Bonding refers to the special attachment that forms between a mother and father and their new baby. That bond is what sends parents rushing into their newborn’s room in the middle of the night at the slightest whimper. It’s also what makes parents want to care for and nurture their child instinctively. Check out My Baby Nursery for all your baby product needs.
Sometimes, the bond is immediate — parents fall in love the instant they set eyes on their little “bundle of joy.” Other times, bonding with the baby takes longer. Studies have found that about 20% of new moms and dads feel no real emotional attachment to their newborn in the hours after delivery. Sometimes, it takes weeks or even months to feel that attachment. If you haven’t begun bonding with your baby, don’t feel anxious or guilty — it should come with time.
Why Is Bonding Important?
Bonding is essential for a baby. Studies of newborn monkeys who were given mannequin mothers at birth showed that, even when the mannequins were made of soft material and provided formula to the baby monkeys, the babies were better socialized when they had live mothers to interact with. The baby monkeys with mannequin mothers also were more likely to suffer from despair. Scientists suspect that lack of bonding in human babies can cause similar problems.
Most infants are ready to bond immediately. Parents, on the other hand, may have a mixture of feelings about it. Some parents feel an intense attachment within the first minutes or days after their baby’s birth. For others, it may take a bit longer.
But bonding is a process, not something that takes place within minutes and not something that has to be limited to happening within a certain period after birth. For many parents, bonding is a byproduct of everyday caregiving. You may not even know it’s happening until you observe your baby’s first smile and suddenly realize that you’re filled with love and joy.
Why Do Parents Bond With Their Baby?
Bonding is an essential human instinct that gives babies a sense of security and self-esteem. Bonding also helps parents feel connected to their newest family member. It begins to happen even before the baby is born — when you think the first little flutters in your belly or sees your baby kick on the ultrasound screen. Your baby also starts getting to know you in the womb through the sound of your voice.
The Ways Babies Bond
When you’re a new parent, it often takes a while to understand your newborn and all the ways you can interact:
- Touch becomes an early language as babies respond to skin-to-skin contact. It’s soothing for both you and your baby while promoting your baby’s healthy growth and development.
- Eye-to-eye contact provides meaningful communication at close range.
- Babies can follow moving objects with their eyes.
- Your baby tries — early on — to imitate your facial expressions and gestures.
- Babies prefer human voices and enjoy vocalizing in their first efforts at communication. Babies often enjoy just listening to your conversations, as well as your descriptions of their activities and environments.
Understanding Your Newborn’s Bonding Behaviour
Your newborn uses body language to show you when they want to connect with you and strengthen the bond between you. For example, your newborn might:
- smile at you or make eye contact
- make little noises, like coos or laughs
- look relaxed and interested.
How Does Parent-Baby Bonding Happen?
Bonding happens in many ways. When you look at your newborn, touch their skin, feed them, and care for them, you’re bonding. Rocking your baby to sleep or stroking their back can establish your new relationship and make them feel more comfortable. When you gaze at your newborn, they will look back at you. In mothers who are breastfeeding, the baby’s cries will stimulate the let-down of milk.
Making an Attachment
Bonding with your baby is probably one of the most pleasurable aspects of infant care. You can begin by cradling your baby and gently rocking or stroking him or her. If you and your partner both hold and touch your infant frequently, your little one will soon come to know the difference between your touches. Both of you can also take the opportunity to be “skin to skin” with your newborn by holding him or her against your skin when feeding or cradling.
Babies, especially premature babies and those with medical problems, may respond to infant massage. Because babies aren’t as strong as adults, you’ll need to massage your baby very gently. Before trying out infant massage, be sure to educate yourself on proper techniques by checking out the many books, videos, and websites on the subject. You can also contact your local hospital to determine if there are classes in infant massage in your area.
Breastfeeding and bottle-feeding are both natural times for bonding. Infants respond to the smell and touch of their mothers and the parents’ responsiveness to their needs. In an uncomplicated birth, caregivers try to take advantage of the infant’s alert period immediately after birth and encourage feeding and holding the baby. However, this isn’t always possible, and, though ideal, immediate contact isn’t necessary for the future bonding of the child and parent.
Adoptive parents may be concerned about bonding with their baby. Although it might happen sooner for some than others, adopted babies and their parents can bond just as well as biological parents and their children. My Baby Nursery is your one-stop baby product store.
Bonding With Daddy
Men these days spend more time with their infants than dads of past generations did. Although dads frequently yearn for closer contact with their babies, bonding often occurs on a different timetable, partially because they don’t have the early contact of breastfeeding that many moms have.
But dads should realize, early on, that bonding with their child isn’t a matter of being another mom. In many cases, dads share special activities with their infants. And both parents benefit greatly when they can support and encourage one another.
Early bonding activities include:
- participating together in labour and delivery
- feeding (breast or bottle); sometimes dad forms a special bond with baby when handling a middle-of-the-night feeding and diaper change
- reading or singing to the baby
- giving the baby a bath
- mirroring baby’s movements
- mimicking baby’s cooing and other vocalizations — the first efforts at communication
- using a front baby carrier during routine activities
- letting baby feel the different textures of dad’s face
Building a Support System
Of course, it’s easier to bond with your baby if the people around you are supportive and help you develop confidence in your parenting abilities. That’s one reason experts recommend having your baby stay in your room at the hospital. While taking care of a baby is overwhelming at first, you can benefit from the emotional support provided by the staff and start becoming more confident in your abilities as a parent. Although rooming-in often is not possible for parents of premature babies or babies with special needs, the support from the hospital staff can make bonding with the infant easier.
At first, caring for a newborn can take nearly all of your attention and energy — especially for a breastfeeding mom. Bonding will be much easier if you aren’t exhausted by all of the other things at homes, such as housework, meals, and laundry. It’s helpful if dads or other partners can give an extra boost with these everyday chores, as well as offer plenty of general emotional support.
And it’s OK to ask family members and friends for help in the days — even weeks — after you bring your baby home. But because having others around during such a transitional period can sometimes be uncomfortable, overwhelming, or stressful, you might want to ask people to drop off meals, walk the dog, or run an errand for you.
How to Bond With Your Newborn
Warm, gentle affection makes your newborn feel safe and builds your bond. You can also develop your bond through your interactions with your newborn – for example, when you give your newborn things to look at, listen to and feel. This gets your newborn’s brain working and makes it grow. Try these ideas:
Here are some ideas:
- Regularly touch and cuddle your newborn. From birth, your newborn can feel even the gentlest touch. Try stroking your newborn gently when you change a nappy or at bath time.
- Respond to crying. You might not always be able to tell why your newborn is crying. But by responding, you let your newborn know that you’re always there.
- Hold your baby. Try rocking or holding your newborn against you, skin on skin. Or carry your baby in a carrier or sling.
- Make you’re newborn feel physically safe. Provide good head and neck support when you’re holding your baby. Or try wrapping your baby, which recreates the secure feeling of being in the womb.
- Talk to your newborn as often as you can in soothing, reassuring tones. You could talk about what you’re doing or tell stories. This helps your newborn learn to recognize the sound of your voice. It will also help your newborn learn a language later.
- Sing songs. Your newborn will probably like the up and down sounds of songs and music, as well as rhythm. Soothing music might help both of you feel calmer too. Your newborn won’t mind if you’ve forgotten the words or the tune.
- Look into your newborn’s eyes while you talk, sing and make facial expressions. This helps your newborn learn the connection between words and feelings.
Why Am I Not Bonding With My Baby?
Although bonding can be immediate for some people, others stare at the tiny, bawling creature they have just brought home from the hospital and wonder, “Who is this person?” Don’t feel guilty if you aren’t bonding with your baby right from the start. Remember that the process sometimes takes time. As you care for your new baby, you may find that your attachment grows. It may not be until the first time your baby shoots you a toothless grin that you suddenly realize you have bonded.
When Bonding and Attachment Aren’t Easy
You might have bonded with your baby the first time you saw them. But it’s OK if you didn’t feel an instant connection. Bonding and attachment can sometimes take weeks or months of getting to know and understand your baby.
Here are some suggestions to help your bond develop:
- Take time to enjoy being with your baby. Caring for a new baby can be busy, but it’s good to spend time just being together. For example, try cuddling and singing or reading aloud.
- See the world from your baby’s perspective. Imagine what your newborn is looking at, feeling or trying to do. Discover what your newborn likes and dislikes. For example, is your newborn a social baby who doesn’t mind being passed around the family? Or do they prefer to watch what’s going on from the safety of your arms?
- Be flexible. Most newborns don’t have definite day and night sleep patterns. It’s best to respond when your newborn wants to feed, sleep or play.
Factors That May Affect Bonding
Bonding may be delayed for various reasons. Parents-to-be may form a picture of their baby having certain physical and emotional traits. When you meet your baby at birth or after an adoption, reality might make you adjust your mental picture. Because a baby’s face is the primary communication tool, it plays a critical role in bonding and attachment.
Hormones can also significantly affect bonding. While nursing a baby in the first hours of life can help with bonding, it also causes the outpouring of many different hormones in mothers. Sometimes mothers have difficulty bonding with their babies if their hormones are raging or they have postpartum depression. Bonding can also be delayed if a mom’s exhausted and in pain following a prolonged, difficult delivery.
If your baby spends some time in intensive care, you may initially be put off by the amount and complexity of the equipment. But bonding with your baby is still necessary. The hospital staff can help you handle your baby through openings in the isolette (a particular nursery bassinet). When your baby is ready, the team will help you hold him or her. In the meantime, you can spend time watching, touching, and talking with your baby. Soon, your baby will recognize you and respond to your voice and touch.
Nurses will help you learn to bathe and feed your baby. If you’re using breast milk you’ve pumped, the staff, including a lactation consultant, can help you make the transition to breastfeeding before your baby goes home. Some intensive care units also offer rooming-in before you take your baby home to ease the transition.
Is There a Problem?
If you don’t feel that you’re bonding by taking your baby to the first office visit with your child’s doctor, discuss your concerns at that appointment. It may be a sign of postpartum depression. Or bonding can be delayed if your baby has had significant, unexpected health issues. It may just be because you feel exhausted and overwhelmed by your newborn’s arrival.
In any event, the sooner a problem is identified, the better. Health care providers are accustomed to dealing with these issues and can help you better prepare to form a bond with your child.
Also, it often helps to share your feelings about bonding with other new parents. Ask about parenting classes for parents of newborns.
Bonding With Newborns: Why It’s Important
Bonding between you and your newborn is a vital part of development. When your newborn gets what they need from you, like a smile, a touch or a cuddle, your newborn feels the world is a safe place to play, learn and explore. This lays the foundation for your child’s development and wellbeing throughout childhood.
Bonding also helps your baby grow mentally and physically. For example, repeated human contact like touching, cuddling, talking, singing and gazing into each other’s eyes make your newborn’s brain release hormones. These hormones help your baby’s brain to grow. And as your newborn’s brain grows, your newborn starts to develop memory, thought and language.
Bonding is a complex, personal experience that takes time. There’s no magic formula, and it can’t be forced. A baby whose basic needs are being met won’t suffer if the bond isn’t strong at first. As you become more comfortable with your baby and your new routine becomes more predictable, both you and your partner will feel more confident about all of the significant aspects of raising your little one. We have a wide range of baby nursery furniture to help you create the perfect room for your baby.
You’re the essential part of your baby’s life. If you’re worried about your relationship with your baby, ask for help. Getting help when your baby is young can make a big difference to both of you. If you need it, contact support. If you’re physically and mentally well, you’ll be better able to provide the love and comfort your baby needs.