Bonding is an intense feeling of love and attachment that develops between parents and their newborn baby. Experts say a strong bond between infant and parents sets the stage for positive childhood development, yet the connection forms differently for everyone. Some parents take one look at their new baby and instantly fall in love. Others need a little more time to feel the special kind of attachment they’ve been expecting.
You can start bonding with your baby even before she arrives. You might sense the first stirrings of a connection when you see your baby’s fluttering heartbeat on an ultrasound, or when you feel her move inside of you.
Now is the time to help her connect to you, too. Talk to your baby in the womb. Let her know how excited you are to meet her, and how much you already love her. Sing songs and read stories to her, just as if she were already in your arms.
Touch is an important part of the bonding process. As soon as your baby is born, ask the nurse to place him on your abdomen and chest. Skin-to-skin contact is ideal, because it’s been shown to contribute to a host of positive health effects in the baby — including weight gain, easier latching during breastfeeding, and less crying. “We already know there are physiological benefits in the newborns when they are held skin-to-skin,” explained neonatologist Natalia Isaza, MD, FAAP, of Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C. “Now we have more evidence that skin-to-skin contact can also decrease parental stress that can interfere with bonding, health and emotional wellness, and the interpersonal relations of parents.”
If you plan to breastfeed, encourage your newborn to latch on as soon as possible. Nursing stimulates your body to produce the hormone, oxytocin, which triggers feelings of trust and love, and strengthens the mother-infant bond. The physical closeness you experience during nursing only enhances that connection, especially if you also gaze into your baby’s eyes while she feeds.
Continue the close contact once you bring baby home. Give her massages, gently rubbing her arms, legs, belly, and head. Babies love the feel of their mother’s touch. Cuddle with her whenever possible. Talk, sing, and coo to her while looking into her eyes. At night, put baby to sleep in a bassinet or crib in the same room with you (but never in the same bed, because co-sleeping increases the risk for sudden infant death syndrome). Keeping baby in your bedroom will help you feel closer, plus it will make middle-of-the-night nursing more convenient.
Fathers — even though you didn’t carry or deliver your baby, you can still form a close bond by doing many of the same things your partner does. Hold the baby against your bare skin and look into his eyes. Keep him close to you during the day by wearing him on your chest in an infant carrier. Research finds close contact with baby stimulates the same oxytocin release in new dads as it does in new moms.
Take an active role in nursing — and give mom a break — by having your partner pump breast milk and helping out with a few feedings each day. Talk and sing to your baby whenever you can. It doesn’t matter whether you say silly things or your voice is off-key — your infant will love hearing the sound of your voice.
If you haven’t bonded with your baby soon after his arrival, don’t worry. You’re not setting yourself up for a dysfunctional future relationship. You’ll have plenty of time to cement the love and attachment you’ll undoubtedly feel for your child. Some parents need extra time to connect, especially new moms who were separated from their babies after birth because they had a C-section, or because the baby was premature or had health issues.
Don’t rush things. Parenting a newborn can be exhausting and stressful. Focus on your baby’s immediate needs — feeding, diapering, comforting — but also hold her and spend as much time as you can together. One day, you’ll suddenly realize that you’ve never loved anyone as much as you do this tiny new person.
April 25, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN