Attachment Is a Lifelong Process
Many people use the terms "bonding" and "attachment" as if they were the same. Actually they mean quite different things. Bonding has to do with the parent's tie to the infant that occurs in the first hours of life. We think of bonding as occurring almost instantly, when the parent first has contact with the infant at birth. That may be a magic moment for parents, but the newborn's brain is not yet ready for establishing a relationship so there is no reason to believe that the first contact is meaningful for the infant.
The term "Attachment" refers to a relationship between baby and parent that develops gradually and builds over a long period of time -- both parties take a role in the relationship -- you could call it a lifelong partnership.
It takes several months before a newborn's brain has developed enough to begin this process. Although, all that goes on between parent and child in the first six months of life is important to development of attachment, it is of no greater significance than what goes on in later weeks and months. It is the entire history between parent and child that determines the quality of the relationship. If the parent learns the baby's cues and provides experiences that the baby finds consistent and responsive to his needs, he will develop a trust in himself and in others -- a secure attachment relationship.
Because this process is one of building a long term relationship, even infants who did not have immediate contact with their parent (due to adoption, illness, or premature birth) can become securely attached. Even attachment that are not secure at the end of the first year may change for the better if circumstances improve. Only in a most peculiar case, for example, a child being reared in an institution with no stable relationship, would no attachment be formed.
However, there are instances where insecure attachment can develop. Children who are moved from one placement to another, or who experience repeated parental loss, are at risk for serious developmental problems.
Just as relationships between adults are based on what they do together over time, infant/caregiver attachment is also build upon all that is shared over the weeks, months and year of early childhood.
Also see: XPLOR Guide Sheet GH 6121 - Baby Basics Social and Physical Development