Transcript: Building Trust With Your Baby Using Secure Attachment Parenting

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Building Trust With Your Baby Using Secure Attachment Parenting and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

Helen Thompson: Something that is incredibly important when interacting with your little one during those early days, is to do all you can to build trust and closen your bond with them. I teach parents how to closen their connection regularly via baby massage. In this episode I’m talking about secure attachment parenting and why building a secure attachment bond is so important.

In episode 97 of First Time Mum’s Chat, Adjusting to the Challenges of Parenting After Birth, I interviewed the wonderful Dr. Diane Speier, an author, birth and postpartum professional with over 40 years experience and I thought who better to discuss this topic with? You’ll hear Diane share the history of secure attachment, and we discuss how to improve the connection with your little one, and ways to give them a healthy sense of self and build a loving, empathetic relationship and so, so much more.

Hi Diane, welcome back to First Time Mum’s Chat, it’s great to welcome you back. I’m looking forward to our chat and hearing your pearls of wisdom as always.

Helen Thompson: I mention a lot about secure attachment in baby massage and how important secure attachment is. I know you know a lot about baby massage and umpteen things and I thought we’d chat a little bit about secure attachment cuz I know that’s a huge question that people ask. What is secure attachment and how does it help my baby?

Diane Speier: Okay, so can I give you a little background to how attachment became an issue? That really goes back to the middle of the 20th century when John Baldi was studying what connections between mothers and babies were all about and he was using a model of babies that were usually institutionalized in some ways. Some of them were in orphanages, some of them were in other kinds of institutional care, and he found that there was something called maternal deprivation and when babies were experiencing that, because they were not in the loving care of a parent, h e was able to notice what kinds of changes that caused in the personality of the child and the way in which it developed and where there were deficits and where there were missing pieces in terms of their ordinary normal development.

Then in the 1970s, Mary Ainsworth took that theory and ran with it but essentially what John Baldi was saying is that there needs to be a primary caregiver and originally it was the mother, but then, you know, with the feminist movement, the terminology changed from mother to primary caregiver. That’s a biological requirement for the survival of the species. So when he saw that there was deprivation, he saw that this could be very difficult for how individuals in that circumstance could grow up.

Mary Ainsworth created something called the strange situation and what they did, was in this sort of laboratory kind of environment, they would bring a mother in with the child that was somewhere between a year and 18 months, most of the time they’d be 13, 14 months old and there would be a series of things that would happen. So the mother would come in with the child and would meet the person that was in the room that was the stranger. Then the mother would leave, and then the stranger would leave and then the stranger would come back, and then the mother would come back and what they were really looking for was what was the child’s reaction when the mother came back?

In that framework they were able to find that some children, about 70% of children were securely attached. 15% of those children were what they called insecure ambivalent, which is more of an anxious, clingy kind of reaction and then the other 15% were the insecure avoidant. So these were children that just ignored the mother when the mother came back. They had a rejecting way of being. And through that, they came with this classification of one secure attachment and two different kinds of insecure attachments and of course the theory has been going on and on and on. So, a child who’s been lovingly attended to and experiences a responsive parenting experience or caregiving experience gets their needs met and they’re confident about getting their needs met. They’re easily sued if they’re upset about something. They feel as if that caregiver represents a secure base for them. They have a deep sense of trust. Trust in a preliminary way, sort of in tune with what’s going on around them, but trust that caregiver is going to be there as a secure base and get their needs met and an unwavering nurturing response from the parent.

Okay. So that’s what really secure attachment is, that the quality of the interaction between the mother and the infant is so tuned in, switched on, that that baby starts moving forward, feeling very connected, feeling very seen, feeling very felt by the parent and a whole range of emotional development that’s very appropriate and secure.

Helen Thompson: And I think that’s where touch from baby massage comes in as well, because when we’re touching and communicating with our baby, we’re giving them that secure attachment, we’re giving them that bonding. I think that from touch point of view from baby massage, I know how important it is to touch and communicate with our baby and the secure attachment is also just as important because the baby’s gotta feel secure to be loved and I think that’s where it links to baby massage.

Diane Speier: So I absolutely agree with you. I think that one of the beauties of doing baby massage is that it’s establishing that kind of nurturing and connection and through the experience that you just said of being touched, of having almost all of the nerve endings in the body soothed and smoothed at a sort of deep level.

I remember for years, when I was doing baby massage myself, I would tell my mothers that, initially it’s very stimulating baby massage. It brings blood flow to the surface of the skin and that contact, that working the massage through the tissue, through the muscles, through the nerves of the baby is establishing through my touch. When I go across your abdomen and baby feels that, they know, that’s where some of that nurturing is established in the way the body receives it I think. As far as kind of reorienting parents from a depressed state of being into a more normal, interactive way of being, baby massage classes are always recommended. And I had fathers that interviewed for the book and they were describing how as they were, you know, trying to make the reconnect, cuz this father, by the time I spoke to him, he had two children and he found that the experience sent him spiraling down in both occasions. The people that were counseling him, were really advising him to really take advantage of the baby massage classes that were there. So, you know, they, they can be so important for the ordinary and the everyday, but they can also be so important for someone who is trying to o and not only with their baby, but with life.

Helen Thompson: Yeah. I think baby massage, is something I would try and bring into the point that fathers are just as involved as mothers or, or grandparents as well, because you’ve just mentioned they can be depressed. They sometimes feel detached themselves because if mom’s breastfeeding, they don’t have the chance to have that connection other than at bath time and it’s important for them to have that. I’ll use the word secure attachment instead of bonding, but I’m not discriminating the two, but they need that bonding and secure attachment time as well and so does baby. Baby needs that connection with dad as well and I think your point there about bringing the dad in, especially after they’ve been in hospital and they haven’t had that support, it’s really important that they’re both involved.

Diane Speier: Yes whenever I’ve worked in sort of the prenatal state and with parents, I was always working with couples. Sometimes they may be getting a wonderfully secure attachment from the mother. They may not be getting that from the father, and there can be some conflict in that as well.

So if they’re getting their needs met from one side, but not necessarily the other there’d be a different kind of interaction and dynamic going on, where one feels safe and one doesn’t feel as safe. So there are four components to attachment. So they need to know that those parents represent a safe haven, that if they step out into the world a little bit, that that parent is there for them to come back to. It’s like a secure base and so they can explore a little bit and then come back and know that that secure base is still there. Then there’s this proximity seeking. So if they go out and someone says, boo, and they get scared and they run back, they wanna run back to that person that represents that kind of security and that’s that proximity seeking.

They’re gonna look for someone, they wanna be near that person to feel like they’re confident about what’s happening around them and the last part is this sort of notion of separation protest. So that was what was being measured during the Mary Ainsworth Strange Situation experiment that was going on, I think it was 1972 or something, did the child protest when the parent came back, did the child express some dissatisfaction about what just happened and that was the measure of what kind of attachment they had and so those are the four aspects or components of attachments that’s important to know.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I think it’s interesting you say that, cause I’m putting it towards the sort of older child that when they go to daycare, or when they have to leave their parents, if their parents are going to work and they’re dropped off at daycare or anything, if they’ve had that secure attachment when they were younger, giving them the opportunity to explore, giving them the opportunity to go off and play or do what they want to do but they always know that their parents there when they come back. When they go to daycare, they might be a little bit upset to begin with, but they will always know that mom or dad will come back and pick them up so they’ve still got that sense of security and that sense of attachment, knowing that their dad or mom or grandparent will still come and pick them up.

Diane Speier: Right and that is their secure base and also sometimes it’s not as clear or distinct what a safe haven is versus a secure base. So a safe haven is that knowing that you can always come back into the loving arms of your parents, you are safe. That’s safe. I can be there in my home, I am safe with my parents because I feel that level of security. It’s when they start to explore, when they start to move away, that they need to be able to come back to that as their secure base and as you say, so children that are just starting out in daycare or even preschool the first time that happens, they may be like, okay, your parents going away and I’m good but then the second time they go, they know the routine and they may squawk about that. They may be really, really uncomfortable about that and that’s where they’re protesting, why are you going away? You can’t go away without me.

Helen Thompson: You’re not leaving me behind, you’re leaving me, help! I don’t want to be left behind but it’s all part of that secure attachment.

Diane Speier: That’s right. These are all the various elements of what contributes to feeling securely attached. Is being able to manage all of those different aspects, so someone who doesn’t feel safe at home. There’s another aspect of of attachment that came later on, and I think Mary Main was the sort of disciple of Mary Ainsworth in terms of taking that word and expanding it further. And this was something called a disorganized attachment and it sort of was like an overlay of the other different kinds of insecure attachments.

And when someone has a disorganized attachment it, it means that they’re getting different signals, they’re getting signals that sometimes my parent is loving and sometimes my parent neglects me. So the parent is both the source of love, but also the source of fear and they’re really not really sure of how to respond, so, parents are not always at their best when they’re dealing with their children, and sometimes parents take it out on their children. So, in one moment they’re feeling loved and the next moment they’re feeling scared and so it creates a sort of an attachment that’s you know, so like it’s an added descriptor, cause they don’t know whether they’re coming or going. They’re like, oh, you love me or do you hate me and and where am I in the basis of that? So they may not feel that home is a safe haven in those circumstances. They may not feel like they have a secure base and so, someone who has an insecure, it doesn’t even have to be disorganized, but someone with an insecure attachment doesn’t feel necessarily able to explore the world as confidently as a securely attached child. They may feel, that it takes a long time for them to be soothed. They feel clingier because there’s an anxiety that goes with the ambivalent attachment. So yeah there’s a different kind of experience of going beyond the sort of maternal child bonds and bonding experience and moving out into the world.

And the child that has a sort of an avoidance insecure attachment is probably, a parent that was rejecting or minimizing or, the child is distressed or distraught and the parent is like, well it’s not a big deal and not responsive in the way, sort of predictably unresponsive to meeting the needs of the baby who’s not gonna be easily soothed and is not gonna feel secure about all of those things that are part of creating an attachment bond with parents. So yeah, they’re not feeling really well nurtured. So there are so many different aspects and so many different ways that attachment can be affected along the way and it could be the temperament of the baby, it could be the state of mind of the parents, it could be a set of circumstances that are beyond their control. All kinds of things are contributing to this. So the fact that we still have 70% of our population feeling securely attached is a good thing and one of the things that’s probably best for that is, a baby massage class.

What do you think is the best age to be bringing babies in for baby massage?

Helen Thompson: I like the idea of doing it when they’re young, when they’re probably about a month to two months old. It’s just my own preference because I feel that it’s important to teach mom when they’re little to bond and attach and communicate and sing to their baby. When I do my baby massage classes, I’m always singing and chatting to the baby as well. I’m encouraging the baby to communicate and respecting the baby’s wishes and watching their cues and all that and I teach the parents that as well. So I like to start at that age, however, having said that, I’m not saying that you can’t start when they’re toddlers, but to me, if you start when they’re really young, between I’ll say a month to, well, it depends what you call baby massage. I mean skin to skin and rubbing your baby’s back, it’s still a massage, but actually going to a baby massage class I’d say sort of a month to two months when they’ve just sort of got used to the world and the parents have just got used to them and doing it that way but as a toddler you can do it, but toddlers want to run around.

Diane Speier: And by the time the child is sort of turning over and crawling, parents can barely change their nappies and diapers at that time, so they’re not gonna necessarily sit unless they’re really the kind of baby that just gets so mellowed out by the whole experience of that, maybe they’ll stick around for it. But I think movement and exploration is more important for them, when they get to the 7-8 months old. It may be, they wanna do other things besides baby massage.

Helen Thompson: Thank you Diane so much for being on here today. I’ve actually learnt a lot more about secure attachment than I knew before. Thank you for sharing your pearls of wisdom.

I hope you got some good takeaways from my discussion with Diane. I highly recommend checking out her Life After Birth book, website, and Digital Doula 2.0 app., and I’ve included links in the show notes, which can be accessed at

Next week I’m chatting with Chris Lake, author of Help Your Toddler Meet Their Milestones 101 Behavior Hacks. Chris has been working with children with developmental delays for two decades and more.