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Sensitive Mothering | Blog


Caring for a child in the first years of their life is an integral part in the healthy growth of human beings. Babies are Allah’s great blessings to mankind that keep us moving and allow us to aspire for more in life. Often, when we go through difficulties in life, we find the strength in moving on by thinking of our little ones and we always hope to provide for them a life that is more fulfilling than our own.

The one thing I remember thinking when I had my baby was; I wish I had a manual. I dedicated my next few years of my baby’s life in learning more about mothering. I wanted to parent with knowledge and not have people commenting and judging on my parenting style. I knew that if I didn’t have knowledge, it would be easy for people to convince me that any parenting style would be better than my style. 

I learned a lot by reading about different philosophies and experiments and my intention is to share what I had learned during that time with all caretakers that need support in parenting.

Contrary to the current trend and belief, it has been observed by many researchers that mothers who fulfil their babies’ needs as soon as they cry have babies who cry less and grow to be confident and content. During the early months of a baby’s life, the baby is totally dependent on his/her primary caregiver and the quality of care is important in determining the sensitivity of the caregiver.

Although a large population of mothers find motherhood to be a fulfilling experience, a number of others find it quite the contrary. Though nature has put the mother as the primary caretaker of a child, she is not always the child’s primary caretaker. You will however find that, even though I used “mother” and sensitive “mothering” in this article, it does not exclusively mean the mother, but rather the primary caretaker.

Sensitivity in childcare involves many integral emotions and actions. Providing love, care and security are some expressions of sensitive mothering that build a bond between mother and child. Theorists have proved, through observations, that having an attachment is an inborn need of all human beings. We all strive to find fulfilling bonds in our lives, from mothers to best friends to spouses.

A strong attachment is achieved when the baby feels that the caregiver is sensitively caring for the baby and that baby’s needs are being met. These needs are not merely physical, such as eating and dressing, but encompass emotional and psychological needs such as hugging, kissing and cuddling.

In order to be successful in mothering sensitively and in offering security to your child, an infant needs to see that there is a consistent pattern s/he can rely on and that the caregiver will always be around if needed. When the child has achieved this strong and secure base, attachment is formed.

A loved child, who has learnt how to love and express his/her emotions grows up to be sensitive to others’ feelings and relates to others in ways that help him/her create positive relationships. It is also clear that a child who is sensitively mothered has a healthier mental state and is content with the fulfillment of his/her needs.

“As the baby is fed, held and enjoyed, these emotional loving relationships develop and deepen... Babies and parents who, for one reason or another do not make close emotional bonds experience general difficulty in forming stable, warm and loving relationships...

Bonding is partly about adults and babies adjusting to each other and understanding each other... learning how to “read” each other’s signs”. (Bruce and Meggitt, 2002, p.161). 

John Bowlby, an influential figure who is credited for the establishment of the foundation of the attachment theory, lived during a time when women needed to go out to work in the industries as men were out at war. Bowlby decided to study the effect this had on their children.

Bowlby’s theory suggested that babies form a bond with their primary caregiver during the first year of their life. He argued that a strong attachment is necessary in forming the child’s social, emotional and intellectual abilities. He also believed that babies are able to make this strong attachment with only one caregiver – monotropy – and this caregiver will be able to provide a security base for the child.

Bowlby studied delinquent adolescent boys and found a common problem they faced during childhood. These adolescents were “maternally deprived” (Barnes, 1995). He stressed the need for a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with a caregiver for sound mental health. He noted that attachment is an innate need in human beings and that a strong and secure attachment goes both ways; caregiver and baby bond at the same time.

Babies yearn for proximity to their caregivers. In the first year of their lives, they naturally develop proximity promoting behaviours such as crying and clinging. These behaviours are all part of the attachment system and, once a baby has been responded to, the attachment behaviours settle.

Many times, we are taught as young mothers to do the opposite of this and the advisors convince us that when we give attention and time to our babies, we are spoiling them and they will never stop these behaviours. The actual effects are quite the opposite. My personal experience has proved to me that the studies and the theories of being a sensitive mother are true. Sensitivity plays a big role in calming the baby down and creating a much more confident toddler that is less cranky and clingy.

Infants have tendencies to explore; they wander around trying to make sense of the world. They still, however, need to know that their caregiver is around if needed. This balances the two conflicting tendencies, and once the child has built a strong trust, self-confidence will grow and s/he will be able to explore further.

On the other hand, if the child finds that s/he is in an uncomforting situation, such as illness or fear, the attachment behaviours will resurface as the situation is discomforting for the child.

It is important to note that once a strong attachment has been formed, Bowlby noted that its interruption will cause severe consequences on the child’s development and that its effects will show with time.

Mothering sensitively is a wonderful experience that creates a bond with your child like no other. Allah subhanahu wa taala has given us this great chance to be parents, why is it then that once we have been given this blessing we want to push it away from us? We want our children sleeping in separate rooms from us and we want them to be “obedient” and “quiet” all the time?

When my baby was just a few months old, I went to a nursing consultant – again just to be grounded with knowledge. She was with me giving me information and telling me that as much as anyone wanted to convince me that the baby wasn’t having enough and that I should add formula to her diet, I shouldn’t as long as I can see a consistent growth in her weight. While she was talking to me she got pulled away for a few minutes, when she came back to me her face had changed and she looked like she had a lot on her mind. She gave me a lesson on that day that I have never forgotten, she said:

 “While we complain about our children’s crankiness and cries, there are mothers who have to deal with children who aren’t responsive.”

 She had just come back from consulting a mother with an autistic baby. I learned on that day to be thankful for my baby’s night time wakings and for her cries. I appreciated changing her diapers and nursing her continuously. Alhamdulilah I had a normal baby that was responsive and who was doing what she was born to do; to cry, to eat, to excrete and to sleep; a blessing that many are challenged with.

photo credit: Keoni Cabral


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