We initiate a dialog between two central areas in the field of psychology today: attachment theory/research and mindfulness studies. The impact of the early mother-infant relationship on child development has been well established in the literature, with attachment theorists having focused on the correlation between a mother’s capacity for self-regulation and connection (e.g., attunement) with children’s health and developmental outcomes. Because the transition to parenthood is often a stressful one, research has also focused on the importance of the mother’s external and internal support (e.g., self-awareness, recognition of needs) in promoting healthy mother-infant relationships. One promising field in relation to increased internal support is mindfulness, a practice shown to increase emotional regulation while decreasing stress and anxiety. Described as non-judgmental, present-moment awareness, mindfulness has received significant empirical attention over the past three decades and has recently been theorized as an important contributing factor in healthy mother–child relationships. Recognizing the potentially beneficial effects of mindfulness training on healthy attachment, this article reviews relevant literature in presenting a case for exploratory and empirical research into the dynamic relationship between mindfulness, attachment style, maternal health, and children’s development. Grounds for this convergence, as well as suggestions for future research, are presented.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Astin, J. A. (1997). Stress reduction through mindfulness meditation. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 66(2), 97–106.
Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: A conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 125–143.
Barnes, S., Brown, K. W., Krusemark, E., Campbell, K. W., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to relationship stress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(4), 482–500.
Bialy, L. K. (2006). Impact of stress and negative mood on mother and child: Attachment, child development and intervention. Dissertation Abstracts International, 67(05), 104B. (UMI No. 3218513).
Bishop, S. R. (2002). What do we really know about mindfulness-based stress reduction? Psychosomatic Medicine, 64, 71–84.
Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., et al. (2004). Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11(3), 230–241.
Bondolfi, G. (2005). Mindfulness and anxiety disorders: Possible developments. Constructivism in the Human Sciences, 10, 45–52.
Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base. New York: Basic Books.
Brazelton, T. B., & Cramer, B. G. (1990). The earliest relationship: Parents, infants and the drama of early attachment. Boston: DaCapo Press.
Brennan, P. A., Andersen, M. J., Hammen, C., Bor, W., Najman, J. M., & Williams, G. M. (2000). Chronicity, severity, and timing of maternal depressive symptoms: Relationships with child outcomes at age 5. Developmental Psychology, 36(6), 759–766.
Bretherton, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental Psychology, 28, 759–775.
Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822–848.
Carson, J. W., Carson, K. M., Gil, K. M., & Baucom, D. H. (2004). Mindfulness-based relationship enhancement. Behavior Therapy, 45, 471–494.
Crnic, K. A., Greenberg, M. T., Ragozin, A. S., Robinson, N. M., & Basham, R. B. (1983). Effects of stress and social support on mothers and premature and full-term infants. Child Development, 54, 209–217.
Crnic, K. A., Greenberg, M. T., & Slough, N. M. (1986). Early stress and social support influences on mothers’ and high-risk infants’ functioning in late infancy. Infant Mental Health Journal, 7(1), 19–33.
Da Costa, D., Larouche, J., Dritsa, M., & Brender, W. (2000). Psychosocial correlates of prepartum and postpartum depressed mood. Journal of Affective Disorders, 59, 31–40.
Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., et al. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 564–570.
Duncan, L., & Bardacke, N. (2010). Mindfulness-based childbirth and parenting education: Promoting family mindfulness during the perinatal period. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(2), 190–202.
Easterlin, B. L., & Cardena, E. (1998). Cognitive and emotional differences between short- and long-term Vipassana meditators. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 18(1), 69–81.
Feeney, J. A. (2003). Adult attachment, involvement in infant care, and adjustment to new parenthood. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 22(2), 16–30.
Feeney, J., Alexander, R., Noller, P., & Hohaus, L. (2003). Attachment insecurity, depression, and the transition to parenthood. Personal Relationships, 10, 475–493.
Feldman, G., Hayes, A., Kumar, S., Greeson, J., & Laurenceau, J. (2007). Mindfulness and emotion regulation: The development and initial validation of the cognitive and affective mindfulness scale-revised (CAMS-R). Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 29, 177–190.
Field, T., Sandberg, D., Garcia, R., Vega-Lahr, N., Goldstein, S., & Guy, L. (1985). Pregnancy problems, postpartum depression, and early mother-infant interactions. Developmental Psychology, 21(6), 1152–1156.
Forman, E. M., Herbert, J. D., Moitra, E., Yeomans, P. D., & Geller, P. A. (2007). A randomized controlled effectiveness trial of acceptance and commitment therapy and cognitive therapy for anxiety and depression. Behavior Modification, 31(6), 772–799.
Goleman, D. (2006). Social intelligence: The revolutionary new science of human relationships. New York: Bantam Dell/Random House.
Greenberg, M. T., & Speltz, M. L. (1988). Attachment and the ontogeny of conduct problems. In J. Belsky & T. Nezworski (Eds.), Clinical implications of attachment (pp. 177–218). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Hassan, G. (2008). Mindful beginnings: The benefits of mindfulness in early parenting. Birth Ways, January–June, 2–4. http://ppdtreatment.com/commentary/mindful-beginnings-the-benefits-of-mindfulness-in-early-parenting/.
Hopkins, J., Marcus, M., & Campbell, S. B. (1984). Postpartum depression: A critical review. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 498–515.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.
Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L., & Burney, R. (1985). The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for self-regulation of chronic pain. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 8(2), 163–190.
Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L., Burney, R., & Sellers, W. (1986). Four-year follow-up of a meditation-based stress reduction program for self-regulation of chronic pain: Treatment outcome and compliance. Clinical Journal of Pain, 2, 159–173.
Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J., Gay Peterson, L., Fletcher, K. E., Pbert, L., et al. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 149(7), 936–943.
Kendall-Tackett, K. A. (2001). The hidden feelings of motherhood: Coping with stress, depression, and burnout. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
Krakowski, M. (2003). Violence and serotonin: Influence of impulse control, affect regulation, and social functioning. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 15(3), 294–305.
Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., et al. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport, 16(17), 1893–1897.
Linehan, M. M., Armstrong, H. E., Suarez, A., Allmon, D., & Hear, H. L. (1991). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of chronically parasuicidal borderline patients. Archives of General Psychiatry, 48(12), 1060–1064.
Miller, J. J., Fletcher, K., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (1995). Three-year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders. General Hospital Psychiatry, 17, 192–200.
Ogrodniczuk, J. S., & Piper, W. E. (2003). Preventing postnatal depression: A review of research findings. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 11(6), 291–307.
O’Hara, M. W. (1995). Postpartum depression: Causes and consequences. New York: Springer.
O’Hara, M., Neunaber, D. J., & Kekoski, E. M. (1984). Prospective study of postpartum depression: Prevalence, course, and predictive factors. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 93(2), 158–171.
Orzech, K. M., Shapiro, S. L., Brown, K. W., & McKay, M. (2009). Intenstive mindfulness training-related changes in cognitive emotional experience. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(3), 212–222.
Paris, R., & Dubus, N. (2005). Staying connected while nurturing an infant: A challenge of new motherhood. Family Relations, 54(1), 72–83.
Schore, A. N. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self: The neurobiology of emotional development. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Schore, A. N. (2001). Effects of a secure attachment relationship on right brain development, affect regulation, and infant mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal, 22(1–2), 7–66.
Shapiro, S. L., Astin, J. A., Bishop, S. R., & Cordova, M. (2005). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for health care professionals: Results from a randomized trial. International Journal of Stress Management, 12(2), 164–176.
Shapiro, S. L., Brown, K. W., & Biegel, G. M. (2007). Teaching self-care to caregivers: Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on the mental health of therapists in training. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 1(2), 105–115.
Shapiro, S. L., & Carlson, L. E. (2009). The art and science of mindfulness: Integrating mindfulness into psychology and the helping professions. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Shapiro, S. L., Carlson, L. E., Astin, J. A., & Freedman, B. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(3), 373–386.
Shapiro, S. L., Schwartz, G. E., & Bonner, G. (1998). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on medical and premedical students. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 21(6), 581–599.
Siegel, D. J. (2007). The mindful brain: Reflection and attunement in the cultivation of well-being. New York: W.W. Norton.
Siegel, D. J., & Hartzell, M. (2003). Parenting from the inside out: How a deeper self-understanding can help you raise children who thrive. New York: Penguin.
Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Fisher, B. C., Wahler, R. G., McAleavey, K., et al. (2006). Mindful parenting decreases aggression, noncompliance, and self-injury in children with autism. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 14(3), 169–177.
Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J., Curtis, W. J., Wahler, R. G., et al. (2007). Mindful parenting decreases aggression and increases social behavior in children with developmental disabilities. Behavior Modification, 31, 749–771.
Singh, N. N., Singh, A. N., Lancioni, G. I., Singh, J. W., Winton, A. S. W., & Adkins, A. D. (2010). Mindfulness training for parents and their children with ADHD increases the children’s compliance. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(2), 157–166.
Speca, M., Carlson, L., Goodey, E., & Angen, M. (2000). A randomized, wait-list controlled clinical trial: The effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction program on mood and symptoms of stress in cancer outpatients. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 613–622.
Speca, M., Carlson, L. E., Mackenzie, M. J., & Angen, M. (2006). Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) as an intervention for cancer patients. In R. A. Baer (Ed.), Mindfulness-based treatment approaches: Clinician’s guide to evidence base and applications (pp. 239–261). San Diego, CA: Elsevier.
Sroufe, A. (1988). The role of infant-caregiver attachment in development. In J. Belsky & T. Nezworski (Eds.), Clinical implications of attachment (pp. 18–38). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Stern, D. N. (1977). The first relationship. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Surrey, J. L. (2005). Relational psychotherapy, relational mindfulness. In C. Germer, R. Siegel, & P. Fulton (Eds.), Mindfulness and psychotherapy (pp. 91–110). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Teasdale, J. D., Moore, R. G., Hayhurst, H., Pope, M., Williams, S., & Segal, Z. V. (2002). Metacognitive awareness and prevention of relapse in depression: Empirical evidence. Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 70(2), 275–287.
Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., Ridgeway, V. A., Soulsby, J. M., & Lau, M. A. (2000). Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 68(4), 615–623.
Van Ijzendoorn, M. H., & Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J. (1997). Intergenerational attachment: A move to the contextual. In L. Atkinson & K. J. Zucker (Eds.), Attachment and psychopathology (pp. 135–170). New York: Guilford Press.
Vieten, C., & Astin, J. (2008). Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention during pregnancy on prenatal stress and mood: Results of a pilot study. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 11, 67–74.
Wallin, D. (2007). Attachment in psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press.
We would like to thank Andrew Harlem, Ph.D. for his help in conceptualizing this article.
About this article
Cite this article
Snyder, R., Shapiro, S. & Treleaven, D. Attachment Theory and Mindfulness. J Child Fam Stud 21, 709–717 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-011-9522-8