Attachment disorganization among children in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit: Preliminary results

Early Hum Dev. 2015 Oct;91(10):601-6. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2015.07.005. Epub 2015 Aug 8.


Background: Preterm children have been reported to be at higher risk to develop attachment insecurity.

Aims: The present study aimed to investigate potential differences in attachment security between newborns who were sent to Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and those who were not, in a population of full-term children.

Study design: Participants (162 mother-child dyads) were part of a longitudinal study (MAVAN). Twenty-three of these children received special care at birth (NICU group). Attachment security was assessed at 36 months with the Strange Situation Procedure. Socio-economic status (SES), birth weight, maternal mood, maternal sensitivity, mental/psychomotor developmental indexes, Apgar scores, presence of complications during delivery and infant general health were assessed.

Results: In the No-NICU group, 55.4% of children were securely attached, 24.5% were insecure and 20.1% were disorganized. However, in the NICU group, 43.5% of children were securely attached, 8.7% were insecure and 47.8% were disorganized (χ(2)=9.0; p=.01). The only differences between the 2 groups were a lower Apgar, more respiratory infections and more visits to walk-in clinic/hospital (p's<.05) and a trend for lower SES and more ear infections in the NICU group. Logistic regressions revealed an odds ratio of 6.1 (p=.003) of developing a disorganized attachment after a stay in NICU, when controlling for these confounding variables.

Conclusion: Newborns who were admitted to NICU have an odds ratio of about 6 to develop a disorganized attachment at 36 months. These preliminary results support the importance of supportive parental proximity and contact with the infant in the NICU and possible after-care.

Keywords: Attachment; Child development; Neonatal Intensive Care Unit; Neonate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Apgar Score
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal*
  • Intensive Care, Neonatal / psychology
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Object Attachment*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Stress, Psychological