073: Attachment: What it is, what it’s not, how to do it, and how to stop stressing about it

Is attachment the same as bonding? 

Can I have a healthy attachment with my baby if I don’t breastfeed?

Do I have to babywear to develop an attachment to my baby?

Will being apart from my baby disrupt our attachment relationship?

Is co-sleeping critical to attachment?


These are just a few of the questions that listeners wrote to me after I sent out a call for questions on Attachment.  This was such an enormous topic to cover that Dr. Arietta Slade and I did the best we could in the time we had, and we did indeed cover a lot of ground.

If you’ve ever been curious about the scientific evidence on how attachment forms, what are its benefits, and what it has NOT been shown to do, this is the episode for you.  We also cover reflective functioning, one of the central ways that the attachment relationship develops, and discuss how to improve our skills in this arena.


Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Benoit, D. (2004). Infant-parent attachment: Definition, types, antecedents, measurement and outcome. Pediatric Child Health 9(8), 541-545.

Bowlby, J. (1973/1991). Attachment and Loss: Volume 2. Separation: Anxiety and anger. London, U.K.: Penguin.

Bowlby, J. (1971/1991). Attachment and Loss: Volume 1. Attachment. London, U.K.: Penguin.

Cassidy, J. (2008). The nature of the child’s ties. In J. Cassidy & P.R. Shaver (Eds.) Handbook of Attachment (pp.3-22). New York, NY: Guilford.

Hudson, N.W., & Fraley, R.C. (2018). Moving toward greater security: The effects of repeatedly priming attachment security and anxiety. Journal of Research in Personality 74, 147-157.

Jones, J.D., Brett, B.E., Ehrlich, K.B., Lejuez, C.W., & Cassidy, J. (2014). Maternal attachment style and responses to adolescents’ negative emotions: The mediating role of maternal emotion regulation. Parenting: Science and Practice 14, 235-257.

Julian, T.W., McKenry, P.C., & McKelvey, M.W. (1994). Cultural variations in parenting: Perceptions of Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American parents. Family Relations 43(1), 30-37.

LeVine, R.A., & Levine, S. (2016). Do parents matter? Why Japanese babies sleep soundly, Mexican siblings don’t fight, and American families should just relax. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.

Marvin, R.S., & Britner, P.A. (2008). Normative Development: The ontogeny of attachment. In J. Cassidy & P.R. Shaver (Eds.) Handbook of Attachment (pp.269-294). New York, NY: Guilford.

Nicholson, B., & Parker, L. (2013). How did attachment parenting originate? Attached at the heart. Retrieved from: www.attachedattheheart.attachmentparenting.org/faq/

Raby, K.L., Roisman, G.I., Labella, M.H., Martin, J., Fraley, R.C., & Simpson, J.A. (2018). The legacy of early abuse and neglect for social and academic competence from childhood to adulthood. Online first. Retrieved from https://socialinteractionlab.dl.umn.edu/sites/g/files/pua1356/f/2018/Raby%20et%20al%20%28CD%2C%202018%29.pdf

Sadler, L.S., Slade, A., & Mayes, L.C. (2006). Minding the Baby: A mentalization-based parenting Program. In J.G. Allen & P. Fonagy (Eds.), The handbook of mentalization-based treatment (pp.271-288). Chichester, U.K.: John Wiley & Sons.

Slade, A. (2014). Imagining fear: Attachment, threat, and psychic experience. Psychoanalytic Dialogues 24(3), 253-266.

Slade, A. (2005). Parental reflective functioning: An introduction. Attachment & Human Development 7(3), 269-281.

Slade, A., Sadler, L., Dios-Kenn, C.D., Webb, D., Currier-Ezepchick, J., & Mayes, L. (2005). Minding the Baby: A reflective parenting program. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 60, 74-100.

Slade, A. (2002). Keeping the baby in mind: A critical factor in perinatal mental health. Zero to Three. June/July, 10-16.



Also published on Medium.


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  1. Denise on October 1, 2018 at 8:07 AM

    Hi, I’ve been a loyal listener to your podcast for more than a year now and I’ve always appreciated and learned greatly from what you have shared. This episode however has left me with a doubt. You and Dr. Slade talk about extended babywearing and how it doesn’t help the baby when it comes to the exploration stage, because the baby needs to be able to distance him/herself from the mother. I have a two and a half year old who I have been babywearing since birth and until today. I mostly follow RIE principles and she is a confident toddler who had no problems in learning to crawl, walk and generally move away from me. I mostly use babywearing as a means of transport (instead of using a stroller which can be very inconvenient) and, while she was a younger, to soothe her and help her sleep when nothing else seemed to work (looking back this is perhaps the time I should have just held her until she finished crying but I did the best I could at the time). My questions are, what do you mean by extended babywearing? (Perhaps we define it differently.) And how does it prevent the child from developing in the exploration stage?

    • Jen Lumanlan on October 4, 2018 at 3:46 AM

      Denise, I emailed Dr. Slade to ask her but haven’t heard back yet – if she does get back to me then I’ll let you know here. My assumption, though, is that you didn’t babywear “too much” – you didn’t hold your daughter when she wanted to explore. By holding a child in that phase of their life they learn specific things about their society and how to interact with it. In Western societies, the child needs to be able to explore and then return to a safe base (usually the mother). But people in many Native American cultures physically bind their babies to a cradleboard, preventing the babies’ movement – but allowing them to be propped in a place where they can watch everything that’s going on, which allows them to develop observational learning skills that would be the envy of many Western adults

    • Jen Lumanlan on October 15, 2018 at 6:07 AM

      Hi Denise – Dr. Slade was traveling and just responded to my email containing your question. She said that babywearing for transport and soothing is just fine; keeping the baby close when the baby has an interest in exploring and crawling away from the caregiver is where babywearing becomes problematic. In Western cultures the baby should be allowed to see the caregiver as a secure base, from which they can move away to explore and return again to safety when they feel they need it. If they’re never allowed to move away then that’s when problems potentially arise. And once again, this is applicable to Western cultures primarily – in other cultures, parents may use very different methods of allowing (or not allowing) their child to explore which are more relevant to their culture’s norms. Hope this helps!

  2. Severina Georgieva on October 4, 2018 at 2:54 PM

    Related to the first question, Dr. Slade mentions that the extended breastfeeding, just like the extended baby-wearing, can be disruptive to the child, but she gives examples only for the later. I personally don’t have a bone in that, I weaned my twins at 20 months, but I am curious why is it bad to breastfeed until later. Unless it something really extreme like breastfeeding a first grader in front of their classmates, or breastfeeding so much it becomes a substitute for solid foods, but I don’t think many cases are like that. I can’t think of anything besides our society’s norms and feelings about breastfeed toddlers.

  3. Severina Georgieva on October 4, 2018 at 3:05 PM

    Also, OH MY GOD did I messed up the first year! I am terrified now when I think of how I handled my twins’ infancy stages. I didn’t bond with them for a long time, the first days in the hospital I felt better when they were in the nursery because I thought the nurses know better than me what to do, later we tried to sleep train! I really did I number on them before I found my first RIE book and felt more confident in my skills. :'(
    Now, at 3, I look at every emotional struggle they have and wander if it is not influenced by my mistakes. Are there any more subtle signes in older children that suggest the attachment process went wrong? They don’t have PTSD of course but maybe my boy is so sensitive and clingy because of that. When he gets upset it can take him more that an hour to calm down despite that I am next to him ready to help him however he needs. Or maybe my daughter had such a hard time at drop off because of that…

  4. Ashley on October 10, 2018 at 8:54 PM

    I was so excited for this episode! I am VERY curious though, I have a 7 month old daughter that has frequent night wakings. Too frequent to be hunger every time. My partner really wants us to sleep train, but with what I’ve studied about attachment, it’s risky. By not responding to baby, she is literally learning to self-soothe BECAUSE “nobody is coming”. That strikes me as an attachment fail and one of my primary goals through this stage is ensuring she has a secure attachment system. I’ve tried to search google scholar for studies re: attachment and sleep training but to no avail. I kind of got the feeling that Dr. Slade would say that crying it out is not necessarily chronically stressful, but how could we know without a study that monitors stress hormones while sleep training? Or maybe I missed a study out there? Thank you!

    • Jen Lumanlan on October 11, 2018 at 6:34 PM

      Hi Ashley – thanks for your question. Did you see my previous episode on sleep? I looked at the research on whether crying at nighttime seems to harm the child there. In a nutshell, a study of cortisol levels implied that there is no harm being done, but the way the study was conducted may have obscured an effect that was there. Ultimately, this may be a decision that research can’t help you to solve. I assume your daughter is sleeping in her own room? If you were co-sleeping (as humans have done throughout history), she might not wake as much and you wouldn’t find wakings disruptive. Asking a young child to sleep by themselves in their own room is actually very unusual in history and in many cultures today (I say this as someone who never coslept). Some babies more than others want to be close to their parent at night time and if you want her to sleep by herself, you’re going to have to accept a certain amount of crying because “nobody is coming.” There are a variety of things you can do to try to ease the process, but ultimately you are getting her used to something she doesn’t seem interested in doing. If you are a better parent during the day because you got rest at night time, the benefits of training FOR HER may outweigh the drawbacks. Hope this helps…

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