Learning how to bond with your baby can be a wonderful, but sometimes daunting experience.
For most new parents the instant they set eyes upon their newborn there is no question about the overwhelming love they feel for their new baby.
For others, it can feel like your not connecting and your parenting journey is feeling really tough already.
Whatever you feel, know that it's completely natural, normal and OK to feel a whole range of emotions.
Parenting can be tough and learning how to bond with your baby will make the journey so much easier, as so much of what you will endure and delight in, will be built on the foundation of unconditional love.
So let's dive right in and ensure that both you and your baby get to experience (to the utmost!) the unique bond that exists between a parent and child!
What is bonding and attachment in newborns?
Bonding is the strong parental feeling of being connected with your baby when you experience a sense of unconditional love and closeness towards them.
Attachment, on the other hand, describes your baby’s need to be close to a protective caregiver.
Both bonding and attachment in newborns are reinforced each time you respond to your baby’s needs with nurturing love, care and attention.
These acts of love towards your baby establish you as a trusted and special person in their lives. It also makes them feel safe and cared for while you provide an environment in which they can thrive.
Why is bonding important with newborns?
Bonding with your newborn is extremely important for both you and your baby.
For your baby, it promotes healthy emotional and physical development, by nurturing the connections of your baby's brain cells that are critical to emotional well being and learning.
Every time your cuddle, smile, feed or hold your baby (especially skin to skin) the brain releases a hormone called oxytocin in both you and your baby which deepens the bond between you.
Strong bonding will also encourage your baby to have a strong sense of self and they are more likely to grow up to become independent and resilient adults.
There definitely appears to be a correlation between a lack of bonding and a higher possibility of mental health issues later in life.
Professor Robert Winston has spent a lifetime working with parents and children and has made some amazing discoveries regarding the importance of bonding.
He is on the same page as me when in his article 'The importance of early bonding on the long-term mental health and resilience of children' he says that “if I'm completely honest, the most important achievement is my own three children”.
Read Professor Robert Winston's article here!
Being a parent is, without doubt, one of the most important jobs you will ever do and bonding with your child is your first important task in setting your child on the right path to a healthy and well-balanced life.
Understanding newborn bonding behaviours
As with any relationship it takes time to get to know your baby.
And understanding their cues as to what they need and want is part of that process too.
As you begin to interpret their cries and behaviours to correctly predict what they need, your baby will in turn feel safe, secure and loved.
While all babies are different and you will get to know your little one’s special cues, here are some common signs that may be telling you they are tired, hungry, want to play or just need a break.
- Losing interest in toys or people
- Sucking fingers
- Jerky movements
- Rubbing eyes and ears
- Turning towards breast when held (rooting reflex)
‘I’m ready to play’ Cues
- Eyes widen and are alert
- Smooth body movements
- Grabs your finger
- Make cooing and gurgling sounds
‘I need a break from play’ Cues
- Frowns and fusses
- Looks away
- Splays fingers and stretches out arms
- May arch back
Learning your baby’s cues will help you feel that you are getting to know your little one and your baby will feel safe and cared for.
How to bond with your newborn
There are many ways in which you can bond with your baby starting from when they are in the womb. As bonding and attachment are vital for the lifelong relationship you will have with your child, knowing how to maximise the bonding process and spotting the signs early on that it may not be going as planned, are essential.
Bonding is equally important for partners and there are many ways in which they can bond with baby too.
Even during pregnancy that undeniable bond starts to develop, from the moment you feel that first flutter of movement and you truly start to comprehend the life you are carrying within you.
It is important to include your partner in the experience of pregnancy, to help them feel as connected as possible to the baby you are carrying and this will definitely help with their bonding later on.
Conversations held over your growing bump can be had to include baby and you may even read, sing or play music to him or her while they are still in the womb.
All this pre-birth love and attention will be sowing the seeds of healthy bonding with your unborn child and will be building support for later on between you and your partner.
In addition, the excitement of preparing for the new arrival, such as buying a cot or painting the nursery, will sow the seeds of bonding and there is nothing more fun than buying and receiving baby clothes.
On a more practical note... having all your ducks in a row before your little one puts in an appearance will mean less stress when you bring baby home and ensure you are able to fully focus on bonding and settling into your new life together.
As soon as your baby is born and you have that first skin to skin contact and put your baby to the breast for the first time you are embarking on the wonderful journey of bonding with your baby.
While most mothers feel instant euphoric love for their newborn, some may not, due to a long and difficult birth, premature birth or caesarean birth, but this does not mean that bonding will not develop soon after with everyday care.
Holding your baby, cuddling and talking and smiling at them will help the bonding process to develop.
Helping Dad Bond with baby
There are many ways in which fathers can bond with their new baby.
Dads can have skin to skin contact with their newborn which helps establish a bond between father and child and just being present at the birth can cause an instant bond.
Fathers can bond in very much the same way as mothers do by cuddling, talking and singing to their newborn.
Dads need time to get to know their baby as much as mothers do and there is no reason for them not to bond with their little one if they take part in the daily care of their baby.
Taking some paternity leave is a great way for Dads to spend time getting to know their newborn and the benefits of spending this special time together will last a lifetime.
How long will it take to bond with a baby?
While many parents feel an instant bond with their baby when it is born around 25-35% of parents do not. Slow bonding is not uncommon…. but by 6 months old, most parents feel a strong bond with their baby.
It is important to remember that having a baby is a major life-changing event and every parent will deal with it differently.
Just remember that exhaustion and feelings of isolation are common in the early days and that the majority of parents bond with their baby’s within the first few months. If you feel that you are struggling to bond then speak to a medical professional as there are options to help you through this period.
12 ways to bond with your baby
Bonding with your baby occurs in a variety of ways, for instance when you look at your newborn, have skin-to-skin contact, feed her, care for her or rock her to sleep.
As you look at your baby, she looks back at you, studying your face and responding to your voice and when she cries it will stimulate your milk supply.
You and your baby are hardwired to enjoy each other so don't overthink it.
Bonding is intuitive and forming a strong attachment is not all about acting the right way, but really about watching and responding instinctively and sensitively.
This is the period of getting to know each other and the more attention you pay and respond to your babies needs, the stronger your bond will feel, not just now but throughout your relationship.
Feeding your newborn is one of the best ways to bond with your baby. Make eye contact and hold their gaze, they will love looking at you too!
Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding these are precious times together for just the two of you.
If your baby is partly or completely bottle-fed, your partner can also enjoy this wonderful bonding experience.
2. Baby Massage
Babies respond to touch and daily infant massage is a great way to bond and form a strong attachment with your baby. Again, this is an activity that both parents can enjoy.
3. Go Skin To Skin
We are all now aware of the benefits of skin to skin contact immediately after birth for both mother and baby…
But this is a practice that has also proven to be so beneficial to bonding during the first few weeks or months of your baby's life.
Just 20 minutes a day (more if you can) of skin to skin contact in a warm and dimly lit room, can considerably help both mother and baby, not only emotionally but physically as well.
If your baby has been delivered prematurely, it is sometimes not possible to have skin to skin contact immediately after birth, but that does not mean that it is too late to form a close attachment through skin to skin contact soon after.
Premature babies especially respond to the skin to skin sessions with studies showing that a premature baby's immune system is boosted by having regular skin to skin contact with their parents.
It was also found that premature babies who were cradled skin to skin also slept more deeply.
Skin to skin contact reduces the levels of cortisol and increases levels of oxytocin which makes babies feel safe and secure.
Skin to skin contact with your baby can help prevent postpartum depression.
According to The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, "activity in the mother's adrenal gland is negatively influenced by childbirth and skin to skin contact may reactivate the pathways to minimise the risk of depression".
This together with the release of oxytocin during skin to skin contact, reduces maternal anxiety and may reduce the risk of postpartum depression and an added bonus is that skin to skin contact can not only help with bonding it can also help you establish breastfeeding.
4. Kiss And Cuddle
Kissing, cuddling and holding your baby close while you take in their smell is a great way to love and bond with your baby.
Newborn babies benefit from being held as they adjust to life outside the womb and the calmer your baby is, the more relaxed you will be, which will make it easier for you to bond.
Although I advocate establishing a routine in order to have some control over your new life, in the early days, cradling and cuddling are very important and will not impact on your ability to establish a routine later on.
5. Have Fun With Baby
Even a newborn can respond to fun and games. Playing with a newborn can include all sorts of things!
Pull funny faces, make funny noises and you will capture their attention.
Familiarise them with smiles and laughter, sing songs and dance. All of these activities are great for you to keep you in a good mood and great for them to experience.
Doing these things together is bonding in itself and the response you will get will melt your heart.
6. Get Into A Routine
Getting your little one into an Easy Baby Routine is an excellent way for you to feel that you have not lost control of your life completely. A routine will reduce the risk of feeling overwhelmed by how much your life has changed.
7. Don't Stress Over Milestones Too Much
All babies develop at their own individual rate so please do not worry if your little one is not doing what your friend’s baby is doing at a certain age.
Try not to look too far ahead into the future as these early weeks will fly by and you should try and cherish every moment.
8. Read A Book Together
Reading a book to your little one is another lovely bonding experience with the added bonus of being beneficial to your baby's development.
It is never too early to introduce your baby to books and there are lots of wonderful baby books to choose from.
Check out my best baby books for my top recommendations!
9. Keep A Journal
Buying yourself a keepsake journal and recording your baby's development and milestones can keep you bonded as you record the memories you are making together.
10. Put Away Your Phone
Please try and stay off your phone when spending time with your baby.
It is important to focus on your little one when spending time together and there will be plenty of time to catch up on your phone when they are sleeping.
Trust me the first few weeks of your baby's life will fly by and you will not want to miss a thing.
11. Talk away
It may seem strange to chat to your baby when they can not talk back, but they will absorb every word and love to hear a voice.
Chat about what you are doing whether it be getting them dressed, walking around the room looking at everyday items, or going for a walk and talking about what you see.
All of these things will help to keep you connected and bonded.
Talking is a wonderful way to bond with your baby and establishes a lifelong habit.
12. Don't Try To Be A Super Mum
It is impossible to be the most attentive mum and focus on bonding with your new baby and keep an immaculate house at the same time unless you have the luxury of having tons of help.
So, don't try to do it all.
Accept help when it is offered and as long as you and your baby are happy, clean and well-fed then all is OK.
Having a tidy organised house can wait for later. You don't need to do everything now.
It's OK to take a break and look after yourself first.
Tips for creating a secure baby parent bond
- Talk to your baby while in the womb
- Enjoy getting things ready for your baby’s arrival
- Have skin to skin contact as soon after birth as possible
- Put your baby to the breast as soon as possible after birth
- Continue to have skin to skin contact when you breastfeed
- Talk and sing to your baby
- Copy your baby’s noises and pause for them to respond
- Play simple games together
- Look at books together
- Kiss and cuddle your baby when they are upset
- Smile and laugh while looking into your baby’s eyes
- Learn your baby’s cues
- Try baby massage
- Let people help and share the load
- Sleep whenever you can
- Bathe your baby before bedtime
- Try and get into a routine if possible
Benefits of bonding
Bonding releases hormones and chemicals in the newborn baby’s brain that develop connections that are essential for learning and growth. It also makes your new baby feel safe and cared for in an environment that is perfect for them to thrive.
Bonding with your baby and their consequential attachment to you is essential for your baby’s emotional, cognitive and social development.
A baby that has a secure bond with their parents and caregivers will have confidence and self-esteem and will be able to explore the world from a safe place.
Bonding with your baby as a parent means that you will be willing to put up with the exhaustion of getting up in the middle of the night in the early weeks. It means that you lose all selfishness and have the desire and ability to put your baby’s well being first.
In a word, it is the beginnings of unconditional love.
When you receive a positive response from your baby your heart will burst and you will experience feelings of overwhelming love. This will motivate you further to take care of and nurture your baby.
Lack of bonding can mean that you feel resentful or distressed by the overwhelming responsibility of looking after a demanding little human being and may need help to establish a healthy bond.
Why am I not bonding with my baby?
There are many reasons why you may feel you are not bonding with your baby or feeling the strong attachment you expected.
Here are 7 reasons why you may not be bonding with baby as you would have imagined:
1. Difficult Birth Or C - Section
Bonding can be tricky if you have had a C- section or could not see your baby immediately after birth.
If this is the case make sure you have lots of help to ensure you can spend plenty of time holding and talking to your baby in a comfortable position until you feel well enough to manage alone.
2. Premature Birth
It can be difficult to bond with your baby if they have been born prematurely or are unwell and have to spend prolonged time in an incubator.
In this case, try and establish as much skin to skin contact as is allowed, as this has proven to speed up a baby's recovery from premature birth and illness.
3. Adopted Baby
If you have adopted a baby, you may struggle to nurture a strong attachment to the new member of your family, as you will not have had any physical pre-birth bonding to build on.
Preparing for the baby's arrival is important and exciting for adoptive parents and will help start the bonding process as much as it does for biological parents.
All this anticipation will help and by following the same rules listed above you can form an extremely strong bond with your new arrival.
As a nanny, I looked after and bonded with several very young babies to the point that when it came to moving on I experienced a huge loss.
This experience made me realise without a doubt, that if I had had to adopt, I would be capable of forming a strong loving bond with a baby that I had not given birth too.
4. Lack Of Support Network
Looking after a newborn is hard work and all-consuming, so a good support network is essential.
If there is little to no social network in place for a new mother, they will very likely feel overwhelmed and exhausted to the point that it impacts on their ability to bond with their baby.
If you find yourself in this situation, speak to your midwife or health visitor, who can put you in contact with other new mothers and help you get the support you need.
5. Struggling To Breastfeed
Struggling to establish breastfeeding with your newborn can sometimes become an obstacle to bonding, so it is important to get help and support if you are having difficulties.
My Breastfeeding 101 article has lots of advice on how to establish healthy and happy breastfeeding.
6. Postpartum Depression
Many women feel down and teary after giving birth and this is often referred to as the 'baby blues', but this should not last for more than 2 weeks after birth.
Prolonged sadness, lack of energy or enthusiasm to look after their baby resulting in difficulty in bonding, are more serious and need to be addressed.
Just realising that you are struggling and taking extra care of yourself by allowing others to help and making sure you get enough rest, may put you back on track, but sometimes postnatal depression can creep up on you unawares and require either therapy or medication.
If you suspect you are suffering from postpartum depression and are finding it difficult to bond with your baby, then it is very important to seek expert medical advice for the sake of both you and your baby.
7. Mental Health And Relationship Issues
Sometimes relationship issues or mental health problems can prevent a mother from bonding and establishing an attachment to their newborn.
If either parent has a history of depression or mental illness this may affect their ability to bond or if they had a difficult childhood that lacked a positive role model, this may also impact on their parental bonding.
A past pregnancy or loss of a child can also make bonding difficult as can the general stresses of life such as financial troubles or work stress, all of which can make it difficult to focus on bonding with your newborn.
All of these situations will require professional help to enable the parents to practice positive bonding experiences with their baby and it is important to seek help if any of these factors are affecting your ability to bond with your baby.
Is there a problem?
Parents that are struggling with bonding will often feel tremendous guilt for not feeling as they think they should.
The truth is that this situation is more common than you might think. The important thing to remember is to not panic if you are not experiencing an overwhelming love in the early days.
As long as you are taking care of the physical needs of your newborn, such as feeding and changing them, as well as keeping them safe and warm, then there is not too much to be worried about.
Very young babies will not really notice a lack of emotional attachment in the very early days.
If however, you are experiencing feelings of detachment and resentfulness towards your baby after a few weeks and you are struggling to look after both yourself and your baby, you may need to seek out some support.
Remember that bonding with your baby is a journey of discovery like any important relationship in your life. It will have its ups and downs, good days and bad, but ultimately it will prove to be one of the most unique and precious relationships you will ever experience.
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