Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

The Interactional Model of Maternal-Fetal Attachment: An Empirical Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

The Interactional Model of Maternal-Fetal Attachment: An Empirical Analysis

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: An Interactional Model of Maternal-Fetal Attachment was empirically studied to analyze contributions of fetal characteristics and psycho an alytic and ecological components. Ninety-nine women during their third trimester were administered questionnaires about themselves, their environment, and their fetus to identify predictors of maternal-fetal attachment. Whether the woman knew the fetus' gender and fetal age were the best predictors of the strength of maternal-fetal attachment. These data suggest that the mother's interactions with her fetus are stronger predictors of attachment than her internal working model or her environment. The findings support an interactional model of maternal-fetal attachment.

KEY WORDS: maternal-fetal attachment, interactional model, pregnancy, prenatal bonding


Maternal bonding refers to a pregnant woman's emotional relationship with her child (Klaus, Kennell and Klaus, 1995, p. 192) and begins during pregnancy (Bibring, 1959; Leifer, 1980). A strong maternal bond has been reported to be the foundation for development of prenatal behaviors which include caring for and protecting the fetus (Cranley, 1981). Prenatal caregiving behaviors are directly correlated with reduction of high risk behaviors (Condon, 1985; Leifer, 1977, 1980; Reading, Campbell, Cox and Sledmere, 1982), and failure to reduce high risk behaviors such as drinking and drug use have been associated with increased risk of alcohol related disorders such as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) (Jones and Smith, 1973) or alcohol related neurodevelopmental disorders (Warren and Foudin, 2001), as well as other deficits that include prematurity (Behnke and Eyler, 1993; Finnegan, 1994; Spence, Williams, DiGregorio, Kir by-McDonnell, and Polansky, 1991), low birth weight (Datta-Bhutada, Johnson, and Rosen, 1998; Zuckerman et al., 1989), poor APGAR scores (Spence et al., 1991), and longer term deficits seen at one month (LaGasse et al., 2003; Mayes, Bornstein, Chawarska, and Granger, 1995), and 12 (Bunikowski et al., 1998), 18 (Rosen and Johnson, 1982), and 24 months (Lewis, Misra, Johnson, and Rosen, 2004). Because attachment may be crucial to the development of prenatal maternal caregiving, identifying variables that influence the strength of the maternal bond is important.

Past research suggests that the mother's attachment to the fetus is generated by psychoanalytic contributions from the mother and ecological contributions from the environment (Doan and Zimerman, 2003; George and Solomon, 1999). Maternal contributions are primarily derived from attachment theory. Attachment theory suggests that the mother's own attachment experience with her caregiver forms her conception of herself within an attachment relationship (Fonagy, Steele, Moran, Steele, and Higgitt, 1993). This is conceptualized as her internal working model and is the basis for her psychological relationship with her child (Steele and Steele, 1994, p. 111). Maternal qualities that are correlated with the strength of the bond include demographic characteristics. Maternal depression is negatively correlated to maternal-fetal attachment (Hart and McMahon, 2006; Kunkel and Doan, 2003; Mercer, Ferketich, May, DeJoseph and Sollid, 1988) perhaps because depressive symptoms are related to a 'loss of interest in or pleasure in ... activities', or 'having no feelings' (APA, 1994, p. 320; Phipps and Zinn, 1986). Similarly, drinking alcohol may interfere with maternal-fetal attachment because it is classified as a depressant (Valenzuela, 1997). As the Surgeon General advises pregnant women to discontinue alcohol consumption for the health of the pregnancy (Office of the Surgeon General, 2005) continued drinking may indicate a lack of interest in the well-being of the fetus (Reading, et al., 1982) or weak bond to the fetus.

Environmental contributions to maternal-fetal attachment are derived from ecological theory. George and Solomon (1999) argued that limiting the focus of study to microanalysis of attachment relationships ignores important contributions to the development of the bond. …

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