This common sense attachment info needs to be made public and widely circulated - It seems that we now need to restate the obvious.
Everyone in the field of early childhood education and child growth and development understand the role of mothers and infants and the bond. the fatherhood movement isn't even based in common sense, let alone scientific studies. I wish more educated people would speak up...then again, people really don't know what's going on..
...keep my babies with me all the time? As in, why don't I leave them with babysitters, or drop them off at daycare or at least a mother's morning out, take trips without them, or even leave them with my husband when I want to go out shopping for a few hours?
The short answer: I'd miss them too much. That and the whole feeding issue.
The long answer:
Biologically, mothers and babies belong together, as one unit. The mother remains the primary habitat for the baby beyond the months of pregnancy. Her body continues to completely nourish the baby for at least the first six months, and then should continue to be the main source of nutrition for at least the next ix months. The baby forms its primary attachment to the mother by being in close constant contact with her.
One of La Leche League's ten belief statements is as follows: "In the early years, the baby has an intense need to be with his mother which is as basic as his need for food." So it is not just about nutrition. Nutrition may be what helps begin the bonding of mother and baby: baby must eat frequently, and mother keeps him close. they experience skin-to-skin contact through nursing, and they begin to form a bond. The baby is learning about love and life from his mother - who he thinks he is actually a part of - through the physical closeness. He is learning to trust, and that consistent person being there all the time for him brings him security. This is what "attachment" is all about.
A baby first becomes attached to his mother, and she to him, in these early months. But the LLL statement above said the early years. This means that baby is not suddenly ready to spend a lot less time with his mother once he hits the end of his first year. The statement is vague on the exact number of years since that will vary from child to child. Independence from the mother is not something that can be forced on a child - it is a gradual process.
Personally, it seems to me that a child any less than about 18-24 months old is not going to understand about long separations from his mother. Some mothers have to work eight hours a day - yes, this is a reality for some. But it is not ideal, in my opinion. As unpopular as it may be for me to say this, I think babies and young children should be at home with their mothers. This is the person they were designed to be with for the vast majority of the time in their early years, and it has been shown to be optimal for their well-being.
Some people say that a mother who will not release her baby or toddler into the care of others is being "overprotective." They try to make it about the mother's needs more than the child's needs. So many mothers are brushed off, saying, "Oh, he doesn't need you - it sounds like you're the one who is needy!" True, a mother does feel a need to be with her nursing baby, because of the need to feed him, and also because of the bond that is there. But most mothers - myself included - are genuinely concerned for their baby's well-being in wanting to keep him close. This is not to say that other people are incompetent and can't care for a baby properly (like great Aunt Ethel who's been after you to keep the baby for a couple days while you go out of town)... just that the mother believes that it is in the baby's best interest to remain with his mother.
This reaction is somewhat understandable in our culture. We are basically taught through our experiences that toddlers, even infants, who cry for their mothers are spoiled and trying to manipulate them. That mothers are replaceable by any child care provider, at any age, and for any length of time. That toddlers who don't fall asleep alone are going to have horrible sleep problems in the future. So, I don't fault people who say, "You need to get a break from that baby!" They usually don't mean any harm - it is just ingrained in our culture, the same way any old lady who sees you with your baby in a store will ask you, "Is he a good baby?"
Babies lack object permanence. When a baby's mother leaves, he does not understand that she will be back. His brain isn't developed to the point of knowing that once she is out of sight, she still exists. It as if she has ceased to exist. The longer the separation, the harder it is on the baby. The baby can even begin to mourn for his mother as if she were dead (I wish I remember where I had read that so I could quote it directly). Even as babies gain object permanence - realizing that things still exist even when not in sight - they still think they are a part of the mother. They don't begin to really view themselves as separate for a while still.
The brain grows at a tremendous rate in the first three years - faster than at any other time. This is especially so in the first two years. So many connections are being made (or not) at this time. The combination of breastmilk and nurturing have been shown to be very important in brain development.
Hugh Riordan, Specialist in Human Communications and Director of The Olive W. Garvey Center of Human Functioning, says, "There are six reactions of children to separation when the mother is not around her child. The pattern may be 1) depression, 2) agitation or distress, 3) rejection, 4) apathy, 5) regression or 6) clinging. Why would a mother do that to her child?. . . When can a child withstand separation from the mother? Up to two years of age is a high anxiety time; from two to three years of age is a lesser anxiety time. This varies with the individual."
Sheila Kippley, in her booklet The Crucial First Three Years, writes, "William Gairdner in his book, The War Against the Family,22 pointed out that three separate research studies conducted at three different major universities all clearly showed that what babies and young children need is l) mother’s availability, 2) mother’s responsiveness to her child’s need for comfort and protection, and 3) mother’s sensitivity to her child’s signals. In other words, the mother has to be there, she has to read the signals of her baby, and she has to respond to her baby in a sensitive manner. Gairdner claims that there is unanimity on this important point: “poorly attached children are sociopaths in the making.” To avoid poorly attached children, one key is good mothering. According to Gairdner, the keys to good mothering, then, are these: availability, responsiveness, and sensitivity. Gairdner also states that “young children need an uninterrupted, intimate, and continuous connection with their mothers, especially in the very early months and years.” With prolonged breastfeeding, the mother has an uninterrupted and continuous relationship with her baby and it’s an intimate relationship as well."
Robert Lee Hotz, in his article “Study: Babies May Need Hugs to Develop Brain,” wrote, “Scientists have known for decades that maternal deprivation can mark children for life with serious behavioral problems, leaving them withdrawn, apathetic, slow to learn, and prone to chronic illness. . . Moreover, new animal research reveals that without the attention of a loving caregiver early in life, some of an infant’s brain cells simply commit suicide.” Mark Smith, a psychologist at the DuPont Merck Research Labs commented, “These cells are committing suicide. Let this be a warning to us humans. The effects of maternal deprivation may be much more profound than we had imagined.”
Harold Voth, M.D., said in the Medical Times in November 1980 (so this is not new stuff!), “A baby must have a mother, a mother who is mature enough to attend to its needs and provide so-called object constancy for a minimum of three years... The mothering function is one of the most important of all human events but, unfortunately, one of the least appreciated or regarded by society.” So true that stay-at-home moms are undervalued in our culture...
This one is from Maria Montessori in The Absorbent Mind: “Mother and child are inseparable… For the mother has to feed her child, and therefore she cannot leave him at home when she goes out. To this need for food is added their mutual fondness and love. In this way, the child’s need for nutrition, and the love that unites these two beings, both combine in solving the problem of the child’s adaptation to the world, and this happens in the most natural way possible. Mother and child are one. Except where civilization has broken down this custom, no mother ever entrusts her child to someone else… Another point is the custom of prolonging the period of maternal feeding. Sometimes this lasts for a year and a half; sometimes for two, or even three years. This has nothing to do with the child’s nutritional needs, because for some time he has been able to assimilate other kinds of food; but prolonged lactation requires the mother to remain with her child, and this satisfies her unconscious need to give her offspring the help of a full social life on which to construct his mind.”
There are lots more great quotes at the link above... I won't post them all here. If you are interested, go read more!
The chapter in the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding titled "Making a Choice" is a good read regarding mother-baby togetherness and the importance of that early relationship between the two. Among other things, it discusses how a young child shows classic signs of grief when separated from his mother. Humberto Nagera, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Montana, is quoted as saying, "When the child is confronted with his mother's absence his automatic response is an anxiety state that on many occasions reaches overwhelming proportions. Repeated traumas of this type in susceptible children will not fail to have serious consequences for their later development. .. No other animal species will subject their infants to experiences that they are not endowed to cope with, except the human animal."
I believe it was in a Dr. Sears book where I read that he thought it was best if children didn't spend the night away from their parents until they were at least three. That resonated with me way back when I read it, because it immediately brought to mind my own childhood. I am the oldest of four. I don't ever remember my parents leaving us overnight when we were very young (obviously I might not remember this myself, but I would remember for my brothers since they are younger). My mom has told me about the first time I stayed overnight with somebody else - her parents. I have very vague memories of going camping with them. This happened the week before I turned three. Then, the next time my parents went somewhere and had us stay at a friend's house for a few nights was when Tim, my youngest brother, was about three or four years old. I think all four of us stayed with the Tramontes for those few days (they had five kids, so it probably didn't make much of a difference to them to have all of us there too!). Anyway, I just want to say thanks, Mom and Dad!
Of final note: it could be argued that children under the age of three probably won't remember any of it in the future, so it doesn't matter if they aren't with their mother. But the science shows otherwise. The child may not remember, but the imprint of his early years follows him.
I hope this post is coherent - I wrote it in several sittings and want to go to bed now since it is after 11, so I am not proofreading it tonight. Hope it all makes sense!