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It’s science: Being sensitive to your baby’s cues leads to a more secure attachment

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Every new mama’s been there: Your baby’s crying and you’re not sure why. Nothing you do works. They don’t want a bottle. They don’t want to go to sleep. They don’t need a new diaper. You think to yourself, “Maybe I need to be a mind-reader to figure out what this kid wants.”


As time goes on the baby gets bigger, you get wiser and reading those cues comes more naturally. These aren’t psychic abilities you developed—it’s a finely tuned sense for reading your baby’s signals. (At least much more often.)

Now, research shows this doesn’t just help calm them in the short-term. Your sensitivity to your baby’s signals also affects their development and the bond you’ll share for years to come.

“You are creating a solid foundation for neural growth and development. If your baby is happy and feels the connection between you, this will likely improve how you feel,” Viven Sabel, a UK-based registered clinician and parent-infant psychotherapist, tells Motherly.

According to a new study published in Psychological Bulletin, a parent’s level of sensitivity to their baby’s signals can be an important predictor of healthy infant-parent attachment. In particular, researchers from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) discovered that infants will form secure attachments with parents who can read their wants and needs—otherwise known as mentalization—frequently and accurately.

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“A mentalizing parent sees which toy the baby prefers or whether a baby becomes overstimulated because of a game like hide and seek, or when a baby is inquisitive about a cat walking past,” says study author Moniek Zeegers, PhD, a researcher at UvA’s department of Child Development and Education.

While today, this may look like knowing which toy your baby prefers, many more benefits can be seen in years to come: Research shows that babies who have strong bonds with their primary caregivers are healthier and happier later on in life.

A 2017 study published in Psychological Science also found securely-attached infants are more likely to perform better in school in their teen years compared to babies who’ve formed insecure attachments.

“Children who feel securely attached are, among other things, better at regulating their emotions, have higher self-esteem and exhibit less emotional and behavioral problems,” Zeegers says.

Zeegers adds “every” parent misreads cues from time to time, which may be due to parental stress, overestimating a baby’s skill set or difficulty believing a baby has negative feelings. New parents may also have trouble reading their baby’s cues because of baby blues, postnatal mood changes, birth trauma and feeling overwhelmed, Sabel tells Motherly.

Rest assured: This is totally natural.

“Some babies are not very good at signaling their own needs,” Shanna Donhauser, a Seattle-based child and family therapist, tells Motherly. “A baby may signal that they feel hungry when they actually feel tired. The ensuring frustration on baby’s part is, primarily, due to the confusing cue.”

Donhauser explains that some new parents may miss their infant’s subtle earlier cues, such as suckling to signify hunger. If you miss your baby’s suckling cue, she says, then they will progress to a small cry. And if you miss that small cry, then your little one will begin to wail.

“When the wailing doesn’t work, she must use a more desperate, loud cry,” Donhauser continues. “When early cues are missed, babies escalate. And if new parents are distracted or engaged in a different task, they might miss the early signal and therefore end up confused about the underlying need.”

So how do you become better at interpreting your baby’s thoughts and feelings more often? Donhauser says to observe your little one carefully and approach them “with curiosity.”

“Many new parents approach parenthood with the mindset that they must know everything about taking care of their baby,” Donhauser tells Motherly. “But we can’t know everything, so those parents are set up to fail. If you approach your baby as a partner in communication, you can curiously attend to a signal knowing that your curiosity will help you find the answer.”

If your infant is deaf or has any hearing loss, then they may rely on non-verbal cues to express their wants and feelings. According to Sabel, those signals may include poking out their tongue and other tongue movements, eye gaze, head shaking, taut tummies, clenched fists, different head and body positioning, darkening of the skin beneath the eyebrows and changes in breath smell.

Sabel says parents should try to observe, then mirror, your little one’s non-verbal signals. So for example, if your baby is sticking out their tongue, poke your tongue back at them, she says. It will let them know you understand they are communicating with you, and that you are communicating back.

“They will initially respond with some curiosity and then soon they will engage you in their language,” Sabel tells Motherly. “They will feel seen, heard and connected with.”

In extreme cases, the researchers suggest family therapy. Some situations that may require counseling include feeling overwhelmed, are struggling with initial conditions such as partner conflict, traumatic pregnancy or birth, or having difficulty bonding, Donhauser says.

By attending therapy focused on secure infant-attachment, parents may be able to change their behavior and have a better awareness and understanding of their baby’s needs, the experts say. Counseling can also help you strengthen your bond with your baby, as well as yourself, and promote healthy emotional and mental growth.

You can also give it some time, mama. You and baby are learning together.

“Being a parent and giving birth to an infant can be difficult and sometimes traumatic,” Sabel tells Motherly. “Give yourself some time to understand and connect.”

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Student loan debt is a major problem for many mamas and their families―but it doesn't have to be. Refinancing companies like Laurel Road help families every year by offering better rates, making payments more manageable or helping them shorten their loan term.

If you're ready to start taking control of your student loan debt, here are five steps that could help you conquer your student loan debt and get a loan that works for you.

1. Understand your refinancing options.

Like motherhood, managing student loan debt is a journey made much easier by experience. If your eyes start to cross when you hear variable and fixed rates or annual percentage rate, start your process with a little education. Laurel Road offers a user-friendly resource hub with student loan refinancing guides and articles that can help explain your options and get you started on a more informed foot.

2. Potentially improve your credit score.

Your credit score is important because it provides an objective measure of your credit risk to lenders. It also has an impact on many aspects of your finances, so it's a good idea to understand and track your score regularly. To try and improve your score, pay your bills on time—your payment history is one of the most important factors in determining your credit score. Having a long history of on-time payments is best, while missing a payment may hurt your score. Another action to improve your credit score would be to keep the amount you owe low—keeping your balances low on credit cards and other types of revolving debt, such as a home equity lines of credit, may help boost your score. Remember, good credit scores don't just happen overnight, but taking positive financial steps now can lead to more positive outcomes in the future.

3. Get a better understanding of your current loan benefits.

Different loan types have different benefits and you want to make sure you don't lose any valuable benefits by refinancing your current loan. Before you're ready to apply for a better option, you need to know what you have. Determine your loan terms (how long you have to pay off your loan and how much you're required to pay each month) and find out your current interest rate.

When you took out your original loan, especially if it was a federal loan, everyone who applies is given the same rate regardless of their personal credit. When you look to refinance, companies like Laurel Road look at your credit score and other attributes to give you a personalized pricing option―one that's often more competitive than your original terms. However, it is important to know that federal loans offer several benefits and protections, including income based repayment and forgiveness options, that you may lose when refinancing with private lenders (learn more at https://studentloans.gov). Try Laurel Road's Student Loan Calculator to get a bigger picture perspective of what it will take to pay off your loan and the options available to you.

4. Pick the terms that fit your lifestyle.

Your long-term financial goals will determine what refinancing terms are right for you. For example, a 3- or 5-year loan means faster payoff times, but it will mean a higher monthly payment―which might not be possible if you're planning to purchase a home or looking to move your toddler to a more expensive school. A loan with a longer term will have lower payments, but more interest over the duration of the loan.

Want to see what your options are? Check your rates on Laurel Road. They'll perform a "soft credit pull" using some basic information (meaning initially checking your rates won't affect your credit score ) so you can make an informed decision. If you do proceed with the application Laurel Road will ask for your consent on a hard credit pull.

5. Don't miss out on discounts.

With a little research, many people can find opportunities for lower rates or discounts when refinancing their loans. For example, if your credit isn't the best, look into the possibility of adding a cosigner who may help boost your rate. There are also many associations and employers who offer student loan benefits. Laurel Road partners with a number of groups and employers who offer discounts on rates―so check with your professional associations or HR to see if any options are available to you. Finally, talk to your financial institution, especially if you're planning to take out another major loan like a mortgage. In some cases, having another product with an institution can get you a preferred customer rate.

This article is sponsored by Laurel Road. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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The bond between sisters is special, but Jill Noe and Whitney Bliesner have a unique bond that goes beyond just being siblings. As twins, Jill and Whitney shared a lot throughout their lives, and when Jill became Whitney's surrogate they even shared a pregnancy.

As first reported by Today, Whitney has a rare disease called NF2 (Neurofibromatosis type 2). Because of NF2 she lost the vision in her left eye and hearing in her right ear, along with partial hearing loss in her left ear. The condition makes pregnancy risky, and the disease is hereditary. Whitney and her husband, Pete, wanted to start a family, but adoption and surrogacy fees seemed to be putting parenthood out of their reach. Until Jill stepped in as their surrogate.

"When Jill said she wanted to carry a baby for me, I was in shock," Whitney told Today. "I'm not a crier, but I was really emotional."

Through IVF she carried donor eggs fertilized with Pete's sperm to make her twin sister's family, and on June 7 Jill delivered Whitney and Pete's son and daughter, little Rhett and Rhenley.

"She's always wanted to be a mom and her disease has already taken so much from her. I wasn't going to allow (NF2) to take this opportunity from her, too," Jill told Today. "She's my best friend and I know she would have done the same for me. I really didn't put much thought into becoming a surrogate at all. It just felt like the right thing to do. Our family is so strong and so supportive of one another, especially since Whit's diagnosis in 8th grade."

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Whitney is now living her dream, taking care of two adorable babies.

Jill is an amazing sister, and Whitney is already an amazing mom.

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Advertisements are meant to sell us things, but they also sell us ideas. When we were growing up in the 1990s the commercials on TV weren't just selling us toys and junk food, they sold us stereotypes, too. Boys and men were depicted as more aggressive, professional and important than girls, while girls and women were often depicted as caregivers or simply sexual objects.

Back then, we were just kids who couldn't always think critically about the messages we were taking in, but now we millennials are the parents, the providers and the purchasers. And we are letting advertisers know that if they want us to buy things, they have to serve up ideas that we can buy into.

A survey by market research company Kantar found 76% of women and 71% of men believe the way they are portrayed in advertising is completely out of touch. We're grown-ups now and this isn't just about stereotypes in children's advertising (many parents are very conscious about reducing screen time and advertising exposure), but also reflections of our own realities.

Today's dads don't see themselves as bumbling caregivers but as competent parents, and mothers see themselves as complex people with a ton of purchasing power who are deserving of speaking parts, authority and respect, even in a 30-second commercial.

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It's 2019. Moms are buying everything, dads are buying diapers and we're raising our kids to reject stereotypes and accept themselves. Corporations that want to sell to millennial families have got to buy in to that, and the good news is, many are.

Building brands by tearing down stereotypes

This month the CEO of Unilever, Alan Jope, took the stage at the world's largest conference on gender equality, Women Deliver, and committed 100% of the ad spend for Unilever's Dove Men+Care line to media representations of dads in caring roles, or what Molly Kennedy, Brand Manager for Dove Men+Care, called "positive dadvertising."

Dove Men+Care's commitment to positive representation of men as caregivers comes as the company is strengthening its parental leave policies and encouraging dads (both those who work for Unilever and those who don't) to actually take any parental leave that is available to them.

The idea is that dads may be more likely to take leave if they see positive role modeling in media, which will help moms, too, because research suggests that taking paternity leave results in fathers doing more unpaid care work as their kids grow. And dads are certainly seeing more caring reflections of fatherhood in advertising, and not just from Dove Men+Care.

Changing diapers and the narrative 

Budweiser just launched an ad showing step-fathers surprising their children with adoption papers, and brands like Gillette and Pampers (owned by Unilever competitor Procter & Gamble) have received a lot of attention for the way their ads are questioning traditional ideas about masculinity and fatherhood. Gillette's stand against toxic masculinity was a viral sensation and Pampers' spokesdad John Legend is now part of a corporate campaign to get change tables into more mens' restrooms.

Donte Palmer—the father whose grassroots viral campaign, #squatforchange inspired Pampers' campaign—says he's pleased to see all this positive dadvertising, telling Motherly, "it means a lot, it's just changing the narrative."

He continues: "To have fathers like John Legend, who has a powerful name in his industry and a huge following, showing the world that we as fathers are the caretakers for our babies means a lot. It shows the 'average Joe' father that he can go to his 9 to 5 job and still come home and take care of his children."

Dr. Michael Kehler, a professor of Masculinities Studies at the University of Calgary says he applauds these companies like Gillette, Pampers and Dove Men+Care for challenging gender roles in their advertising, as "the long-held views of masculinity that have kept men out of caring roles has been intentional and maintained by advertising agencies."

He hopes big brands will consult with masculinities scholars for deeper insight and direction as they craft a new narrative in the media.

"More diverse portrayals, richer and complicated images of masculinity can't help but dislodge privileged white masculinity from its perch," he tells Motherly. "The disruption of these images and the re-writing of a narrative of complex masculinities, less linear, less simplistic, less predictable can similarly be a powerful invitation to rethink masculinities in the future."

According to Kehler, it is incumbent on companies to show a whole spectrum of ways of being a man, but "whether or not the portrayal of adverts reflecting men in caring roles has the desired effect of men taking up unpaid work is yet to be seen."

Walking the walk

What we have seen over the course of the last 15 years is that when big brands make big changes there can be lasting culture change.

Under dim lights in a fifth and sixth-grade classroom, 22 boys and girls are watching a short video that shows all the-behind-scenes magic that goes into making an Instagrammable selfie. When the video ends the facilitator invites questions. A student raises his hand and asks, "Does everyone really do this?"

This incredulous tween and classmates are learning about self-esteem and body confidence in their school in Vancouver, Canada, but similar presentations have taken place in more than 140 countries, because the Dove Self-Esteem Project is now the largest provider of self-esteem and body confidence education in the world.

Dove's been doing this work since before the kids in that Vancouver classroom were even born, since its Campaign for Real Beauty launched in the early 2000s and became a controversial turning point in the way women's bodies are presented in advertising. That campaign is often credited with creating a blueprint for modern advertising that includes more authentic and diverse body types and has brought us to a place where we're seeing real stretch marks and postpartum bellies on underwear models.

"Dove definitely changed the conversation," says Andrea Benoit, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Media Studies in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario and author of a new book on corporate philanthropy.

"There is no question that Dove opened up a space for other brands to start dipping their toes in that conversation without feeling like they were treading in uncertain or dangerous territory. Now it seems like if you're a brand you can't not be inclusive and accepting of diverse bodies," Benoit tells Motherly.

According to Benoit, the continued existence and expansion of the Dove Self-Esteem Project shows that brands can use their resources for good, but she is uncomfortable with how society and governments have downloaded this kind of social responsibility onto brands like Dove to the point that corporations are providing classroom resources and presentations in schools and through non-profit organizations.

It probably shouldn't be up to a soap company to teach self-esteem, but, at least someone is doing it. Just this month UNICEF announced a 3-year partnership with the Dove Self-Esteem Project aimed at helping girls between 10 and 18 in Brazil, India and Indonesia.

"This is a partnership that we really think can help change how girls view themselves and how the world views girls," UNICEF's Executive Director Henrietta Fore said at the Women Deliver conference. While UNICEF explicitly states that it doesn't endorse any brand, the deal with Dove does suggest UNICEF views the company as a worthy philanthropic partner.

Changing the way we see ourselves

When we were kids the commercials playing on Saturday morning taught us that gender roles are confining, that boys are loud and girls are quiet. But now, you might turn on TV and see a dad changing a diaper, or flip to Cartoon Network and catch spots Dove produced with the popular kids' show Steven Universe, which reinforce body confidence, gender equality and self-esteem rather than stereotypes.

Brands have a lot of power these days (some would argue too much power) to shape how we see ourselves, but we have more power than ever to make informed choices about the brands we support and the power to hold companies to account for their actions. According to Benoit, it's not clear what came first: Inclusive advertising or this generation's desire for it. But what is clear is that it is here to stay and that consumers now demand it. We expect companies to not only make good ads but do good in the world, too.

We are demanding to be seen in a way we couldn't as kids. We're no longer passive children absorbing messages from the television, we are participants in an exchange—both a financial transaction and a conversation about the future of society. Having a good product isn't enough anymore. Brands have got to have a message and a purpose worth buying.


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The Food and Drug Administration is warning parents baking with flour to keep the kids (and the adults) from sneaking a bite before the cookies get cooked.

The FDA is warning people not to eat raw cookie dough as more than 14,000 cases of King Arthur brand flour have been recalled over salmonella concerns.

The recall is for Unbleached All-Purpose Flour from the following best by dates and and lot numbers (found on the bottom of the side panel, below the nutrition facts panel.)

  • BEST USED BY 12/07/19 LOT: L18A07C
  • BEST USED BY 12/08/19 LOTS: L18A08A, L18A08B
  • BEST USED BY 12/14/19 LOTS: L18A14A, L18A14B, L18A14C


Back in March there was a similar recall for Pillsbury flour over Salmonella fears, and in January General Mills issued a similar recall for five-pound bags of its Gold Medal Unbleached Flour (also with a best if used by date of April 20, 2020) also due to Salmonella concerns.

These aren't the first flour recalls

These recent recalls follow a 2016 E.coli outbreak linked to contaminated raw flour. Dozens of people got sick that year, and a post-outbreak report notes that "state investigators identified three ill children who had been exposed to raw flour at restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and Texas. Restaurant staff had given them raw dough to play with while they waited for their food to be served."

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) acknowledges the appeal of a spoonful of chocolate chip goodness but asks that we "steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick."

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According to the CDC, flour needs to be cooked in order to kill germs like E.Coli and Salmonella. That's why the CDC is asking parents to "say no to raw dough," not just for eating but even for playing with.

"Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too," the CDC posted on its website.

On the Food and Drug Administration's website, that agency advises that "even though there are websites devoted to 'flour crafts,' don't give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with." Health Canada also states that raw flour should not be used in children's play-dough.

If your kids do have flour-based play dough, don't worry.

If you made the dough with recalled flour it's got to go, but don't panic if your kids play with dough made from other flour.

Some parents who choose to use flour-based craft dough are reducing the risks by A) making sure the kids aren't eating their art, and B) thoroughly washing little hands, work surfaces, and utensils when the dough play is over.

Other parents are choosing other types of craft clay over flour-based dough.

During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Three years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

[A version of this post was published December 28, 2018. It has been updated.]

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During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Two years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

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Reshma Saujani is the Founder + CEO of Girls Who Code, the first Indian American woman to run for Congress and a mother who is changing the world by changing the way the world sees girls and women.

During the first episode of the second season of The Motherly Podcast, Sponsored by Prudential, Saujani tells Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety about her experience as a #boymom guiding parents of girls to raise risk takers who are confident and not confined by the perfectionism so many women of our generation learned when we were kids.

According to Saujani, it's not too late for us to unlearn perfectionism and embrace the philosophy her writes about in her new book, Brave, Not Perfect.

"Perfectionism is so tied into everything that's wrong with motherhood and what's complicated about motherhood," Saujani tells Tenety.

Mom to 4-year-old son Shaan, Saujani grew up aiming for perfection but says losing her congressional race in 2010 taught her that being brave and taking risks wouldn't break her, the way young girls on the playground are conditioned to believe. She swung big on the proverbial monkey bars, missed her mark but stuck her landing in a quest for joy that has taught her lessons that she is passing down to Shaan's generation.

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"I've got to have the patience to let him fail," she tells Tenety.

While it would be easier sometimes in her busy life to step in and do something for Shaan, she forces herself to let him take the time to do it on his own, and sometimes that means he makes a huge mess, and sometimes it means he fails. As a boy, it's pretty socially acceptable for Shaan to make messes and take risks and spread Legos all around, and his mom wants the girls he grows up with to be afforded the same opportunities to build, fail and fall.

"Teach your girls to build high and kick it down," she says. "Expose them to stories about fierce women that are just creating and innovating and that are not perfect. Like oftentimes even when you watch the shows that you're watching with your kids, everything always has a happy ending. Life is not a happy ending. You can make mistakes. You will fail. You will get your heart crushed. Let that happen to them at an early age. It's kind of like falling in love. Imagine if you never fell in love before how hard it would be to put yourself and your heart out there. If you protect your daughters from failure or the slightest bit of making a mistake they'll never be able to take that big risk."

We are so glad Saujani took the risks she did, and in a world where perfect, Instagrammable photos seem to be the default, it's so refreshing to hear a powerful woman explain that motherhood isn't perfect. It's messy and risky, but mothers are so brave and we're ready to teach our children to be even braver.

To hear more about Reshma Saujani and being brave but not perfect, listen to The Motherly Podcast, sponsored by Prudential, for the full interview.

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