Building Baby's Brain: Attachment Relationships

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The University of Illinois Extension has permission through a partnership with University of Georgia Extension to utilize information from the Better Brains for Babies website for educational purposes.

What is attachment and why does it matter in the overall development of my baby?

Attachment is the relationship that develops over time between you and your baby, beginning at or even before birth. When you rock your baby, respond to their cry, or comfort them when they fall down, the attachment relationship become stronger.

How does attachment effect brain development?

The impact of early attachment on your baby's brain development is significant. Infant's experiences are vital to the brain's wiring process. Wiring for attachments happen in the limbic system of the brain, which is the where we process emotions and store emotional memories. They amygdala receives emotional information and the hippocampus stores them. Over time the limbic system is wired for secure attachment. When your baby's needs are responded to with a gentle touch and calm loving voices, their basic needs are met and your baby learns they can trust you.

What are the benefits of building secure attachment relationships?

  • Less stress reactivity. A securely attached child tends to react less extremely to stress. Because he is confident that adults will take care of him, his body releases less cortisol under stress and he is less likely to get upset by mild stressors.
  • More independence. By about 18 months, a securely attached child tends to be more willing to try new things and to explore because his limbic system is wired to trust the adult to be there if he needs help.
  • Better problem solving. Some researchers have found that securely attached children tend to be better problem solvers at age 2 than insecurely attached children, possibly because they are willing to try new things and to risk failure.
  • Better relationships: A child who was securely attached as an infant tends to form better relationships with other children in preschool. Secure, early attachment helps the child better understand negotiate later relationships.

What can you do as a parent to build secure attachment relationships?

  • Be sensitive to your baby's needs. Pay attention to cues. Does he have a certain cry when he is hungry? How does he let you know if he is tired or even bored? As you respond according to your baby's needs you deepen the level of trust and build a secure attachment relationship.
  • Offer positive and consistent guidance. A baby feels safe and secure when age-appropriate boundaries are set and consistently followed.
  • Respect your baby's feelings. Take time to understand why your child is angry or upset. Use appropriate language to help your child express his feelings. You might say something like "It looks like you are upset because Susie took you toy."
  • Have fun together! Do this as often as possible….make it a daily activity. Spend time singing, playing, reading and even dancing. These activities build relationships that strengthen the connections in the brain and they are times your child will remember the most.
  • Choose high quality child care. If you are placing your child in child care or having someone come to your home, make sure the person is loving, warm and knowledgeable about child development. Ask lots of questions and make a visit to potential child care centers to observe interactions with staff and the children.

For more information on brain development visit


Bales, D.W., Falen, K., Butler., Marshall, L. E., Searle., L & Semple, P. (2012) Better Brains for Babies Trainer's Guide. (2nd ed.)

Better Brains for Babies Tip Sheet: Nurturing Positive Relationships