The early mother infant relationship is of critical importance, because it forms the basis for the child’s future social, emotional and cognitive development (Ainsworth, pp. 932–937, Belsky et al., pp. 1163–1178 and Papousk and Papousk, pp. 669–719). During the last two decades, investigators have identified many aspects of the mother–infant relationship. Maternal behaviors such as sensitivity, acceptance and co-operation have been associated with the establishment and maintenance of a positive relationship with her infant (Ainsworth, pp. 932–937 and Treverthen, pp. 321–347).
There is evidence, suggesting that maternal sensitivity and affection have their origins in pregnancy (Leifer, pp. 55–96 and Ballou). Theoretical accounts of the psychology of pregnancy suggest that there is a growing affection for and relationship with the unborn child during pregnancy (Leifer, pp. 55–96, Mercer and Rubin). This relationship increases gradually during the progress of pregnancy (Leifer, pp. 55–96 and Ballou). However, a rapid increase is observed after the first perception of fetal movements (Leifer, pp. 55–96 and Lerum, pp. 13–17). During the last trimester of pregnancy, the fetus begins to show distinct patterns of rest and activity (Leifer, pp. 55–96, Fuller, pp. 433–446 and Brazelton, pp. 331–338) and mothers seem to recognize and respond to them in an increasingly synchronized fashion (Brazelton, pp. 331–338). This fact results in an increased feeling of affection towards her unborn child (Leifer, pp. 55–96, Lerum, pp. 13–17 and Fuller, pp. 433–446). Leifer (Leifer, pp. 55–96) reported that those women who expressed more affection towards their unborn baby displayed more confidence in their new role, and showed better postpartum adjustment than those who were less attached and who expressed difficulties in their role as an expectant mother.
Attachment theory postulates that sensitive responses by the mother to her infant’s needs provides the basis for a secure infant–mother relationship, and thus enables the child to develop positive internal working models of himself or herself and others (Bowlby and Bretherton, pp. 3–35). These models will become incorporated into the personality structure of the individual and seem to have a propensity for stability (Main et al., pp. 66–104 and Grossmann et al., pp. 241–260). A woman who has experienced sensitive responding from her own mother during childhood is assumed to become sensitive in her own maternal role even during pregnancy. In a recent study, this study found that women who had experienced more emotional warmth from their own mothers during childhood were able to establish a more affectionate relationship with their unborn baby (Siddiqui et al., pp. 67–74). Consequently, if maternal sensitivity towards the child is conceptualized as part of a continuum of attachment, this study could then assume that a mother who has established an affectionate relationship with her unborn baby would continue to be affectionate and sensitive towards her baby postnatally. This sensitivity will be apparent in her consistent, contingent and appropriate responsiveness to her infant’s signaling behaviors.
It is however surprising that both the proponents of attachment theory and those who are interested in the processes of maternal adaptation to motherhood have shown little or no interest in such association. This lack of interest particularly within attachment theory is probably based upon the assumption that maternal sensitivity is predicted mainly by measuring the infant’s sensitivity of familiarity and strangeness. A competent mother should be sensitive not only to her infant’s stress and proximity seeking signals, but to her infant’s levels of development and should be able to adjust her own behaviour to the infant’s functioning and rhythmic patterns even before the birth of the infant. Thus, the aim of this study was to assess to what extent maternal prenatal attachment towards her unborn baby predicts maternal involvement with her infant.
Relevant literature was searched on the internet and in the library regarding the relationship between a mother and child and how deficiency of attention and affection from the mother can have a detrimental impact on the child. Some studies have attempted to determine such a relationship, but with inconsistent results. For example, Cranley (Cranley, pp. 281–284) found that scores on the Maternal Fetal Attachment Scale (MFAS) did not correlate with mothers’ perception of their 3-day-old baby as measured by the Neonatal Perception Inventory. On the other hand Leifer (Leifer) reported that women’s psychological functioning during pregnancy predicted their emotional relationship both to the fetus and the infant about 2 months after birth. Fuller (Fuller, pp. 433–446) also found a correlation between the Maternal Fetal Attachment Scale (MFAS) and maternal interaction with infants about 3 months after birth. More recently, Müller (Müller, pp. 161–166) reported a modest correlation between the Prenatal Attachment Inventory (PAI) administered in the third trimester of pregnancy and the Maternal Attachment Inventory (MAI) measured between 1 and 2 months after delivery. In the current study this study used the Prenatal Attachment Inventory (PAI), developed by Müller (Müller, pp. 199–215). The instrument measures maternal prenatal attachment towards her unborn baby. Maternal behaviors towards her infant were assessed through videotaping mothers and their 12-week-old infants during an en face interaction. In order to assess maternal responsiveness, infant attentive behaviour was of particular interest. According to Treverthen (Treverthen, pp. 321–347) as the result of early perceptual development infants at a very early age are already interested in external events, in particular they become more attentive towards the mother in a face-to-face interaction.
The results of the literature present a similar pattern in most cases, i.e. the child suffers negatively if the mother is unable to give her hundred percent attention and affection to the child. Although several studies have examined the relationships between infant affect, maternal sensitivity, and attachment security (Braungart & Stifter, pp. 349–364; Frodi & Thompson, pp. 1280–1290; Mangelsdorf, Gunnar, Kestenbaum, Lang, & Andreas, 1990; Thompson & Lamb, pp. 423–445), to date only a few longitudinal studies explicitly considered early child influences on maternal sensitivity and later attachment classification (Braungart-Reiker, Garwood, Powers, & Wang, pp. 252–270; Posada et al., pp. 1379–1388). Although these studies identify independent effects of early maternal sensitivity and infant affective displays on later attachment classification, they also highlight the difficulty of establishing clear causal links between maternal and infant behaviors. In spite of these limitations, there is much to be gained by examining how these behaviors are coordinated, especially with respect to the dyad’s emerging attachment relationship.
Attachment theorists have argued that the quality of child-mother attachment relationships powerfully affects social and emotional development (Bowlby, 1973 and Cassidy, 1994; Sroufe, Carlson, Levy, ; Egeland, pp. 1–13). According to Bowlby (1969), positive relationships with sensitively responsive caregivers play a crucial role in healthy adjustment and many researchers have reported evidence consistent with this hypothesis (Armsden ; Greenberg, pp. 427–454; Engels, Finkenauer, Meeus, ; Dekovic, pp. 428–439; Lapsley, Rice, ; FitzGerald, pp. 561–565; Meeus, Oosterwegel, ; Vollebergh, pp. 93–106; Noom, Dekovic, ; Meeus, pp. 771–783; Paterson, Pryor, ; Field, pp. 365–376). The goal of the present study was to assess the effects of family violence on the quality of relationships between adolescents and their mothers. Researchers have explored adolescents’ attachments to both caring and non-caring mothers and to determine whether the adolescents’ perceptions varied depending on whether or not the mother had been caring. Furthermore, because this study could specify the types of neglect experienced, studies on this area are thus able to investigate the separate and combined effects of child neglect on the adolescents’ attachments to their mothers. Finally, because the participants in the study conducted by the researchers were first interviewed when they averaged 10.6 years of age and were then recontacted nearly 5 years later, it was possible to assess and compare the effects of earlier as opposed to later experiences of violence on the adolescents’ attachments.(Cassidy, 2000)
According to attachment theory, children develop Internal Working Models (IWMs) of their relationships with others on the basis of their experiences and interactions with them (Bowlby, 1973; Bretherton ; Munholland, pp. 89–111). These IWMs constitute rudimentary conceptual representations of self and others, and as a result, individuals’ perceptions of their attachments play a crucial role in later psychological and psychosocial functioning. IWMs are usually considered to be fairly stable over time (Bowlby, 1973 and Cassidy, 2000; Fraley ; Shaver, pp. 132–154), in part because the quality of interaction is presumed to remain the same and in part because IWMs are believed to direct attention selectively to representation-consistent information and to interpret new experiences in ways that are consistent with those representations (Ainsworth, 1989). Nevertheless, IWMs are also viewed as dynamic representations that can be updated, elaborated, or replaced as life circumstances change (Bowlby, 1973; Thompson ; Lamb, 1988). In particular, the IWMs formed in infancy and early childhood assuredly become more complex and sophisticated as children develop more abstract cognitive abilities and reflect upon a wider range of interactions with attachment figures such as their mothers (Bowlby, 1969 and Thompson, 1999). Young children’s IWMs are thus likely to include simple information about the mothers’ availability and responsiveness, whereas older children’s IWM’s are apt to include more detailed and elaborate information (Bretherton, Ridgeway, & Cassidy, 1990).
Many researchers have shown that IWMs are modified as life circumstances change, however. Studies of attachments between mothers and children (Thompson, Lamb, & Estes, 1982; Vaughn, Egeland, Sroufe, & Waters, pp. 971–975) suggest that major life changes and changes in the quality of mother-child relationships alter attachment security, which is believed to reflect underlying IWMs (Cummings, Davies, & Simpson, 1994; Erickson, Sroufe, & Egeland, pp. 147–166; Lamb, Thompson, Gardner, Charnov, & Estes, pp. 423–445), but little is known about the effects of life events on IWMs in adolescence and adulthood (Rothbard & Shaver, 1994).
Adolescence is a period during which individuals establish intimate relationships outside the family and become increasingly independent of their mothers’ guidance and support, even though autonomy is established most smoothly in the context of continuing close and trusting relationships with their mother (Allen, Hauser, Eickholt, Bell, & O’Conner, pp. 535–552; Fraley & Davis, pp. 131–144; Noom et al., pp. 771–783). “Although the nature of attachment during adolescence must differ from that of early childhood in the light of changes in youngsters’ cognition, identity, and sexuality …” wrote Baltes and Silverberg (1994, p. 61), “adolescents still require confidence in their mothers’ commitment for them … (and) a secure basis from which to explore the world.” This underscores the importance of studying how family violence affects the relationships between adolescents and their mothers.
Most researchers would agree that child abuse commonly affects the attachment process. Maltreated children are more likely than other children to develop negative representations of their mothers and of themselves (Cicchetti, Toth, & Lynch, pp. 1–75). Many develop insecure-disorganized/disoriented attachments (Carlson, Cicchetti, Barnett, & Braunwald, pp. 494–528; Egeland & Vaughn, pp. 78–84; Lyons-Ruth & Jacobvitz, 1999) characterized by a mixture of approach and avoidance, resistance, helplessness, apprehension, and general disorientation, presumably because these children derive ineffective emotional support from mothers who may neglect or isolate them (Main and Solomon, 1986 and Main and Solomon, 1990). Experiencing or witnessing abuse may not only influence children’s attachment security because their stressed mothers behave less sensitively, but also because they demand that children cope with frightening parental conduct (Lyons-Ruth ; Jacobvitz, 1999; Owen ; Cox, 1997). According to Cassidy and Kobak (pp. 300–323), abused children may protect themselves from the effects of inconsistent parenting by forming inaccurate representations of their mothers in order to minimize their feeling of rejection. Interestingly, however, even when abused children are insecurely attached to their caring mothers, many establish secure attachments to non-caring mothers and caregivers (Lamb, Gaensbauer, Malkin, ; Schultz, 1985).
The Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment (IPPA) has been used extensively to assess adolescents’ perceptions of their attachment to their mothers, and IPPA scores correlate highly with scores on other measures of family relationships (Armsden ; Greenberg, pp. 427–454). For example, adolescents who report high level of attachment to their mothers also report less conflict between their mothers (Armsden, 1751–1752). High parental attachment ratings are positively correlated with indices of self-esteem and life satisfaction, and negatively correlated with measures of psychological symptomatology, distress, depression, anxiety, resentment and alienation, covert anger, and loneliness (Armsden, 1751–1752; Armsden ; Greenberg, pp. 427–454; Armsden, McCauley, Greenberg, Burke, ; Mitchell, 1991; Bradford ; Lyddon, pp. 256–260; Kenny ; Perez, pp. 527–535; Papini, Roggman, ; Anderson, pp. 258–275). Armsden and Greenberg (pp. 427–454) also reported that IPPA scores were positively correlated with measures of family cohesion, organization, and expressiveness. Scores on the IPPA are not significantly related to socioeconomic status and are negligibly associated with parental educational level (Armsden, 1751–1752).
In the first year of life, infants normally develop a mutual emotional bond with the mother. Such attachment reflects an innate tendency for the mother and child to respond to one another in ways that increase the likelihood of survival through proximity in times of stress and is observed in humans and nonhumans (Bowlby, 1988). Sensitive and responsive parenting promotes the expectation of care when it is needed, shaping the socioemotional development of the child. Bowlby (1973, p. 208) identified the quality of the attachment relationship as a precipitating factor in adjustment problems involving distrust or anxiety, claiming that unmet needs for security can lead the child to view the world as “comfortless and unpredictable, and they respond either by shrinking from it or doing battle with it.” Prolonged postpartum maternal depression interferes with the mother’s emotional availability and sensitivity to the child’s needs, disrupting the development of secure attachment bond (Cicchetti, Rogosch, ; Toth, pp. 283–300). Though not inevitable, insecure attachment relationships are more common with mothers suffering from postpartum depression (Atkinson et al., pp. 1019–1040 and Martins ; Gaffan, pp. 737–746). Laboratory studies reveal that depressed mothers show fewer positive and animated faces and voices, more sad and angry faces, fewer expressions of interest, and less accurate matching of happy facial expressions to happy vocal expressions (Field, pp. 59–88 and Lundy et al., pp. 419–424). The effects of these behaviors on the child can be immediately reciprocated back to the mother, with the infant showing unresponsiveness to facial expressions, fussiness and inconsolability, and disturbed sleep. As Field (2002, p. 62) described, most mothers and infants have smooth, harmonious interactions, but depressed mothers and their infants have more interactions that are “choppy, uncoordinated, and unpleasant to observe.”
One study found that depression during pregnancy and at 4 months postpartum predicted attachment insecurity when the child was 14 months old and problem behaviors and intellectual competencies when the child was 30 months old (Carter, Garrity-Rokous, Chazan-Cohen, Little, ; Briggs-Gowan, pp. 18–26). In another study, children of postpartum depressed mothers were followed up at 3 years, 10 months of age (Sharp et al., pp. 1315–1336). After controlling for birth weight, parental IQ, family functioning, and home environment, the children still scored significantly below normal on standardized tests of intellectual attainment. Murray (pp. 543–561) also found that maternal depression at 2 months postpartum increased risk of insecure mother–child attachments 16 months later and, at 5-year follow-up, attachment security at 18 months of age mediated a negative relation between postnatal depression at 2 months and child prosocial behavior at age 6 (Murray et al., pp. 1259–1271). Characteristics of insecure attachment in adolescence, while not necessarily determined by infant attachment, also relate to psychosocial functioning. We recently found that insecure attachment characteristics in 16-year-old juvenile delinquents related to the severity of their substance use problems and delinquent behavior (Elgar, Knight, Worrall, ; Sherman, pp. 35–48).
My secondary research pointed towards the conclusion that the long-term consequences of insecure attachment entail chronic difficulties in emotional regulation, sensitivity to stress, and social functioning, as rightly stated by Carlson and Srufe, “Having few opportunities to refine the skills needed to regulate emotion increases the child’s risk of maladjustment” (Carlson & Sroufe, pp. 581–617).
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