Divorce Damages Infants, Too

Babies who spend nights in different homes have problems attaching to parents

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TUESDAY, April 8, 2003 (HealthDayNews) --Babies who spend nights at the different homes of separated or divorced parents have problems making secure attachments to their parents.

A California study by researchers at the Mills College and the Early Childhood Mental Health Program looked at 145 babies and found 66 percent of 12- to 18-month old babies who had overnight visits at different homes had disorganized attachments with their parents, compared to babies living in intact or separated homes who saw their fathers only during daytime visits.

"Disorganized infants have repeated experiences with attachment figures in which proximity and physical contact are severely compromised, and there is a breakdown in strategies they might have used to signal parents of their distress, and seek contact and comfort. Thus, disorganized babies could not cope with separations and reunions with the parent in the lab setting, and did not trust their parents as a resource to handle stress," says a news release about the study.

Overnight visits were not the sole factor affecting the babies' attachments. Other important factors included: the mother's ability to protect her baby from the stress of the parents' separation; the parents' ability to communicate and cooperate about their baby's well-being; and the extent of conflict between the parents.

The researchers note it's important for parents to keep their problems away from their babies. Parents who are divorced or separated also need to pay attention to their baby's behavior.

Possible signs that a baby is having problems with overnight visits at the different homes of divorced or separated parents include noticeable behavioral changes such as tantrums or an inability to sleep at night.

The study authors suggest parents start with trial overnight visits and adjust those according to how well their baby is responding.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about the impact of divorce.

SOURCE: Mills College, news release, April 2, 2003

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