No matter how many books we read or how many articles we browse, the parenting experience is impossible to predict. There’s no way to know how long it will take to form an emotional connection with a newborn baby. We may tell ourselves it will happen right away, but the reality is that it doesn’t always work out that way. When things come between a parent and bonding with your baby, it can be a distressing moment, leading to self-doubt. But often it’s not anybody’s fault and it’s just a matter of time until that bond forms on its own. Additionally, there are several things we can do to make sure that the bonding process happens smoothly. And for those parents who do feel an immediate emotional connection with their newborn, many of these tips are helpful for further strengthening that connection and solidifying how we communicate with our newborns from day one.
The Importance of Bonding With Your Baby
Why is bonding so important in the first place? Bonding is an essential part of developing an emotional connection with a baby and ensuring that a child feels secure and safe.
From UC Davis’s website, “Research indicates that strong ties between parents and their child provide the baby’s first model for intimate relationships and foster a sense of security and positive self-esteem. Parents’ responsiveness to an infant’s signals can affect the child’s social and cognitive development.”
Additionally, studies of newborn monkeys who were given mannequin mothers at birth showed that the babies were better socialized when they had live mothers to interact with. The baby monkeys with mannequin mothers also were more likely to suffer from despair. What this all points to is that human babies who don’t bond with their parents can develop similar problems.
In the past, though, bonding wasn’t always prioritized, especially for fathers. Mothers or caregivers were tasked with raising an infant and the mother’s connection with the baby was viewed as being more important than the father’s. In more recent decades, we’ve seen fathers prioritizing their relationship with their newborns and spending more time in the care taking role. This is a great trend as all the research we have to date points toward these formative years as being crucial for a baby’s development.
So now we know how important bonding with your baby is, but what happens when it doesn’t come naturally? Why is bonding sometimes difficult? Some of the biggest factors that can come between family members and bonding with their baby are:
—Difficult pregnancies. Parents who incur some complications with their pregnancy, may take some time to recover from that experience. Mothers may need time to physically heal and fathers may take some time adjusting to this major life change. All these factors may delay a parent’s ability to bond with their baby
—Postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum anxiety (PPA). (Link to PPD article) Maybe this can be included as part of pregnancy complications, but sometimes it can take weeks or even months after pregnancy to start feeling the symptoms of PPD and PPA. Struggling with these very real and serious disorders can prove to be a barrier between bonding with a baby, especially when it becomes a highly emotional and distressing time.
—Reality check. Some people form an idea in their head of how their baby will look and act before they’re born. This can make parents feel confused or upset when the reality of being around their baby isn’t what they thought it would be. At times, it can create a mental block that gets in the way of the typical bonding experience.
—Life gets in the way. Birth is an incredibly exhausting experience even when everything goes as smoothly as possible. And having a newborn in the house is often cited as one of the most difficult periods for parents. When life adds stress on top of this, it can quickly become overwhelming. Trouble with work, money, marital problems, death in the family; life throws a lot of things our way. Simply be aware of what you’re experiencing. If you notice that life’s challenges are getting in the way of bonding with your baby, don’t hesitate to seek outside help. Whether it’s counseling, therapy, help from a relative or friend, or taking time off work, give yourself whatever time and care you need to make sure you spend quality time with your newborn. It is one of the most difficult times for parenting and you can’t always do it alone.
For parents who are still struggling to bond with their baby, understanding your child is the first step to bonding. What do they respond positively to? What do they dislike? What are their active hours and sleepy hours? Understanding your child’s preferences is key to meeting your baby on their level and making that instant connection.
- Ask to room-in with your baby at the hospital. Sleeping in the same room will give you more time to get to know one another.
- Once you get home, spend as much time as possible with your baby by wearing them in a sling or carrier, rocking them on your lap, or singing them a song. Your voice and touch can be very comforting.
- Try giving your baby a gentle massage. Research has found that massage can not only improve the relationship between parent and baby, but it also can relieve stress in premature infants and ease postpartum depression in the mother. Make sure you research how to properly massage your baby first. Here’s a helpful guide.
- Try making skin-to-skin contact with your newborn. This practice, called “kangaroo care,” is often used in premature babies, but studies are finding that it’s also calming to babies born full-term. Skin-to-skin contact has been shown to increase oxytocin in mothers, which has many benefits including increasing the emotional bond. It not only helps with bonding, but it also can improve your baby’s ability to breastfeed.
- Put the phone away. You’re only going to have one childhood with your baby and unless you’re taking photos the phone should be separate from your interactions.
- Reading Together. Reading your favorite Hoppy & Poppie PinkCheeks books and other favorite baby books is a great way to bond with your baby. Not only will they hear the sound of your voice, but it is also a crucial method for developing language skills and emotional intelligence at an early age.
That’s quite a few things to start with, but if that’s not enough then check out this list of 30 additional tips and tricks that could help you out.
I hope this list has been helpful and please don’t give up hope. It may not happen the first day or the first week, but by setting the intention, you will, in time, begin to form that close bond that is so important. Whether it’s that first smile or that first moment when your baby recognizes you, it will happen one day with enough time and patience. Let me know how some of these strategies work for you in the comments and I’d love to hear your stories.