Positive Parenting Newsfeed—a Child Trends Project—is Supported by the National Science Foundation

Reacting to Baby’s Cry

Mother's heart rate plays a role in attachment

ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire)—Most moms strive for a secure relationship with their baby, one in which the baby will rely on the parent for emotional and physical support. But studies show that about 40 percent of infants have insecure relationships with their moms. Now researchers are looking for clues as to what causes this breakdown.

The bond between mother and baby is a special one. But sometimes babies develop insecure relationships with mom and avoid or resist contact when they’re afraid or upset. Researchers wanted to know what factors can cause this resistance. They studied a group of 127 moms and babies. Half were African American and half were European American. The scientists examined the moms’ heart rates as they interacted with their crying six-month-old. They found that when moms’ heart rates were less affected by their babies’ cries, babies were more likely to have insecure relationships at 12 months. They also found that moms who were emotionally neutral when their babies were distressed were more likely to have resistant infants at 12 months.

The study suggests that a mother’s response is very important. Before attending to a distressed baby, experts suggest relaxing or taking a couple of deep breaths. This helps regulate heart rate. Researchers also say you should keep a positive facial expression when attempting to soothe your baby.

Researchers say that one reason a lower heart rate could lead to an insecure relationship is because babies might view their moms as less effective sources of comfort. Also, infants may feel the need to increase their level of distress to get their mother’s attention. They say more studies need to be done to explain this link.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Julie Marks, Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Jamison Koczan, Editor.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

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