Mother baby bond is a strong predictor of infant development, Deakin research finds
The Sector > Research > Understanding Children > Mother baby bond is a strong predictor of infant development, Deakin research finds

Mother baby bond is a strong predictor of infant development, Deakin research finds

by Freya Lucas

March 07, 2022

The emotional bond between a mother and their baby is a strong predictor of a range of developmental outcomes in infants, Deakin University research has found.


Researchers examined the extent to which mother-to-infant bonding can help predict the infant’s development, finding that the emotional bond between a mother and their baby is a critical factor in determining how the infant will grow and develop during their early life. 


But the research into this relationship is severely limited, with a lack of longitudinal studies that examine how the child’s relationship to their birth parent can affect their development over an extended period of time.


The role of antenatal and postnatal maternal bonding in infant development recently appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. As part of the research, birth mothers self-reported how their bond with their unborn child had developed using the Maternal Antenatal Attachment Scale after each trimester during their pregnancies. 


After they gave birth, they self-reported again using the Maternal Postnatal Attachment Scale when the infant was eight weeks old, and again at twelve weeks old. These figures were compared with the infant’s development after a year, which was assessed during the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development.


Researchers found that the strength of the bond between the birth parent and the baby could be measured against indicators of the infant’s social-affective development, meaning it could be used to predict milestones in the child’s early life. It was especially useful in predicting their social-emotional, behavioural, and temperamental changes. Other connections were found between the emotional bond and the baby’s cognitive, language and motor development, but on a much smaller scale.


After controlling for maternal mental health, mother-to-child affectional bonding was identified as a unique and potentially modifiable predictor of child social-emotional development, something the researchers said has exciting implications and opens up another possible avenue for preventive intervention into the child’s development.


In terms of research applications in daily life, the researchers recommend women being routinely screened for bonding difficulties during antenatal and postnatal care via hospital services, general practitioners, and maternal child health nurses. 


“Measures of maternal bonding, such as those included in the current study, could be used to systematically identify mothers who would benefit from additional support and to monitor intervention and treatment progress,” they note. 


Findings from the current study are relevant to professionals involved in antenatal and postnatal care, such as hospital services, general practitioners and maternal child health nurses, as well as those in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector who have an interest in infant development.


“It’s likely that offering additional support to women experiencing bonding difficulties during pregnancy may have a cumulative influence on maternal affective experience, mother-child relational formation, and infant social-affective development,” the researchers noted. 


To access the paper please see here

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