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Book review for Sue Gerhardt, Why love matters: How affection shapes a baby’s brain

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Susie Elliott, freelance researcher and editor 

                                                    

The highly charged issue of a child’s first years is the subject of psychotherapist Sue Gerhadt’s second-edition release of Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain. Bolstering the work of the best-selling 2004 edition is this trade-meets-specialist publication that intersects neuropsychology with attachment theory to emphasise the foundational importance of secure attachment through one-on-one primary care.  The book is the product of impressive literature review and synthesis to further Gerhardt’s argument for a new consciousness in early parenting. Many of the conclusions she reaches have become familiar in the politics of early childhood that have played out in the 12 years between editions. The messages in its pages move to a steady, necessarily repetitive beat – notably that of the need to encourage connection between ‘primitive’ and frontal regions of the infant brain through early intimate relationships. This is right at home within a significant sector of popular psychology and parenting advice, often traced to Penelope Leach’s (2010) child-led thesis but most notably including Dan Siegel’s recent work (see The Whole-Brain Child, Siegel 2011), as well as Australian psychologist Steve Biddulph, Raising Babies: Why Your Love is Best (2006), not to mention the broad thrust of the attachment parenting movement (Sears 2001). What is striking about Gerhardt’s contribution is the volume of evidence she amasses and the wholistic, arguably ‘whole-brained’ approach she adopts. Perhaps most compelling, however, is the reported extent of the effects of attachment disturbances.