Bonding with your newborn is more than a lovely feeling — it’s essential for their development. The great news is that you don’t need to do anything fancy or special to establish that bond. You just need to do what comes naturally as you lavish your little one with love.
What Is Baby Bonding?
Bonding is the intense connection that develops between parents and their babies. It happens when you consistently tend to your newborn’s needs with love and care.
“This process helps your baby feel safe, secure and nurtured,” says Krupa Thakar, MS, a speech-language pathologist at Memorial Healthcare System. “They begin to understand that you are a trusted person, someone they can count on as they grow up. A strong bond also helps your baby develop mentally and physically.”
If you have a newborn, you are probably already doing a lot to strengthen the bond without even realizing it. Many everyday activities make a difference. These include:
- Responding to your baby’s cries (even if you aren’t sure why they are crying)
- Feeding and burping your baby
- Talking to your baby throughout the day
- Reading and singing songs to your baby
- Bathing your baby and changing their diaper
- Having skin-to-skin contact with your baby or giving them an infant massage
- Taking pictures or videos of your baby
“Bonding isn’t about following a checklist. It’s about engaging with your baby all day long as they take in the world around them,” Thakar says.
Thakar adds that it’s common for parents to overcomplicate the process of bonding with their baby. She notes that four misconceptions can lead to unnecessary anxiety.
Misconception #1: Bonding Begins Once a Baby Is Born
Bonding is different for every family. Some parents feel an intense attachment to their child right away. For others, the process takes longer. The good news is that — regardless of how you feel — the bond between mother and baby begins to form long before birth.
“Research suggests that by 31 weeks gestation, a baby can hear voices and discern mom’s voice from other voices,” Thakar says. “So by the time your baby is born, you already have a head start establishing the bond between you.”
If you don’t feel strongly connected to your baby in the days and weeks after the delivery, don’t be hard on yourself, Thakar adds. “A new baby can create a lot of stress in your home, so don’t try to do anything extra to build the bond. Just continue to respond to your baby’s needs, and the connection will come.”
Misconception #2: I’m to Blame if the Bond Isn’t Immediate
Babies are ready to bond immediately, but the process can be more complicated for parents. Many factors outside our control can interfere with bonding. These can include:
- A difficult pregnancy
- Not being able to have the childbirth experience you expected
- Infant feeding issues, such as difficulty breastfeeding
- A stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can limit physical touch between parents and babies
- Health concerns that make a baby fussy or difficult to soothe
Again, Thakar says, patience is key. If you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, reach out to people in your network — family and friends can provide perspective and encouragement as you adjust to life with your newborn.
Moms who experience the “baby blues” or postpartum depression often find it more challenging to bond with their babies. If you are not eating and not sleeping, experiencing excessive, uncontrollable crying or thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, seek medical attention right away.
Misconception #3: Babies Might Not Know Who to Bond With
Babies develop primary attachments with the people who care for them most — especially their parents. But it’s important for them to connect with other people, too. It teaches them about trust and closeness to others. If people in your life want to spend time with you and your baby or care for your baby, that’s a good thing. It won’t interfere with your child’s close attachment to you and your partner. In fact, once attachment is established between babies and parents, it tends to remain stable. So even if grandma or a favorite cousin babysit regularly, your bond with baby will remain strong.
Misconception #4: I’ll Spoil My Baby If I’m Too Responsive
One of the most important things a baby can learn in the first weeks and months of life is that somebody special is always there to meet their needs.
“You cannot spoil a baby by giving them too much attention,” Thakar says. “The more you care for your baby, the stronger your bond will become.”
As your baby approaches the one-year mark, you can be more selective in responding to their cries. That’s about the age children learn emotional outbursts can get them what they want. Until then, though, you simply can’t overdo it when it comes to meeting your baby’s needs.
How to Know Your Bond is Growing
Watch for cues to know that the bond between you and your baby is growing. Babies who feel safe and secure will:
- Make eye contact (beginning shortly after birth)
- Coo and make other happy noises (starting at about one to two months)
- Smile when you smile at them (usually by two months)
Talk to your pediatrician if your child doesn’t exhibit these behaviors, or if you are concerned about your bond. Another reason to ask for help relates to feeding. If your baby is colicky or fussy, there may be an underlying health issue, such as reflux, to blame. But treatment that makes the baby more comfortable could pave the way to more peaceful feeding times — and a stronger bond.
Memorial Healthcare System provides many resources for parents. Check out the Baby and Me Parenting Series of live, online webinars that cover many topics, such as postpartum depression and breastfeeding, poison safety, infant sleep, transitioning to solid foods and how to use a carrier.