Phase 1 occurs in the first three months of life. Newborns are born with a mature nervous system and brain. Newborns are actually fetus-like, as they have such limited capabilities. Dr. Harvey Karp (2003) refers to the first three months of life as the fourth trimester. In Phase 1, because infants have fetus-like capabilities, the caregiver initiates attachment behaviors, keeping her baby in close proximity and responding to his needs.
Gradually, as the infant gains more cognitive awareness and more control over his body, there is a gradual move from Phase 1 to Phase 2. Phase 2 occurs roughly from ages three months to six months. Object permanence is developing in this time period. In Phase 2 the infant also initiates attachment behaviors, smiling, cooing, grasping at his caregiver's clothing, and tracking her when she walks across a room.
Phase 3 begins around six to nine months of age. This is when many experts believe an infant's attachment to specific caregivers is consolidated. Stranger awareness develops in this age range. The baby is more selective in choosing with whom to initiate his attachment behaviors.
Many experts consider the age range of six months to 18 months a sensitive period for attachment to develop. Support for the idea of a sensitive period of attachment to consolidate is supported by research which shows older babies tend to more readily approach familiar caregivers and withdraw from unfamiliar people during this time period. In addition, research shows that adoptive babies under 12 months of age tend to form more adaptive attachment bonds then adopted babies over 12 months of age (Dozier & Rutter, 2003; as cited in Marvin & Preston, 2008).
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Maternal Attachment and Paternal Attachment – the Research
Regarding attachment to mothers and fathers, research indicates that secure attachment to both figures results in security of exploration, feelings of efficacy, resilience, perseverance, higher self-esteem, higher feelings of positivity, and higher flexibility and adaptability to different situations and people, and less feelings of anger.
There is a general consensus in the research that there is a qualitatively different emotional result from secure attachment to a mother figure versus a father figure, so it is optimal if both parents are emotionally stable enough to participate in co-parenting and do not use their child's body and mind as a battlefield (Grossman et al, 2008).
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The Marital Bond and Secure Infant Attachment
A harmonious marital relationship during pregnancy predicts a more secure attachment. And, parents with better functioning relationships generally have children who develop more secure attachments than those growing up in households where the parents have less happy relationships.
In general, research indicates that good social support, including a supportive husband and extended family members, during pregnancy and postpartum improves the quality of maternal mental health and, thus, the development of a healthy infant attachment bond (Howes & Spieker, 2008).