Some of us feel an intense bond the minute our baby is born. For many other parents, that passionate connection isn’t that immediate – and they feel guilty. Be kind to yourself; it often takes days or weeks for those newborn bonding feelings to well up, and it can take as long as seven months, an ongoing process of positive give and take, for parents and babies to form a secure attachment. If persistent sadness interferes with the bonding, please seek an evaluation for post-partum depression.
You don’t have to be supermom or dad to create the bond as you get acquainted with your baby. But here are some ways you can nudge it a long. Some may be intuitive for you.
Tips to Help You Bond
1. Create routines that your child can expect and count on-not just at bedtime, mealtime, and bath time. Have a special toy for diaper changes, or a favorite song as you start your daily walks.
2. Respond to his needs quickly. If he cries because he’s wet, change him. If he makes hungry noises, feed him. If you can’t address his need immediately, acknowledge him clearly, let him know you heard him and will be there as soon as you can. If possible, give him a toy to hold and talk to him while you finish up whatever you’re doing (such as taking care of another child!). You can’t spoil a child by being “too responsive” in the first nine months or so of life.
3. Cultivate predictability. To feel safe and secure, babies need to know they can count on you. Your routines and prompt responses will help meet this need for predictability.
4. Hold him! Physical contact is vital. Strap him onto your chest or use a sling, rather than always plopping him in the stroller. Hug him, cuddle him, look into his eyes, and when he coos at you, coo back! On the other hand, you don’t have to “wear” your baby every minute, and it’s not a crime to use a stroller some of the time. Remember that babies need and enjoy stimulation from playing on mats, baby-gyms and the like too, so you don’t have to hold him all the time.
5. Let go of your guilt and perfectionism. The less guilt-filled and self-critical you are, the more emotionally available you will be to your child. It’s great for toddlers to start learning that everyone, even parents, make mistakes and that they are loved anyway.
Remember that both parents should bond, and if the two parents have slightly different approaches, that’s fine as long as you are both providing warmth, responsiveness, touch and consistency.
If you want more help on bonding and attachment, I highly recommend the Circle of Security website and their free handout “Building a Secure Attachment for Your Baby.”
Some Extra Newborn Bonding Tips for Dad:
Moms have built-in bonding opportunities, particularly if they are breastfeeding. But Dads don’t have to feel left out. Here are some ways fathers and babies can get closer:
Feeding. A breastfeeding mom can pump during the day, and dad can bottle feed the baby once at night. This gives mom a break. Plus it’s a good idea to introduce one bottle a day early.
Bath time. This intimate activity is a great opportunity for dad and baby, plus it gives mom a bit of a break in the evening (or time to focus on older children.) Dads may want to learn a bit of infant massage or baby yoga.
Carry the baby. Buy a front carrier and take a walk every day with the baby on your chest.