New UVA Psych Study Shows Attachment Issues Newborns Can Have

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UVA Researcher Samantha Tornello UVA Researcher Samantha Tornello

A new study from the University of Virginia suggests parents make or break their child's ability to form healthy relationships for life before the baby's first birthday. Researchers discovered it all depends on whether parents are with their newborns while they sleep.

This study uncovered that when babies spend even one night away from their primary caregivers in that first year those babies may be in for tough times building relationships as adults. Newborn babies hardly seem aware of their surroundings, but according to a team at  UVA's Department of Psychology, that's exactly when emotional attachments are forming.

"If someone has a secure attachment as an infant they tend to have secure relationships in romantic relationships as adults, said Samantha Tornello, a researcher from UVA's Department of Psychology.

That's not the connection Tornello discovered after looking at data from 5,000 children.

"During the first year of life that being away from the primary caregiver at night multiple times during a week causes the child distress," she said. "One night or more a week seems to be associated with insecure attachment."

Inherent insecurities may make it difficult for those children to develop lifelong relationships which, in turn, can affect income level and quality of life. Tornello says the increasing divorce rate and work-related travel mean many primary caregivers cannot always be with their children overnight.

"We can't pinpoint if it's one or two nights or if it's two or three nights or a month in a row," she said. "This is the first study to look at a sample this large and it's the second study to look at attachment."

Tornello recommends parents do their best to minimize nights they're away from their newborns' during the first year of life. After that, primary caregivers can gradually increase nights away without creating a lasting harm. The research also shows moving a child to different homes can cause even more disruption than switching out caregivers.

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