Bonding with Your Baby

Bonding is the intense attachment you form with your baby once they are born. Many parents form a bond with their baby straight away but other couples may find that it takes a little longer. Bonding with your baby includes experiencing feelings of utmost love and care for your baby and a connection unlike any other. The first few days after a baby is born are crucial to the development of this unique bond as it gives you the opportunity to form a sound relationship with your baby.

Ways to Bond with your Baby

There are various things that you can do to promote bonding with your baby, as described below:

  • Many mothers are encouraged to give skin to skin contact with their baby after birth. The baby is placed against the mother straight after birth to establish close contact.
  • Eye contact and happy facial expressions can be used to bond with your baby. Many babies enjoy staring at their mother or father’s faces for hours.
  • Gently stroking your baby and reassuring him or her that you are around can help to make them feel loved.
  • Singing lullabies to your baby will help him or her to recognise your voice and will help to promote the bonding process.
  • Breast is best for bonding as it can help to promote trust, affection and love between you and your baby.
  • Talking to your baby will make them want to respond with facial expressions and sounds.
  • Some parents act silly to try to make their baby laugh and this helps to encourage your baby to express signs of his or her personality.
  • Cuddling and kissing your baby will make them feel more loved.

Reasons why some parents find it difficult to bond with their baby

Some parents do not bond easily with their baby and this could be due to a number of reasons, such as unwanted pregnancy or an underage mother. Other reasons may include parents who have financial problems, relationship problems which can adversely affect each parent’s bond with their newborn child. Some women suffer from postnatal depression and this can make it difficult for them to bond with their baby.

If you do find it hard to bond with your baby you can discuss this with your midwife or doctor who will be able to offer additional information.

Holding and bonding

Even though the act of holding a newborn is a uniquely special experience for each mother and can range from holding close, to rocking in the arms, or moving around in a pram, there some guiding notes for greater comfort and safety that include:

  • Holding for gentle bonding with the newborn
  • Regulating body rhythm
  • Supporting the head
  • Caring body movements
  • Safety in environments
  • Using a baby carrier or sling

Holding for gentle bonding with the newborn

The newborn is in a new world with so much different stimuli that can be overwhelming and stressful. The closeness and comfort of the mother is what helps the newborn settle into the new world and adapt to stimuli through a sense of transition from inner womb to outer womb.

Getting to know others and new environments is part of the process, but gently easing the newborn into new experiences through bonding can give the newborn the nurturing sense of comfort and safety that is needed. The more affection and love given is what helps your newborn develop into a loving and secure child.

Additional supports, like pillows and blankets, can help support the baby when held and also be a comfort. When gently lifting a newborn, always support the head and bottom. Some opt to lift the newborn by placing both arms under the baby’s arms, however this does not provide the support for the head that is needed. There are a number of recognised ways of holding a baby that may be adapted or preferred:

Shoulder - a shoulder hold is when the mother supports the baby’s neck and back against her shoulder, upper arm, and chest while the other arm is wrapped under the baby’s bottom, enabling the baby to feel the mother’s heart beating. Many babies fall asleep in this position.

Cradle - a cradle hold is when the baby’s head is in the crook of the inner elbow bend for support as the body leans from the side across the breast and stomach allowing mother and newborn to communicate.

Belly - a belly hold is when one arm is placed under the baby’s back while the baby’s chest rests against the forearm of the other arm. This position helps relieve trapped wind.

Hip - a hip hold should only be used when babies have learned to control their head and neck movements. The baby can be seated on the mother’s waist against the inner shoulder as one arm is wrapped around the baby while the other arm is free.

Caring body movements

At all times, the baby should be moved and handled gently to avoid stress placed on the nervous system, developing spine and brain. A newborn should not be handled roughly or suddenly lifted or put down. Actions like throwing the baby up in the air and catching it can cause undue stress to the newborn. Similarly, parents or carers should not jog with a newborn. Gentle rocking is soothing and also helps the newborn in learning to regulate its body rhythm, but a baby should never be shaken.

Carrying a newborn close in one of the holds mentioned above gives them a sense of comfort and security. However, mothers do need rest from time to time and some opt to use baby carriers for some respite.

Regulating breathing and body rhythm

Mothers can bond with their newborns through the warmth of skin-to-skin touch that allows the newborn to feel the mother’s heartbeat and to breathe with the mother. This is how the baby learns to regulate its breathing and adjust its body rhythm.

Supporting the head

Irrespective of how you are holding your newborn, supporting the head is vital because the baby’s body is still developing with a heavier head and less controlled movements. Some mothers also choose to use pillows and blankets for support. Initially, newborns cannot hold up their own heads because of this and leaving the head to lie to one side can cause discomfort, pain or irregular physical development. Breathing can also be obstructed if the baby’s head is left dropped on its chest.

Safety in environments

When holding a new born it is important to be aware of what is in the environment around you that can cause harm, such as obstacles on the floor that can be tripped over, or objects that can hit a baby’s head if it jerks out or if you turn around. Babies are also quick at learning to grab things suddenly in reach that can fall or cause harm. 

Using a baby carrier or sling

If you know you’re going to be a busy mother or have to also care for an older baby or child, using a front carrier or sling can give more freedom to do complete tasks or activities. Newborns are able to be placed into an inward-facing baby carrier from about a month old until nine months when they can then transition to an outward facing carrier. An inward-facing baby carrier usually has a padded headrest for support and provides more safety than a sling. Some babies take time to adjust to a carrier, and it takes time for the mother to learn to use one.

Cotton slings that hang over the shoulder are an alternative to baby carriers and the cradling position can be easily adjusted from front to sides as the baby gets older. The important aspect of using a sling is to make sure that the newborn’s neck and back is supported in gentle wrap around the chest. Some mothers prefer slings because they ease breast feeding and help to develop a the parent-baby bond through the snug fit of the baby against the chest. The sling is not as safe as the baby carrier because it is more flimsy and the baby can fall out if not supported while moving around.

Bonding with your newborn

As is evident in bonding with your newborn through holding so that it can feel calm and safe, learn to regulate breathing and body rhythm, and also develop movement control, bonding is the intensely felt attachment between parent and baby. Some may describe the bond as loving affection, the desire to want to protect and see to every need and cry of the baby, even in the early hours of the morning. The following pages provide more information about the bonding process:

  • Bonding and social-cognitive development
  • Differences in the bonding process
  • Postnatal depression and the bonding process

Bonding and social-cognitive development

The act of bonding between parent and baby is vital for development of the baby’s self-confidence, sense of safety, and experiences of intimacy and affection. Research shows that how a parent responds to the baby is what moulds social-cognitive development through childhood into adulthood. A lack of bonding can lead to feelings of fear, inferiority, despair, and failure. Time and effort is needed to develop the bond with the newborn.

Parents may be filled with love and happiness in caring for their newborn, but many sleepless nights can wear the affection and even cause some parents to neglect signals given by the baby. These neglected signals, which include crying, are what break down the bond between parent and baby. Carefully seeking help when needed can support parents in maintaining and developing the bonding process.

Differences in the bonding process

Some parents bond immediately from the time of birth with their newborns, while others do not feel the intensity of attachment after birth. Some mothers experience guilt because of this and because they cannot force themselves to feel a deep bond with their newborn.

Part of developing the bond is learning how this new little person responds and what they mean. By caring for the newborn every day the learning takes place and the bond naturally starts to develop. Maintaining the care and sensitivity for the needs of the developing baby by responding is vital for the bonding process. Mothers and their newborns usually start communicating quite soon after birth and develop their own unique understandable language with gestures and expressions.

Postnatal depression and the bonding process

Some mothers do not bond with their newborns shortly after birth, and as the weeks of care go by, still do not feel the affectionate attachment that normally develops through care. Feelings of anxiety about the newborn, guilt, resentfulness, and even anger can emerge.

These feelings may or may not be Postnatal Depression which is an illness that can affect the mother after birth and slow the bonding process. It is important that a mother with these emotions seeks medical attention immediately.

The treatment provided can ease the negative feelings and fears, diagnose Postnatal Depression if it is present, and safeguard the newborn from harm.

Getting medical help does not mean the mother is inadequate or that the baby will be taken away, it means that healthcare providers can help the mother and baby through the bonding process together.

© Medic8® | All Rights Reserved