Bonding with your baby

Article at a Glance

  • Bonding is important for your baby’s cognitive and social development.
  • For some bonding is instantaneous, but for others it is a gradual experience.
  • Caring for your baby, spending time together, baby wearing, kangarooing, and breastfeeding are all excellent ways to bond with your baby.

Some parents bond with their newborn the minute they see their baby for the first time, but that isn’t always the case. It isn’t uncommon for that bond to take some time to develop.

Parents who struggle at first shouldn’t feel guilty or think that it means you are a terrible parent. Not all relationships are love at first sight, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t grow to be just as strong.

As long as your baby’s needs are being meet, your baby won’t be harmed if the bonding takes a little longer. As you get more comfortable and more confident with your baby that bond will develop. Before you know it, one day your baby will either snuggle close or flash you a dazzling smile and your heart will melt.

Why is bonding important?

Bonding is what makes us want to nurture and protect our babies. And it makes all the hard work and sacrifice involved in raising a child rewarding. It also helps with your child’s cognitive and social development. Bonding not only helps your baby feel safe and secure, but it teaches them how to form intimate relationships and to trust others.

Why does bonding sometimes take longer?

Having a baby is overwhelming. It is a physical and emotional marathon. New parents have to adjust to a lot of changes and it can take awhile to process everything. Here are a few of the things that can make bonding a challenge. Remember that these are things that can make bonding harder, but not impossible. Talking with somebody about your feelings can help.

  1. After delivery you are exhausted, especially if you had a painful or long delivery. Or maybe you had a bad birth experience and things didn’t go as planned. You body is also going to need some time to heal after delivery. Don’t be surprised if you aren’t chipper and eager to meet the newest member of your family. You might be more interested in a shower and a nap.
  2. Caring for a newborn means very little sleep. Not getting enough sleep can make you groggy and emotional, and effect brain function.
  3. Babies need a lot of care, which means you have a new 24/7 job. This can make anybody feel exhausted and overwhelmed.
  4. A new member of the family means a lot of adjustments. It isn’t uncommon for parents to resent the intrusion on their once calm and ordered life. For example, a quick trip to the grocery store now takes half the day. It is easy for parents to feel powerless and outside their comfort zone.
  5. Right after childbirth, your hormones start to change dramatically. Depending on how your body reacts to these changes, it can be an emotional roller coaster.
  6. Sometimes our relationships with our own parents can affect the way we attach or bond with others. If you weren’t particularly close with your parents, it might take a little longer to bond.
  7. It may be harder to bond if your baby has to stay in the NICU for a while. You won’t be able to spend as much time caring for your baby and all the tubes can be intimidating and scary.
  8. Breastfeeding may not come as easily to you as you hoped it would. It can take some practice for you and your baby. It is common for mothers to feel disappointed or inadequate at first.
  9. If you have lost a child or had a miscarriage in the past, don’t be surprised if you feel a wide range of conflicting emotions once your baby is born. It can be hard to separate the sorrow you feel at your loss with the joy you feel at the birth of your child.
  10. Some newborns are harder to care for than others. If your baby is colicky, a rough sleeper, or especially needy, it can make new parents feel even more overwhelmed and exhausted.
  11. Your own personality can also come into play. Some people just take a little more time to warm up than others, or you and your child’s personality might be very different.
  12. Sometimes martial problems become magnified after the birth of a child. When this happens, it is easy to feel resentful and confused.
  13. Some mothers experience postpartum depression, which makes it hard to bond with their baby. Women with postpartum depression might experience extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, severe mood swings, destructive thoughts and feelings, and insomnia. Postpartum depression is not something you can just snap yourself out of and it is not your fault. If you think that you may be suffering from postpartum depression, see your doctor immediately. Postpartum depression is very treatable, but you will need help.

What can I do to bond with my baby?

Caring for and spending time with your baby is one of the best ways to bond. The connection grows as we respond to our baby’s needs and get to know our baby’s personality.

  • Bonding starts to happen as we make eye-to-eye contact, watch our babies respond to us, or snuggle. Many parents say that some of their favorite moments are rocking their baby to sleep at night when it is quiet and there is nobody to interrupt.
  • Wearing your baby or kangarooing (placing your baby on your bare chest so that you are touching skin-to-skin) is a great way to promote bonding. Infant massage is also a good way to help you and your baby relax and spend time together.
  • For many, breastfeeding is a wonderful time to bond and it naturally releases hormones that encourage bonding. If you are having problems with breastfeeding at first, don’t get discouraged. A lactation consultant can help you through some of the rough patches.
  • Find ways to make your life less overwhelming, whether that is cutting back on social activities or giving yourself permission to slide on the housekeeping and meal prep.
  • Dads need to bond too. Being there for labor and delivery, helping with diaper changes and feeding, reading and singing, giving baths, kangarooing, and baby wearing are all ways that a father can bond with his baby.

When should I be worried about not bonding with my baby?

If you are worried at all about bonding with your baby, talk to your child’s pediatrician. This is very common and health care providers will know how to help.

And remember that this is just the very beginning of a very long relationship. Sometimes it just takes time. Parents who don’t bond during pregnancy or those first few days, usually do so within a few weeks.

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