Infants learn at a rapid rate. They learn to love and trust familiar caregivers. Infants attach to parents and others through consistent, loving responses such as holding, playing, feeding, soothing, talking gently and meeting their needs promptly. They begin to respond to different approaches to parenting.
It was previously believed that infants formed a singular and exclusive attachment to one primary caregiver during the first year of life. Mental health professionals cautioned parents that disrupting this exclusive caregiver-child bond could cause lifelong adjustment problems. With this in mind, the notion of infant overnights away from the primary caregiver was rejected, without considering individual situations.
We now know that children form multiple and simultaneous attachments between six and nine months of age. In situations where both parents have been regularly involved with all aspects of caregiving – and the child has formed an attachment to both parents – the previous restrictions on overnights should be reconsidered. One objective of any parenting plan is to help children forge a meaningful relationship with both parents.
Infants should have frequent contact with both parents – and a predictable schedule and routine. Infants have a very limited capacity to remember an absent parent. However, they may have what are called emotional memories of things that are frightening to them, such as arguments between parents. Even infants can recognize anger and harsh words.
At about six months, infants begin to recognize their parents and other caregivers and within the next few months some may become uneasy around strangers. Infants trust regular caregivers to recognize their signals for food, comfort and sleep. Infants may become anxious and may experience eating and sleeping problems when they are with less familiar others.
It is important to maintain an infant’s basic sleep, feeding and waking cycle. Parents’ schedules should be adjusted to limit disruption to the infant’s routine. In creating plans for this age group, parents should consider the special needs of breastfeeding infants.