Time for Emotional, Cognitive Development," Boston Herald (Aug 27, 2000).
  4. D. Cicchetti and D. Tucker, "Development and Self-Regulatory Structures of the Mind," Development and Psychopathology 6 (1994): 533-549.
  5. A. N. Schore, "The Effects of Early Relational Trauma on Right Brain Development, Affect Regulation and Infant Mental Health," Infant Mental Health Journal 22, 1-2 (2001): 201-269.
  6. A. N. Schore, "Effects of a Secure Attachment Relationship on Right Brain Development, Affect Regulation and Infant Mental Health," Infant Mental Health Journal 22, 1-2 (2001): 7-66.
  7. G. Spangler, et al., "Maternal Sensitivity as an Organizer for Biobehavioral Regulation in Infancy," Developmental Psychobiology 27 (1994): 425-437.
  8. J. Bowlby, Attachment and Loss 1: Attachment (New York: Basic Books, 1969/1982).
  9. A. N. Schore, "Dysregulation of the Right Brain: A Fundamental Mechanism of Traumatic Attachment and the Psychopathogenesis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder," Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 36 (2002): 9-30.
  10. A. N. Schore, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994).
  11. B. D. Perry, et al., "Childhood Trauma, the Neurobiology of Adaptation and 'Use-Dependent' Development of the Brain: How 'States' Become 'Traits'," Infant Mental Health Journal 16 (1995): 271-291.


Copyright ©2005 Minni Ang