How Does Your Understanding of Attachment Theory and Maternal Deprivation Inform Your Understanding of Nursing/Midwifery Practice?

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How does your understanding of attachment theory and maternal deprivation inform your understanding of nursing/midwifery practice?

“The relationship between mothers and infants is critical for child development. For whatever reason, in some cases, that relationship doesn’t develop normally. Neglect and abuse can result, with devastating effects on a child’s development” (Strathearn, 2008)

A psychological perspective of attachment is a term to describe a reciprocal emotional tie that develops over time. There are many developmental theories relating themselves to attachment and deprivation and many arguments over the nature-nurture debate. However, the name that comes to the forefront of most minds when speaking of this topic is John Bowlby, the pioneer in relationship research. From the 1950’s Bowlbys work revolutionised the way in which people thought about a child and the tie to its mother, it made people look at how separation, deprivation and bereavement affected them. Bowlbys work went on to generate an abundance of research and have a great deal of impact on the emotional care of young children. This essay will explore the evolutionary theory of attachment exemplified by Bowlby, along with his maternal deprivation hypothesis and investigate studies that support and challenge his theories. The essay will follow a pattern of questions: What is attachment and when does it commence? How and why is it established? And what happens if no attachment is formed? The conclusion will look at how these theories help in the understanding of midwifery practice.

When you become attached to someone, you have formed a special bond or relationship with that person, and he or she with you. It is a strong emotional bond or respective tie that develops over time between an infant and their primary caregiver. (Maurer and Maurer 1989) “Attachments are welded in the heat of interactions”

(Maurer and Maurer 1989, 227)

Maccoby (1980) identified four characteristics of this bond; seeking proximity, distress upon separation, pleasure when reunited and general orientation of behaviour towards the primary caregiver. Maccoby was inspired by Schaffer and Emerson’s (cited in Cardwell et al 2008) study of 60 Glaswegian infants. As part of this study they hoped to find the age at which attachments start and how intense these were by observations of separation and stranger anxiety. Their findings were that unique attachments appear to develop at 7months with multiple attachments developing soon after; they also found that attachments were formed with those who would interact and were responsive with the infant rather than those that were present most often. Schaffer and Emerson believed that this showed attachment as developmental stages. (Cardwell et al 2008) Bowlby (1969) also proposed there were different stages of development, beginning with ‘pre-attachment’ at 0-2 months where infants produce similar responses to all things, objects or people. His second stage between 2-6 months, ‘attachment in the making’ is when the infant starts to recognise familiar people. Bowlby (1969) believed ‘real’ attachment begins at around 6 months when the infant starts to show signs of separation and stranger anxiety. In contrast, more recent research shows that attachment could begin much earlier. Bushnell et al. (1989) found that at less than 24 hours old, infants would look for longer at their mother than another woman. Another study using an operant sucking procedure shows that new-borns, ranging from 12 to 36 hours of age, produced significantly more responses to their mothers' faces as opposed to a stranger'. (Walton et al. 1992) Although impossible to measure from the infants’ perspective, and classified as bonding, it is believed that attachment could even begin in pregnancy. (Friedman and Gradstein 1982)

“Soon after conception the psychological and physiological processes of pregnancy are set in motion.” (Friedman and...
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