Written by Leanne Astalos BA (Hons, DSFH, HPD, AfSFH (Reg), CNCH (Reg), HCPC (Reg)

Leanne Astalos - Essentia Solutions
Leanne Astalos – Essentia Solutions

My name is Leanne Astalos and I am a Therapeutic Social Worker, a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapist and a Mindfulness Practitioner. I have worked with children and families for 15 years, particularly within the areas of trauma, loss and attachment. I’m the owner of Essentia Solutions which is based in Stanwick, Northamptonshire. I have a private clinic for therapeutic services and meditation classes.

Who I have helped

Throughout my career I have advised and guided parents and carers who have struggled to form a bond and a secure attachment to a child in their care. I have helped birth families, adopted families, foster families and blended families to understand the importance of attachment and how a secure attachment can be made. 

It’s rarely a topic that is explored by medical staff during your pregnancy. However it is hugely relevant to the future well-being of your child, and as such it is something that is given far too little consideration in my opinion.

Mother and child outside in the snow
Mother and child

The importance of bonding with your baby

The scientific foundation for the notion of attachment has its roots in the work of a psychiatrist named John Bowlby (1969 & 1988). Since then research, particularly within neuroscience, has shown us how relevant a secure attachment is to the healthy brain development of a baby.
A secure attachment is a deep, unwavering confidence that a baby has in the availability and responsiveness of the caregiver. 

Babies and children with a secure attachment will be able to feel a sense of safety and security, a secure attachment will help them to regulate their emotions and it will provide them with a secure base from which they will feel more able to explore their world. A secure attachment lays the foundation for babies and children to mature into healthy adults, emotionally balanced, mentally well and more able to cope with day-to-day living. You can see why I feel it deserves more attention than it currently gets!

Parents and care givers will naturally bond and form secure attachments with their babies over time if they are given the opportunities needed to comfortably attune to each other. Attunement occurs when the caregiver is engaged with the baby, when they can understand the baby’s needs and respond appropriately. For example, when a baby cries to be fed, the caregiver understands this, reassures the baby with a soothing voice and a cuddle and feeds the baby. The baby has expressed their need, the care giver has understood, responded and the need has been met. In a nutshell, when this is done consistently and reliably, the baby learns that she can feel safe and secure with her care giver. 

What can stop you bonding with your baby

There can be circumstances that occur that can hinder the ability for baby and parent to be able to attune to each other. For example, birth trauma, prolonged separation of baby from the parents, the emotional availability of the parent or parental illness, and more. When babies are born prematurely there is often a combination of these circumstances that can make it difficult for parent and baby. But all is not lost! If you are managing that difficult situation where your baby is being cared for within a special care unit, there are lots of things you can do to help you both attune and build on that secure attachment.

The first thing you can do is pay attention to your baby, really pay attention. Notice how your baby responds to things within her incubator and outside. Notice whether she likes or dislikes certain things, sounds, smells, touch, taste, etc. If you notice that she is getting upset stop or limit what you are doing and look for any change. When she is calm try to find what may be making her feel settled. For very poorly babies, and very premature babies it may take them a while to connect with the outside world and that’s okay. They need all their energy to go towards growing and recovering.

Babies hand hold a parents finger
Babies hand hold a parents finger

Bonding with your premature baby

Recognising your baby’s needs and responding to them appropriately is key when it comes to being able to form a secure attachment with your baby. Within a special care unit there will be lots of staff there who need to take care of some of those needs for you. For your baby to begin to learn that you are their primary carer it is important that you do as many nurturing activities as you can with your baby when it is safe to do so. 

Here are my 8 tips to help you form a secure attachment with your premature baby:

Senses are important

  • Touch your baby whenever you can. Observe what she likes and does not like. If she arches her back when you touch her head, stop and try somewhere else. If she is calm when holding your finger, do this as much as you can.
  • Talk to your baby, sing songs and tell her stories. Babies tend to enjoy listening to a rhythmic voice, but if she turns her head away, you know you might need to change your tone, or something else.
  • Make eye contact whenever possible. Show her that you are interested in her by smiling, talking or stroking her. You can take a break when she turns away, but when she turns back start again.
  • Share your smell. A baby’s sense of smell is very special, it helps them to identify you from others. Use this to your advantage, if possible, hold your baby so she can be close and reassured by your smell. If you cannot hold her, put a bonding heart or square in her incubator that smells like you.
  • Help your baby to stay calm when she is awake by ensuring that you are calm. Babies are very sensitive to changes in our tone of voice, body language, heart rate and breathing that can arise when we are feeling stressed. Practice slowing your breathing to a regular pace to help you feel calmer and more relaxed.

None sensory helpful tips

  • Be predictable. This will help your baby to feel more settled and secure. It will also help them to determine who is the most consistent carer whilst they are still in hospital. You can be predictable by giving them the same cue each time you do something different with them. Talk to them about cuddle time, feeding time, story time, to help them know what to expect next.
  • Celebrate each tiny success. It can be very easy to become focused on how you would rather things be different for you and your baby. This will only add to your stress and divert your attention away from attuning to your baby. Instead try noticing and celebrating each little success: the first time she grips your finger, opens her eyes, puts on weight. 
  • Finally, practice mindful parenting. When we can be in the moment with our children, our minds free from other distractions, we can be free to truly connect and bond with them.
Mother kissing her baby boy
Mother kissing her baby boy

How you can contact me

I’m available for any parents looking for advice or guidance on this subject or any other. You can find out more about the services that I offer at www.essentiahypnotherapy.co.uk 

In addition to these I also run mindfulness meditation classes for beginners. I can create a service to meet individual needs. I can be contacted by email at leanne@essentiahypnotherapy.co.uk