What is Attachment?

What is attachment?  Why is it important?

The brain is the least developed organ at birth and only about 25% wired up.  When your baby is born there are about 100 billion neurons in their little brains, most of which are not yet connected.  By the end of the first year, the brain will be at 75% of development.  What does that mean?  The wiring that occurs from 0-1 is a huge part of our development.  The second year is just as important.  By the end of the third year our brains are at 75% of their total development.  This article will cover both.

Attachment – a natural process

In her book, Bright from the Star, Jill Stamm, talks about how to raise smart kids. She does not teach some revolutionary training we do with our babies, she is simply describing the attachment process.  This process of attachment allows a child’s brain to develop optimally and sets them up for success in every way.  The cool thing about attachment is that it’s a natural occurring process.  It’s something that humans are created to do.  That’s why books that tell you not to listen to your natural instincts are wrong, (unless you have had unnatural influences on your wiring).  We are designed for attachment and bonding.  It is in our DNA.  We are created with specific chemical processes that do what is optimal for humans.  Can things interfere with this process?  Absolutely.  But first, lets talk about how it is supposed to work.

Healthy Attachment Cycle – First Year

healthy attachment



In the first year our babies communicate their distress through crying.  At birth the part of their brain that is wired up is the lower area that is wired up for our survival.  Baby has a need, let’s say hunger, and their brain tells their body, “If I don’t eat, I will die”.  This is why a baby’s cries can go from 0-60 in 3 seconds flat.  Their little bodies really are in a panic because not eating means immanent death.  Then parents come and try to help and comfort baby.  We try everything until we find the problem and then we fix it.  We meet the need and then baby returns to a calm state.   Then a little while later this happens again.  Over the first year this happens thousands and thousands of times….. if it happens each hour over that first year, it would be about 8760 times. 

neural wiring

There is so much wiring happening in the brain during this process.  The above image is the increase in wiring from newborn to the age of two.  Each need that is met is creating a pathway.  Conversely each need that is not met is also creating a pathway.  These pathways become our foundation.  Let’s use the example of hunger as the need.  When mom comes and picks baby up (touch), soothes baby with her voice (sound), provides food (taste, nourishment, comfort), holds baby close (connection, smell), looks into baby’s eyes, (sight).  All of baby’s senses are combined and say “mom equals comfort”.  Obviously this is a super simplified version.  But all of these senses are creating neuropathways in the brain.  When this happens over and over and over, these pathways get stronger/thicker.  Every experience, EVERY experience, becomes a neuropathway, a memory network.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week. 

If you would like to read more about Family Christian Counseling Center’s approach to attachment please follow this link.

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