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Forming a Secure Attachment: Moms Come First

We know that secure attachment in infancy and childhood helps a child reach their social, emotional, and cognitive capacity. The secure attachment foundation that begins in infancy also lasts far beyond the early years of life...attachment style influences everything from self-esteem to academic achievement over the entire lifespan. All of this to say, the attachment relationship in the early years is important for your child’s whole future. No pressure!

With this huge weight to bare as a mother to a newborn, how do we manage?

We must begin by acknowledging that attachment is a relationship and that mothers’ needs must be part of the picture.

As with all healthy relationships, both parties need to get their needs met. Of course, when you have an infant, they can’t really participate in any kind of relationship with you yet or be expected to meet your needs for you (other than maybe putting a smile on your face), but we can still practice identifying our needs and finding ways to get some of them met internally and externally. The experience of motherhood is a chance to get to know ourselves better and find areas of strength and opportunities for growth. I believe that most mothers have an opportunity to grow in asking for help and honoring their own needs.

Babies need a calm and loving caregiver...

While baby needs us to respond to them calmly and lovingly to develop the sense of safety and security and build that secure attachment, we need to care for ourselves so we can sustain the energy required to do so. Whether that means finding help to take a nap or reciting a mantra to yourself when you’re doing a 4am diaper change, we all have to do what it takes. 

A secure attachment is considerably harder for mother-baby dyads when the mother is struggling with a low mood, low energy, depression, extreme fatigue, high levels of stress, postpartum depression, or anxiety.

Caring for ourselves means better care for baby.

The wonderful news is that, when moms are able to care for their own emotional wellbeing, the actions that form a secure attachment are simple: feed baby when she’s hungry, change baby’s diaper when she is wet, hold and rock baby, talk to her and touch her lovingly. These things are not complicated or even above and beyond the typical tasks associated with caring for a baby at all. No baby massage necessary, no special songs, no tricky instructions, just simple responsive and loving care of your baby. It’s just that these “simple” and “typical” ways of caring for a newborn do not come easily or naturally to moms who are struggling with their mood and care of themselves. It becomes extremely challenging to respond calmly and lovingly to your baby’s cries when you haven’t sleep more than 2 hours in 2 days or had an opportunity to take a warm shower, or sit down to a complete meal. Simple, sweet tasks to care for your newborn become difficult and overwhelming barriers when you aren’t getting the support and care that you need. This is why self care is not selfish.

Caring for yourself is where secure attachment actually begins. In reality, a secure attachment relationship begins with you being loving and responsive to yourself. It requires an awareness to your own set of needs. Your needs could range from a coffee in the morning to a full time live-in nanny. No one can tell you what it is that you need except for you.

How to identify and respond to your needs

  • In moments when you feel like you can’t, ask yourself, what would help right now? It’s 3am and baby is awake and in need some something but your body and mind are exhausted. What would help in this moment? What would help later if you can just get through this now? Maybe a partner can help. Maybe a mother-in-law would be delighted to be asked to sleep over once a week and help in the middle of the night. Maybe a postpartum doula could help. Maybe knowing that you can take a nap the next day could help you get through the night.

  • Ask yourself, what can I remove, weed out, or simplify? Can you do less laundry and get by (maybe buy a few more pairs of underwear!)? Can you order in instead of cooking? Can you put an away message up on your email? Say “no” to some plans that feel like a burden?

  • Ask yourself, is this something someone else could do? Is this something I could ask for help with? Don’t be afraid of asking for help. It’s a sign of strength to be able to identify your needs and stand up for yourself. Practice this humility and provoke-solving as a parent and watch your children learn from you and become humble, self-aware individuals themselves. Remember that when you ask for help, the people you are turning to are likely very happy to help and feel wonderful to be asked. Plus, you may get to be in a position to return the help at some point so everyone wins!

*If you feel like you cannot even begin to identify your needs, your needs feel too immense, you feel that you have no opportunity for support, or are concerned by your low mood or level of anxiety, please know that professional help is available and can be very helpful. You are not alone and you and your baby deserve support. Please reach out to me or another professional to learn about resources and support. Find information on my website Here  . ❤️

The concept of “self-care” feels a little overdone right now but it is such an important concept. I like to think about my emotional health as a spectrum from “empty” to “full”. When I do things that feel good, give me energy or fullfillment, I feel like it fills me up. The more “full” I feel, the more resources I have to cope with stressors and emotional challenges. It’s sort of like the Fill a Bucket books. Everyone gets “full” in different ways, that’s the cool part. I think everyone can benefit from experimenting a little bit to find things that feel really filling to them. 

For me, here are some things that help me feel emotionally full (and apparently physically full because realize many of these revolve around food 🤔)

Being outside in any capacity 

Running solo or with Eli in the stroller

Watching a show and relaxing with my husband 

Making pancakes for breakfast for Eli and I

Long talks with my mom

Coffee and NPR in the morning

Apples. I just love them so much

I love going out to dinner with my family, and I love trying new restaurants 

 Brunch with friends (because I love friends and also pancakes 🥞)

Baking “healthy” treats

Listening to my favorite podcasts (the list is long if anyone is interested!)

An almond milk latte

Shabbat with my family and friends (extra points if I get to make challah from scratch)

Exercising on my own (stroller runs are great but not always what I need)

Going to events in our community, especially programs designed for women or families

I hate to say this one but I love buying something new every once in a while, or at least looking

Fresh fruits and vegetables 

New running shoes 

Thinking about Fall 🍂🍁

Making plans with friends 

A nice long shower with essential oils

My book club 

Little luxuries: wearing my favorite necklace, getting a bar of chocolate for myself at the grocery store, getting a pedicure, a little extra time doing my hair...

And playing with Eli and Joel 

Remember that the idea of self-care is wonderful for everyone but some people may also need professional support alongside self-care techniques. Parenthood is hard on a physical and emotional level and asking for help is a sign of tremendous self-awareness and strength. 

I hope for every mother out there that she can find the strength and courage to take care of herself. We are all better parents and people when we tune into what we need. When we fill ourselves up, we are more capable to engage meaningfully with the people we love. I would love to hear what other mamas do!!

#motherhood #selfcare #emotionalhealth #attachment #newborn #mentalhealth