Bonding is a special connection you have with your baby. Bonding with your baby is not a one-time event. It is a process that takes time. For some people, bonding begins at birth. For other people, it can start several weeks later.
Babies rely on their parents for all care. A lot of bonding happens while you’re providing your baby’s basic needs. You may become emotional or have feelings of joy and relief.
Why is bonding important?
Your baby’s bond with you is the first they have with anyone. They begin to form trust, security, and confidence. Lack of bonding has effects on both you and your baby. You might not have deep feelings of closeness. You both might struggle with self-esteem. They could have a hard time forming future bonds. It also could slow your baby’s mental or social growth.
Try not to focus on what you think is normal. Each child and bonding experience is unique. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about bonding or how your child is developing.
Path to better bonding
Bonding with your baby is a process. It even can start during pregnancy. You can connect to your baby by talking to them in the womb. You interact with them when they kick your stomach. Partners should be in the delivery room and visit your baby in the nursery after birth. You also can ask your doctor to share a hospital room with your baby.
Certain everyday events lend themselves to bonding. You spend time with your baby during feedings, baths, and diaper changes. You also sleep near your baby. You can have a separate crib in your room or one that attaches to your bed. It is important not to put your baby in your bed. It puts the baby at risk for sleep-related deaths.
There are other ways to promote bonding. Some babies, like premature ones, need extra movement. Infant massage can help increase flow and relax nerves. Be careful because newborns are growing and might be fragile. Talk to your doctor and educate yourself before trying a massage.
You also can include your baby in daily activities. Wear them in an approved carrier while running errands. Place them in a seat so they can watch you doing chores or working.
You are getting to know your newborn as much as they are getting to know you. Babies can’t talk, but there are other ways to communicate. Their senses, like touch and sound, are sensitive. Doctors recommend moms and dads have skin-to-skin contact with their baby. You can stroke their skin or give them kisses. Take turns holding, cradling, and rocking your baby. Assist your baby to feel your hair and face, and other things around them.
As your baby’s eyes adjust, they will make better eye contact with you. They will start to watch you and copy your moves and looks. Your voice also is a big part of bonding. Babies react to different voices and tones. Calm and happy voices tend to be soothing. Loud, harsh voices make babies anxious.
Your baby’s first verbal response is crying. This is how they tell you they need something. Sometimes, it might seem like all they do is cry. Babies respond differently, so take time to learn. You might find that certain types of crying mean certain things. One type of cry means they are hungry. Another type means they need a diaper change. They might cry if they get scared, and all it takes is your voice to calm them.
You always should respond to your baby’s cries, even if you don’t know why they’re crying or what they need. This aids in the bonding process. Your baby will learn to trust you. You will feel proud and happy for protecting your baby. It is impossible to “spoil” you baby in the first few months of life.
Once your baby is 2 to 3 months old, their responses will improve. They will recognize your touch, voice, and face. Your baby might copy what you do, like smile or laugh. You will start to see their personality. The more time they spend awake, the more alert and curious they become. This gives you more time to interact with your baby.
You should practice talking, reading, and singing to your baby. Begin to play with them more one-on-one and with toys. They also will begin to learn and explore all sorts of new things. You’ll get to watch your baby find their hands and feet, and hear all the sounds they can make. All of these things help your baby learn and grow.
Encourage types of play, such as:
- Tummy time. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), you can do this 2 to 3 times a day. Start with short periods of 3 to 5 minutes and increase as your baby grows. Tummy time strengthens muscles and promotes movement. It also helps prevent flat spots on your baby’s head. Always watch your baby during tummy time. You also can engage in tummy time alongside your baby. Only practice this when your baby is awake, like after a nap or diaper change. Do not put them on their tummy when they are sleeping. This increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Educational toys. Provide age-specific toys that engage their senses. Try out different colors, textures, and sounds. Allow them to focus and explore. Be careful not to overdo it at one time. Never leave your child alone with any toys.
- Movement exercises. You can practice certain motions with your baby. Practice clapping their hands together. Do stretches with their arms and legs. Dance and move with them while you sing or talk.
Things to consider
Some things can delay or prevent bonding, such as:
- Painful or difficult delivery.
- Multiple babies at once or other children.
- Premature birth or baby with health issues. It can be hard to bond with your baby when they need to stay in the hospital. Or they might have a device or condition that acts as a barrier. Work with your doctor and hospital staff on other ways to bond with your baby.
- Adoption or foster care. It might seem harder to bond with your baby if you didn’t carry and deliver them. Bonding is not related to genes. It might just take extra time to get to know and bond with them.
- Hormonal changes or emotional issues. Some people suffer from postpartum depression after giving birth and need medical help.
None of these suggest you are a bad parent. In fact, you are doing great by providing your baby’s basic needs. You can get creative on how to interact with your baby. Maybe they like something different or new. Try not to get down if it takes longer than you thought it would. Consult your doctor for advice if you are worried.
When to see your doctor
Talk to your doctor if you are struggling to bond with your baby. You might have symptoms that point to postpartum depression. Your doctor can prescribe medicine or suggest joining a new parent class or group. It can help to meet and talk with parents who are going through the same thing as you.
You also can contact your doctor if your baby’s crying seems unnatural. Most of the time nothing is wrong, but your doctor can help. If you notice crying that leads to uneven breathing, low motion, or poor eating, your baby might be sick. The doctor will check for fever, pain, or other health issues.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How can I bond with my baby during pregnancy?
- Can my baby hear and feel me when they are in the womb?
- What can I do if my baby bonds with one parent more than the other?
- What is the “cry it out” method and should I use it?
- Can I spoil my baby by responding to their crying too much?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.