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Adopt Q. 2008 Oct 1;11(2):101-125.

Families by Adoption and Birth: I. Mother-Infant Socio-emotional Interactions.

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1
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services.

Abstract

The role of adoptive family dynamics in the etiology of both resilient and adverse developmental outcomes is not well understood. In this study, socio-emotional aspects of the mother-infant relationship were examined in families by adoption and by birth. Matched groups of mothers and their 5-month-old first babies were observed in the home setting. Dyads in the two groups were comparable in the frequency and ranking of a full array of age-appropriate behaviors. Group differences emerged for selected infant and maternal behaviors; infants by birth were in an alert state and smiled more often than infants by adoption, and adoptive mothers nourished and caressed their infants more than did mothers by birth. While the structure of the infant's behavior repertoire was similar for both groups, there were twice as many significant correlations among maternal behaviors for the birth group than for the adoptive group. There were also more correlations between maternal and infant behaviors for dyads by birth than for dyads by adoption, and the nature of the correlations differed for the two groups. It is argued that both groups of mothers and babies were functioning in the adaptive, healthy range, and that observed differences between them reflect subtle differences in behavioral emphasis, possibly related to the unique paths to parenthood represented by adoption and birth.

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