Attachment icebergs: maternal and child health nurses’ evaluation of infant-caregiver attachment

Edith Bryant*, Lael Ridgway, Sandra Lucas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Secure attachment of infants to their caregiver is important when promoting the emotional wellbeing and mental health of infants. Maternal and child health (MCH) nurses are well positioned to observe the quality of interactions between infants and caregivers and to assess and intervene. However, as yet there are no approved methods to assess the emotional and mental health of infants in community settings. A qualitative descriptive study of 12 MCH nurses in Victoria, Australia, using semi-structured interviews, was thematically analysed. The data revealed that nurses used many skills to identify and manage attachment difficulties. Key among these were observations of interactions, collaboration with caregivers and reflective practice. Assessments and interventions are also influenced by nurses’ emotions, attitudes and workplace factors. An unexpected finding was that attachment markers can be likened to an ‘iceberg’: warning indicators at the tip can be easily observed by the nurse, while the less obvious underlying factors need to be explored in order to support attachment and improve infant mental health outcomes. Education for nurses should include concepts of attachment and link behaviours with emotional wellbeing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-43
Number of pages5
JournalCommunity Practitioner
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • attachment
  • infant mental health
  • assessment
  • maternal child health nurse
  • universal service


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