Attachment Issues in Adopted Infants

By: Marisa Cabrera

If you are thinking of bringing home an adopted infant, attachment issues may be a concern of yours. For those worried, there is good news: although adopted infants have bonded with their mothers in the womb, they can form attachments with their caregivers. Attachment is the two-way process in which the baby and mother create an emotional connection. Through caring for the baby’s needs and spending quality time together, new parents can establish the trust needed for a healthy attachment between parent and child.

Healthy attachment between an infant and their caregiver(s) is a predictor of positive mental health outcomes later in life. So, it is natural for adoptive parents to worry about attachment issues in adopted infants. Researching the indicators and solutions for attachment issues is an excellent first step in ensuring secure attachment between child and parent.

Attachment Issues

Experts in human development have identified four different attachment styles.

Secure attachment

Secure attachment is the first that adoptive parents should strive to establish, as it is characterized by infants feeling close to their caregiver. Parent accomplish secure attachment by demonstrating that the infant can trust them. For instance, when their infant cries, adoptive parents address the infant’s needs promptly. They also hold, talk to, and play with their infant to spend quality time together. Most importantly, secure attachment parents protect their infant from harm.

Insecure-ambivalent

Psychologists characterize this attachment style as an infant’s over-attachment to their caregiver. In other words, adopted infants who are not comfortable exploring on their own from time to time. Parents describe these infants as emotionally inconsistent. Even though they meet the needs of their infants, they are not always warm. Insecure-ambivalent parents often express a wide array of emotional states to their infant, some of which may be “negative” such as distress upon crying or occasional detachment. It is difficult for new parents to always be “on.” It is certainly possible for a parent to reflect and work on their emotional constancy to establish a more secure attachment style going forward.

Insecure-avoidant

Insecure-avoidant is an attachment style in which the infant is resistant to connection with their caregiver, and sometimes strangers as well. In this situation, adoptive parents may not often connect with their infant through physical touch and language. Thus, attention is lacking. Increasing quality time with an infant through eye contact, play, and singing can help to remediate this disconnect.

Insecure-disorganized

Insecure-disorganized is considered the most insecure attachment style. These infants display distress when separated from their caregiver, but then do not necessarily show signs of comfort when the caregiver attempts to comfort them. The infant’s reaction to their caregiver is often characterized as confusion. Strongly unpredictable caregiver behavior can lead to this attachment style.

Attachment styles are often passed down from generation to generation. A parent who has an insecure attachment with their parent is susceptible to passing this down. For this reason, new parents should reflect and identify the attachment style that resonates most for them. This information can help a new parent to find room for improvement and the steps necessary to form a secure attachment with their child.

Reactive Attachment Disorder

Most commonly, this disorder is found in those who have experienced trauma. An adoption later in life, especially after an abusive situation, can increase the likelihood of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) or other difficulties in forming secure attachments. In infants, RAD can manifest as an infant’s disinterest in their caregiver. These infants may not make eye contact or express a greater sense of calmness with their adoptive parents than they do with strangers. However, it is easier to identify symptoms of RAD as a child grows up, as these, like personality traits and behavior patterns, will become more noticeable.

What can parents do to form secure attachments with their infant?

Adoptive parents can form a secure attachment with their child immediately. Time spent with the infant can increase attachment. The more positive interactions a parent and child have, the greater sense of security the infant will feel while in the presence of the parent. Many activities that create positive bonds between parent and infant are centered around close physical contact. Bed-sharing, “kangaroo care” (skin-to-skin contact), and holding can help the parent and infant attach.

Infants adopted at birth may also struggle to attach to their adoptive parents, and parents may not find it easy to jump into nurturing right away. It is okay if building a relationship takes time. Parents can ease into the care of their new infant by practicing responding to their baby’s cues at first. This looks like parents observing and attuning themselves to their infant by answering cries with solutions to the baby’s potential needs. This should be done instead of anticipating needs in advance of the infant’s cues. When an infant’s cries are met with the physical proximity, touch, and attention of their caregiver, intimacy between the two begins to build.

Outlook

Adoption is a monumental step, and it is normal for adopted parents to feel worried about their ability to form an attachment with their child. The first few weeks may be full of fear and anxiety. That is okay. New parents should trust that their efforts to educate themselves and carry out what they have learned will make a difference. Confidence can be built through small steps. It does not need to be present right away. By taking time to get to know each other, both parent and infant can beginning to form the attachment desired.

Adoption Choices of Colorado

Adoptive parents looking for adoption agencies in Colorado will have a lot of options to choose from. Adoption Choices of Colorado offers compassionate, fully guided adoption help. For more information on adoption please contact Adoption Choices of Colorado. We can be reached via our website or phone 303-670-4401.

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Sources:

“Adoption and Attachment Issues.” Focus on the Family, 18 Sept. 2019, www.focusonthefamily.com/family-qa/adoption-and-attachment-issues/.

“Developing Emotional Attachments in Adopted Children by Lysa Parker.” Developing Emotional Attachments in Adopted Children by Lysa Parker | Attachment Parenting International, www.attachmentparenting.org/support/articles/adoption.

Steinberg, Gail, and Beth Hall. “Bonding and Attachment: How Does Adoption Affect a Newborn?” Pact’s Point of View: the Newsletter for Adoptive Families with Children of Color, 1998, www.pactadopt.org/app/servlet/documentapp.DisplayDocument?DocID=235.

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