“Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space (Ainsworth, 1973; Bowlby, 1969).”
When a child is born it has very few obvious immediate needs, warmth, food, cleanliness and safety. For a long time it was believed that infants needed only to have these needs met in order to grow up happy and healthy.
However in time those working with children realised that those who were devoid of human touch and interaction did not thrive and it was theorised by John Bowlby and Later by Mary Ainsworth the reasoning why.
Attachment is characterised by specific behaviours in children, such as seeking proximity with the attachment figure when upset or threatened. This is usually the mother or father but can be any figure to which the child trusts and has a bond with.
How carrying can positively effect attachment?
Carrying a child happens in various ways: in-arms on the hip and also in a carrier such as a woven wrap, ring sling or Buckled Carrier etc. What carrying offers is human connection, touch, interaction and a way for a child to feel safe and secure next to their caregiver. It allows a child to have its needs met swiftly as the parents respond quicker to their needs when the child is in close proximity to them.
Having constant contact with the caregiver reduces stress hormones in both and helps in the production of Oxytocin (also known as the love hormone). Oxytocin plays the role in helping form emotional bonds and strengthen these bonds as time goes on.
Psychologists also theorise that attachment has an element of learned behaviour, so the more a child learns that their caregiver is meeting their needs in a consistent and positive way, the more secure the attachment becomes through learning and positive reinforcement.
Carrying a child can help any caregiver, be that parent, aunt, brother or foster parent, build a secure attachment, as it allows them to firsthand become aware of any rising needs and meet these at the earliest opportunity. The oxytocin that is produced between the pair increase the bond further and providing the child’s needs are met consistently over the first 3 years of the child’s life, the caregiver will have succeeded in ensuring that a secure attachment has indeed been made.
What benefits can a secure attachment have?
Lets not confuse secure attachment with literal attachment, to have a child develop a secure attachment doesn’t mean you have to have your child literally attached to you 24/7. However carrying a child even for small amounts of time will allow any caregiver the chance to respond to a child faster than those that place their child in a moses basket or baby bouncer and have very little time holding their child. Distance will make it harder to respond to a child’s needs as fast, but nevertheless doesn’t mean these needs cannot be met sympathetically or that attachment cannot be achieved without carrying.
Secure attachments have long reaching benefits for any child. They are linked to Higher IQ, better mental health outcomes, reduction in obesity as an adult, better educational outcomes, reduction in likelihood a child will turn to crime as an adult and reduces the chances the child will become violent as an adult.
Developing a secure attachment can also have benefits for the caregiver such as reduction in those suffering post natal depression, quicker bonding for foster or adoptive parents, increased success in breastfeeding rates, reduction in domestic violence and reduced incidences of isolation.
Using carrying a child as a tool to develop a secure attachment can only be a positive thing and one we should promote at every opportunity. It has long-term ramifications not only for the infant but also society as a whole.