Research conducted in the 1960’s into attachment to mother and father, and especially mother, was closely studied by English psychologist John Bowlby and his student Mary Ainsworth. These two researchers were hugely influenced by observing the consequences for children who were separated from their parents during the second world war.
Anna Freud established the Hampstead War Nurseries to care for children whose parents were unable to care for them. Also, as a consequence of the war, similarly orphaned infants and children in overcrowded institutions were only rarely and briefly touched by staff, without being affectionately held, hugged or stroked. Many of them died.
Ainsworth and her group studied a small group of mothers and infants observing the care giving behaviours when the caregiver was under mild to moderate stress.
Linking these behaviours to the child’s behaviour, they found that caregivers who had been sensitive to their infant’s signals of distress, and who provided responsive, contingent care to the infant, were likely to have infants who displayed proximity-seeking and contact maintaining behaviours, and were calmed by the mothers’ presence.
Caregivers, on the other hand, who often ignored their infant’s signals of distress, or who were unnecessarily intrusive were unlikely to have infants who were securely attached; these attachments were deemed insecure.
Because babies see themselves as the cause of their experiences, the type of care they receive affects the belief they develop about themselves: if the parents are unresponsive, children will see themselves as unlovable and undeserving of comfort (Gethin et al 2011).
After gaining power in Romania in the mid 1960’s, the communist leader NIcolae Ceausescu implemented drastic measures to transform the country from an agricultural society into an industrial one. To increase the population, the regime limited contraception and abortion, and imposed tax on couples older than 25 who were childless. These polices led many parents to abandon their children who were then placed in state run institutions. Thousands of families moved from villages to cities to take jobs at government factories.
It was only after Ceausescu was deposed as recently as 1989 that the outside world saw the horrific conditions in which these children were living.
After birth, the infants were permanently separated from their mothers. The bonding feelings that mother has for her baby after the birth relies on her capacity to identify with the infant, enabling her adaptation to her baby’s absolute dependency on her. The fate of these babies were sealed very early as they were kept for six months in the severely understaffed maternity units in rows of cots where they were left for hours at a time to shift for themselves (Nelson et al 2014).
They fared no better as toddlers. They were also left alone in cribs for hours. Human contact and touch occurred in an impersonal way when a care giver, each responsible for 15 to 20 children, came to feed or bathe them. Stimulation of any sort was erratic or nonexistent at best.
Recent exposes of outcomes for these children in Romania suggest that they were so touch starved that they failed to grow to half their expected height or weight.
As recent studies suggest, they also failed to develop normal cognitive and motor skills. In the first year of life, the infant’s brain grows more than it will again in any one year. By the end of three years of age, the child will have achieved 90% of its brain growth. Virtually full adult brain size. In its first year then, the infant’s brain grows more than it ever will again in any one year.
Dr Paul Schanberg from Duke university shared his findings with mother rats and rat pups.; the pups failed to thrive and died if they were deprived of tongue licking touch from their mothers.
Over 30 years ago, Harry Harlow at the university of Wisconsin alerted psychology, and the rest of the sciences to the importance of what he called contact comfort in his pioneering studies of infant monkeys reared on artificial surrogates. He built one surrogate mother out of terry cloth, and another out of wire mesh. For some of the monkey infants, the terry cloth mother provided milk, and the wire mother did not.
For others the condition was reversed. The monkey infants preferred the cloth mother without the milk instead of the wire mother who provided the milk, but they would lean over the wire to access the milk from the wire monkey who had it.
Infant monkeys who had no real or surrogate mother developed habits of clasping their own bodies. As these deprived monkeys grew older, they failed to develop normal grooming patterns, and had difficulty reproducing.
So, compelling evidence then, that self-absorbed, controlling, abusive and hostile care giving can have long lasting, damaging effects. Babies who experience care that is unresponsive, unpredictable or threatening, can develop attachment problems that significantly slow their physical growth and psychological development.
It is ironic then, that Tiffany Field (2005) in her book on Touch, reveals that at the same time American television viewers were baulking at the sight of the Romanian orphans, American teachers were being directed not to touch children in their care for fear of sexual abuse lawsuits. Despite the many critically important functions of touch, most children in America are socialised at an early age to limit their touching. They are scolded when touching their own body parts, and not to touch another people. By adolescence they are cautious about physical intimacy, and must express themselves by facial expressions and words rather than touch.
The research study shown below was one carried out in Toronto, Canada. It examines fathers’ take on infant massage and makes for interesting reading.
Supporting Fathering Through Infant Massage.
Carolynn Darrell Cheng, MA, Anthony A. Volk, PhD, Zopito A Marini, PhD. (2011)
The Journal of Perinatal Education.
- Perinat Educ. 2011 Fall; 20(4): 200-209
This article makes the assumption that fathers experience parent related stress early in the post partum period (first 3 to 4 months), and hopes to reduce this stress by greater father bond by using infant massage techniques.
To address the complex father-infant relationship, a pilot study using mixed methodology approach was conducted. Paternal stress was measured using the Parenting Stress Index at baseline and at post intervention. It is a commercially available tool designed to measure parental stress in the parent – child relationship. Qualitative interview was constructed in a semi-structured format, consisting of nine open ended questions. Only the fathers in the experimental group participated in the interview.
The transition to parenthood is a developmental milestone that many men and women achieve in the lifespan. Given that most fathers had mixed feelings about being a father (58%), it is heartening to also know that (58%) were positive about infant massage although (78%) found it challenging to perform at home.
Although a new culture of fatherhood appears to be emerging (being present at the birth and lying in with mother and baby afterwards) the practice of fatherhood has not really caught up to the idea of men being equally involved participants. The study shows that they can feel very dissatisfied and stressed with their inability to form close attachment with their infant, especially in the early post partum period.
Pilot study – 12 infant – father dyads participated in the intervention, and 12 infant – father dyads populated a wait-list control.
1) Importance of touch
2) Well developed before birth
3) Touch conveys tactile emotional message.
Stress and Parenthood
Transition to parenthood found most men unprepared, the implication of stress.
Some decline in marital relationship affects fathers more as they seem not to have coping resources physically, emotionally and socially.
Men are working as the dominant family earners, and devote most of their attention to economic viabilities of the family. They are also hard wired in the belief that it is normal for dads not to engage with child until they are older. Although studies have highlighted the benefit of infant massage for both mothers and infants, much less is known about fathers. They also have generally less knowledge of:
(a) normal child’s development
(b) parental scheduling
(c) infant’s needs
(d)often feel unprepared to assume a parenting role.
(e) because fathers experience a greater desire and social shift in their involvement in infant care, they may experience even more stress in transition to parenthood. Hence they feel excluded.
The results of the study
Major themes were extracted through qualitative analysis:
Most fathers (58%) reported mixed feelings about being a father.
Their relationship with their infant changed over time (67%), although they didn’t generally attribute changes to infant massage (25%). Fathers were mostly positive about it (58%), even if they found it challenging to perform at home (75%); not wanting to disrupt bedtime routine, or having set ‘daddy’ activities; therefore, finding the time to do daily infant massage was not realistic.
It is possible that the fathers in the experimental group were already set in their routines and were less willing to incorporate a new activity into their schedule.
(75%) Most infants enjoyed the massage (67%), and most fathers would recommend it to other fathers (75%). Fathers reported a wide range of positive impressions about infant massage (e.g getting closer to their infants and connecting with other fathers) although the only general complaint about the classes was that the instructor sometimes went too fast (17%).
Statistically it would appear that no firm conclusions can be drawn from this because a larger and more diverse sample of fathers and infants, particularly participants representing different cultural groups, is needed for a more firm recommendation.