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Nights Away From Mom Could Lead to Bad Relationships in Adulthood

Update Date: Jul 19, 2013 03:54 PM EDT

There really is nothing like a mother's love.  A new study reveals that babies who spend nights away from their mothers had more insecure attachments compared to those who had fewer overnights or saw their fathers only during the day.

Experts say babies have an innate biological need to be attached to caregivers, and the latest study wanted to look at what happens when babies spend a night or more per week away from a primary caregiver.

Researchers said the findings are important because the growing rates of nonmarital childbirth, divorce and separation means that more parents are sharing custody.

The latest findings published in the Journal of Marriage and Family revealed that infants who spent at least one overnight a week away from their mothers had more insecure attachments to them compared to babies who had fewer overnights or stayed with their father only during the day.  The results showed that 43 percent of babies with weekly overnights were insecurely attached to their mothers, compared to 16 percent with less frequently overnights.

The study, which also looked at toddlers, found a less dramatic correlation.  Researchers said that among toddlers, greater attachment insecurity was linked to more frequent overnights.  However the findings were not statistically significant.

Lead researcher Samantha Tornello, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology in University of Virginia's Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, said that attachments are defined as an enduring, deep, emotional connections between an infant and caregiver that forms within the child's first year of life.

Previous studies suggest that attachments formed during the first year serve as the basis for health attachments and relationships later in life.

A growing number of parents are choosing to share child rearing in some form of joint custody, and often the legal system must determine custody arrangements for the children of parents who do not live together.

"Judges often find themselves making decisions regarding custody without knowing what actually may be in the best interest of the child, based on psychology research," Tornello said in a news release. "Our study raises the question, 'Would babies be better off spending their overnights with a single caregiver, or at least less frequently in another home?'"

"We would want a child to be attached to both parents, but in the case of separation a child should have at least one good secure attachment," she said. "It's about having constant caregivers that's important."

Researchers are worried that overnights away from home or mom could make children feel securely attached to zero parents.

Researchers recommend evolving parenting plans, where day contact with fathers occurs frequently and regularly and overnights away from the primary caregiver are minimized in the early years, and then are gradually increased to perhaps become equal in preschool years.

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