Researchers from the University of Warwick (UK) may have found a connection between neurological development and parent-child attachment. According to the study, infants born prematurely have twice the risk of suffering disorganized attachment. Disorganized attachment is characterized by conflicts in behavior with the infant showing signs of secure attachment and signs of detachment or avoidance. Impairments in neurological development or function could be one possible cause.

Seventy-one premature infants were included in the study. All infants were born prior to the 32nd week gestation and weighed less than 3 lb 5 oz. Premature infant behavior was compared to full-term infant behavior in 105 controls. By 18 months of age, 32% of the premature group showed symptoms of disorganized attachment compared to 17% of the control group growing the gap from 10% to 15% in 18 months.

Full-term infants showed signs of secure attachment in 72% of cases compared to 62% secure attachment in premature infants. Researchers found comparable sensitivity in parents of both groups leading authors to explore a possible connection between neurological development and parent-child attachment. Dieter Wolke, professor at the University of Warwick and study author claims, “…very preterm children more often have neurological and developmental problems and these explained why they were more likely to be disorganized in their attachment or bonding despite sensitive parenting.”

Disorganized attachment is often seen in infants and children in cases of abuse or negative parenting, however, premature infants may show signs of disorganized attachment in positive parenting situations. Sensitive parenting in infancy, especially in cases of prematurity, may help premature infants when they reach the childhood stage between six and eight years of age, despite the disorganized attachment issues in early infancy.

Source: Dieter Wolke, Suna Eryigit-Madzwamuse, Tina Gutbrod. Very preterm/very low birthweight infants’ attachment: infant and maternal characteristics. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed doi:10.1136/archdischild-2013-303788.