You’re the very first person your baby will have a relationship with, and your love will help build her world
MEET THE EXPERT
Professor Pasco Fearon is a clinical psychologist at University College London.
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 centreof 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 selfconfi denceto 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 protoconversations,” 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!