The Case for More Social Support for Pregnant and New Moms (and Dads)

January 18, 2012

In the first year of life children develop either basic trust or mistrust, secure attachment or more problematic attachment.  The implication of this ripples through every child’s life, and through the society in which he or she lives.

Research points to several things that impair this process.  The ACE (adverse childhood effects) study established a strong correlation between kids being exposed to abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction and decades later development of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.  In addition to being tragic for individuals, this is very expensive for our society where we spend most of our healthcare dollars on end-of-life issues while spending more on beginning-of-life, particularly in supporting parents to be able to facilitate secure attachment and basic trust to children might pay off big for all of us.

Another factor that strongly correlates with so-called “disorganized attachment” (a propensity to become highly distressed and chaotic under certain stressors) in a child turns out to be the presence of unresolved trauma in the child’s caregiver(s).

Mistrust and disrupted attachment are highly correlated with problematic parents, and in turn are also strongly correlated with myriad later problems from anti-social behavior, low-self-esteem, under-achieving, higher rates of incarceration (partly owing to poor impulse control and impaired abilities to manage stress, anger and frustration), and poorer health outcomes.

While poverty certainly increases the chance of a child having several ACEs, many advantaged parents also have unresolved trauma, and thus their children are at risk for disorganized attachment.

While the last thing I would suggest is that we wait around for the government to fix this in some enlightened dream of longer maternity (and paternity) leaves and free screening and treatment for trauma in pregnant women and their partners, it would certainly be nice to wake up to find our world transformed in this direction.

Meanwhile, what we can do is to be aware of the central importance of basic trust and secure attachment for the social, emotional and physical welfare of children—and we can bring this consciousness to bear when our lives intersect with new moms and newborns.   By the one or two degrees of separation game, we are probably indirectly effecting more newborns and new moms than we might realize, thus practicing compassion and loving-kindness is always a good way to roll (never knowing when a simple act of compassion may trickle to a child unknown and unseen).

But more directly, when we show up with a meal for a new mom, or do the reach-out to see how a new family down the block, or across the country, is faring we are doing more than just being nice friends and neighbors—we are subtly participating in the formation of basic trust and secure attachment.

Although we have big social programs such as Head Start, and Early Head Start (started in 1994) which are on the case, and research is being done and programs being run, there is a lack of sweeping societal awareness of the importance of basic trust and secure attachment (perhaps due in part to imagining that it is a problem of the poor, when the rich are often equally at sea with regard to these essential principles and practices—a condition our society reflects from Washington to Hollywood to Wall Street).  There is also scant awareness of the vast potential positive impacts of increases in secure babies as they grow up, from the nation saving money on illness and criminal justice/incarceration to improving academic prospects for kids and the possibility of new advances and technologies to naturally improving our relationship to, and record on, the environment (i.e. truly secure people are likely to be less selfish, and thus less inclined to pollute and disregard the good of the group and of the planet).

In a research study, maids who were informed about how many calories cleaning rooms in a hotel burns up lost weight and had lowered blood pressure while a parallel group of maids working just as hard but without this consciousness did not lose weight nor have decreased blood pressure.  Perhaps we need to embrace compassionate action and illuminated consciousness in order to affect a sea change in basic trust and secure attachment?

Our time is ripe and ready for massive change, not from above, but from below.  A key may be conscious awareness of these issues and the benefits of making things safe and secure for all our collective children right out of the gate.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen @ Motherese January 18, 2012 at 11:53 am


I have been the direct beneficiary of an extremely generous (and, by our country’s standards, rather anomalous) family leave program at my husband’s place of employment. The opportunity for him to pause his work schedule during the first few months of our children’s lives kept me sane and allowed us to focus on the needs of our growing family. Thanks for reminding me how rarely new parents have that luxury and how important it is to advocate so that more do – both through small deeds like the meals Dana was offering us last week and more formal political activism.

HBDC and Namaste.


Bruce January 18, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Hi Kristen, I’m glad for you, and your husband and most of all your kids that you got the chance to create that secure base and bond. Here’s toward making that the standard and not the anomaly. And if right now it’s more of a whisper than any sort of roar for change? HBDC & Namaste


Wolf Pascoe January 22, 2012 at 1:31 pm

The first time I read this I immediately went to “how is this going to happen?”
The second time I read it I went, “Ah. Awareness.”


Bruce January 22, 2012 at 3:13 pm

And the first time I read your comment I went, “Ah, I appreciate Wolf Pascoe—he helps me wake up.”


rebecca @ altared spaces January 25, 2012 at 4:22 am

I LOVE the maid analogy. Reaching out with a meal, a smile or an understanding ear is a good thing, but doing so while consciously intending to make a difference is just a bit different. I get it. I’m going to burn those calories.

I think I’ve resisted this sort of thing because of my upbringing in the church. Modesty. Don’t call attention to your good deeds, etc. But this is something different. I’d love to hear you discuss that difference.


Bruce January 28, 2012 at 8:27 am

Perhaps we have come to confabulate participating in the group with having a “good work ethic,” (which can be at times materialistic and disconnected) driving and driving in a race to nowhere indeed.

I’m starting to think that play has a bad name (because even play has been productized and monetized, squeezing the joy out and leaving us either dour and sanctimoniously above it or immature and self-centered in some manic attempt to never grow up).

What about a “play ethic?”

If we “play” house, family, community maybe we’ll get back to the essence of it, to our joy in connecting and playing and dealing with hard things with a bit of dramatic irony thrown in. As Billy Wilder says, “Life is terrible but it’s not that serious.” (and since the confluence of opposites hold the greatest truth, life is also wonderful and that play is very serious business, great gravitas in play and children).

Finally Georges Bataille suggests that the overproduction of goods (which is an inevitable result of a society where growth in production is idealized) leads inevitably to war (what else are we to do with all the useless stuff we don’t need than make it into some sort of weapon?). Bataille too was interested in the confluence of opposites—so maybe a conscious and non-self-conscious; work and play ethic will help us get to what we all really want (but may not know how to get to it): feeling good, soft, strong, included, purposeful, safe, joyful, alive, loved, loving, able to be with ourselves, able to participate.

These “things” are actually feelings, and while material things may be limited, there is no limit to what we could all feel, imagine and co-create if we are both playful and industrious, conscious and natural.


Cancel reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: