Bonding With Baby: It Isn’t Always Instant

Bonding is the close attachment formed between parents and babies. This close feeling is nature’s way of making sure that parents develop an instinct to care for their young. It is bonding that guarantees babies will be nourished and kept safe and protected.

You may be a deep sleeper and deep sleepers are not awakened by noise. But parents who are well-bonded with their babies will hear them cry at 3 AM and rise to care for them. That’s even if those (exhausted and sleep-deprived) parents tend to be deep sleepers. Waking up in this case is the parental instinct kicking in, thanks to good bonding.

Sometimes bonding happens as soon as the baby is born. Sometimes bonding takes time. And sometimes, unfortunately, bonding fails to happen altogether. In fact, a study published in 2014, found that one in four children never form a strong bond with their parents. That’s a lot of children and parents that aren’t really making it.

And that’s a shame.

Bonding is important not just because it makes parents care for their infants. It’s important because bonding is what makes babies and children feel safe and secure. It gives them a good feeling about themselves. It makes them feel worthwhile as human beings, and not just needy little burdens and brats that don’t let their parents sleep.

The study mentioned above found that the 40% of babies who never experience bonding grow up to become aggressive, defiant adults with a tendency to hyperactivity. The same study found that 25% of those children failed to bond because their parents didn’t respond to their needs. In other words, just by responding to your baby’s needs, you are helping your baby to bond with you.

Remember that when you feel your energy flagging in the early days after birth.

Signs Of Bonding

How can you know if you’re bonding with your baby? Well, for one thing, if you look deep into your baby’s eyes and he or she looks back at you, you’re definitely bonding. If you’re a breastfeeding mom, your baby’s cries may cause your milk to let down. That’s a really good sign you’re bonding with your baby. And of course, if you hear your baby crying in the middle of the night, even when you are deep, deep asleep, it’s because you’ve done a great job of bonding with your baby.

But what if you aren’t really feeling the love? What if you don’t really feel that attachment to your new baby? What if your new baby somehow feels like a stranger to you?

Bonding Isn’t Always Instant

Again, it’s important to remember that bonding is not always instant. There are all sorts of things that can delay bonding. Moms that have babies via C-section can find it more difficult to bond with their babies. They don’t always get to see and hold their babies after birth and that makes a difference. Babies born prematurely may need to spend time in the intensive care unit away from their mothers. It may also take longer to bond with an adopted baby.

In all these cases, moms and babies can’t spend time skin-to-skin in the early days after birth, something that really helps make bonding happen. But even when baby is biological and the birth is uncomplicated and there’s plenty of skin-to-skin time, bonding can be delayed. Some mothers get the baby blues, and that can make bonding difficult. Other moms may feel so exhausted from giving birth that exhaustion gets in the way of bonding. A difficult birth may mean more pain in the days after the birth, and pain is a major factor in preventing early bonding between mommy and baby.

For the father, bonding can take longer because fathers don’t nurse their babies and don’t have the same natural, skin-to-skin closeness with baby. Not nursing the baby also means spending less time with the baby. Some parents opt to have daddy give the baby a bottle of expressed breast milk or formula just to give the father some equal time. Of course, while not the same as breastfeeding, fathers can change baby’s diaper, bathe baby, and spend time rocking, comforting, and singing to baby.

Bonding Difficulties—Some Factors

Here are some common issues that can make it difficult for parents to bond with baby:

  • Growing up without a good parental role model
  • Having a history of depression or other mental health issue
  • Losing a past pregnancy or child
  • A lack of family or friends for emotional support and postpartum help
  • Money troubles, being unemployed, having a stressful or difficult job
  • Marriage problems or abuse
  • Colicky baby

Bonding Tips

Here are seven things you can do to help you bond with your baby:

  1. Be with your baby as much as possible. Begin by asking the staff to let you room-in with your newborn.
  2. If your baby is in neonatal intensive care (NICU), visit your baby as often as you can. Ask the staff if you can hold and touch your baby. If you can’t, talk to and sing to your baby.
  3. Use a baby carrier or sling to keep your baby close to you whether you’re going about your chores or going out. Choose the carrier or sling over the stroller whenever you can. The more you keep your baby close to you, the easier it is to bond.
  4. Spend as much time as you can with your baby at home. Sing and talk to your baby, pat your baby, rock your baby in a rocking chair or in your arms. Voice and touch will help you and your baby to connect.
  5. Breastfeed your baby if you are able and feel good about doing so. Nothing creates so strong a bond between mother and child.
  6. Consider sleeping with your baby by your side. It’s called co-sleeping. Do some research on the subject and consult with your baby’s doctor. Some experts feel it isn’t safe. Some say it is both safe and beneficial in a variety of ways, as long as you do it correctly.
  7. Massage your baby gently, using a bit of olive oil or baby lotion. It’s great skin-to-skin contact. Massage can calm babies and ease colic, too. Massage has been found to help with postpartum depression, too.

Dads And Bonding

Dads have it harder bonding with their babies. Here are some ways to help foster father/baby bonding:

  • Start bonding before the birth by being with mom for doctor’s appointments and tests; by placing a hand on the mom’s belly to feel the baby move; and by imagining yourself as a dad.
  • Be there for labor and delivery and do what you can to help.
  • Once baby is home, be involved as much as possible by changing diapers, comforting and singing to baby, and maybe feeding baby a bottle at night so mom can sleep a bit more.
  • Wear the baby in a carrier or sling and take a walk together.

So let’s say a few weeks or maybe months have passed and your baby still seems a bit like a stranger to you. It is probably a good idea to speak to your baby’s doctor at this point. The doctor should be able to tell whether you need professional help or just more time and effort to get that connection going.

Bonding can happen all sorts of ways. It may be your heart feels so full the very second you lay eyes on your baby and the connection is immediate. Or it could be that three months into your relationship, baby cracks a smile for the first time and you feel that zing to the heart. And maybe you don’t call it “bonding” but “love.”

However it happens and whatever you call it, bonding is one of the best things we get to experience as human beings. There is simply nothing so wonderful as the feeling of connection to a new being. And nothing as powerfully important to your child’s wellbeing, from birth to adulthood.

What have you done to help bond with your infant? When did you realize you felt bonded to your baby? Have you ever experienced a delay in bonding? What helped you bond with your baby?

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Varda Meyers Epstein is a mother of 12, communications writer, and education blogger at the Kars4Kids blog.