Parenting Plans for Infants

Infants learn at a rapid rate. They learn to love and trust familiar caregivers. Infants attach to parents and others through consistent, loving responses such as holding, playing, feeding, soothing, talking gently and meeting their needs promptly. They begin to respond to different approaches to parenting.

It was previously believed that infants formed a single and exclusive attachment to one primary caregiver during the first year of life.

Mental health professionals cautioned parents that disrupting this exclusive caregiver-child bond could cause lifelong adjustment
problems. With this in mind, the notion of infant overnights away from the primary caregiver was rejected, without considering individual situations.

We now know that children form multiple and simultaneous attachments between six and nine months of age. In situations where both parents have been regularly involved with all aspects of caregiving – and the child has formed an attachment to both parents – the previous restrictions on overnights should be reconsidered. One objective of any parenting plan is to help children forge a meaningful relationship with both parents.

Infants should have frequent contact with both parents – and a predictable schedule and routine. Infants have a very limited capacity to remember an absent parent. However, they may have what is called emotional memories of things that are frightening to them, such as arguments between parents. Even infants can recognize anger and harsh words.

At about six months, infants begin to recognize their parents and other caregivers, and within the next few months, some may become uneasy around strangers. Infants trust regular caregivers to recognize their signals for food, comfort, and sleep. Infants may become anxious and may experience eating and sleeping problems when they are with
less familiar others.

It is important to maintain an infant’s basic sleep, feeding and waking cycle. Parents’ schedules should be adjusted to limit disruption to the infant’s routine. In creating plans for this age group, parents should consider the special needs of breastfeeding infants.

Visits several times weekly with non-residential parents are usually recommended for this age. These visits should provide ample opportunity for such caregiving functions as feeding, playing, bathing, soothing and putting the infant to sleep, whether for a nap or for the night. This will help non-residential parents maintain or build familiarity between themselves and the infant.

If a non-residential parent has not been involved in caregiving previously, short visits of several hours every few days will help to develop a mutually secure relationship, allowing the parent to master the tasks and sensitivity required to care for an infant. As the caregiving skills are mastered, and the parent-child bond strengthens, the plan may include longer days.

Non-residential parents of children this age who have been active, involved caregivers may begin overnights, preferably in familiar surroundings. Overnights are more likely to be successful when parents have shared parental tasks before separation and communicated effectively about their baby.

To develop a healthy attachment to both parents, an infant should not be away from either parent for more than a few days. Many infants demonstrate a caregiver preference. Extended separation from that primary caregiver should be avoided.

Communication between the parents about the baby is essential for good infant adjustment. A daily communication log should be maintained and exchanged between the parents noting eating, sleeping, diapering and any new developments.

Source: Planning for Shared Parenting – A Guide for Parents Living Apart. Published by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.