Mind the baby: The role of the nanny in infant observation

Int J Psychoanal. 2017 Dec;98(6):1577-1595. doi: 10.1111/1745-8315.12631. Epub 2017 Mar 19.


The influence of nannies and other significant caregivers on a child's psychological and emotional development may be profound and if unrecognized may contribute to psychopathology in adulthood. However, the significance of the nanny has been relatively neglected within the psychoanalytic literature. In this paper I will discuss the impact of early caregivers other than the biological mother on the psychic development of the child, and the role of the nanny within the family dynamics as a figure attracting powerful unconscious phantasies and unwanted projections. These ideas will be illustrated by a detailed account of a year-long observation of an infant who had a succession of several different nannies in her first three months before her parents employed a more permanent nanny. It is proposed that the baby's emerging attachments to her two primary caregivers, mother and nanny, developed in parallel and influenced each other, with observable impact on her behaviour and developing personality. The paper concludes with a review of the place of infant observation within psychoanalytic training and how the experience of witnessing the earliest infant-caregiver relationships in an extra-analytic setting both refines understanding of developmental theory and builds a foundation for psychoanalytic practice.

Keywords: attachment; infant observation; nanny; psychoanalytic training.

MeSH terms

  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / psychology*
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Object Attachment*
  • Psychology, Child*