By Jan Murray
The strong bonds of attachment between you and your baby don’t just happen because you physically care for your baby. Bonding is more than providing care; it’s the unspoken connection that develops and grows between you and your baby as you regularly change his nappy, give him a bath, feed him, and play with him. It’s the emotional connection that develops between you that helps him feel understood, safe, and secure and not alone, insecure, and scared. When your baby can touch and feel you, hear you, or see you he feels secure and this beautiful connection is what helps him learn to trust. Trusting in you and the people who are closest to him helps your little one feel secure to explore more of his world.
Many parents think they will fall-in-love and have an instant connection with their baby the moment their baby is born but bonding doesn’t always happen that way. In fact, sometimes falling-in-love and feeling connected with your newborn takes hours, day, weeks, or even months to develop.
If your baby was born premature and spent periods of time away from you in the special care unit or you had a traumatic birth or were suffering from extreme exhaustion after a long labour, bonding with your baby can be difficult. Often there is no physical reason that makes bonding difficult but there could be family conflicts and challenges. Sometimes there is no explainable reason for the delay in bonding, it’s just the way it is but as you spend time together, you and your baby will bond and grow closer. However, if you feel you are not connecting with your newborn it’s important to seek professional help as the early bonds of attachment are vital for your little one’s future development so it’s best not to wait too long before you get advice and support.
From the moment she is born your little one is eager to learn and so making a connection with various senses in the early days helps her feel secure. You can focus on engaging her senses separately or you can combine a few at the same time but don’t overdo it as her nervous system is immature and sensitive and she can become overwhelmed and unsettled.
The sense of smell is strong even at birth and draws your little one towards the sweet smell of breast milk. Giving your little one cuddles and skin-to-skin contact allows her become familiar with your personal scent.
Touch is your newborn’s first language so make the most of connecting with each other through touch. Your touch speaks confidence and security to her as you bathe her, change her nappy, feed her, massage her, and cuddle up close, or when you wear her in a sling. She is also calmed by the sense of movement and will be soothed by gentle swaying, rocking or bouncing.
The sense of hearing is another way you can bond with your baby. Infants are calmed by the rhythmical patterns of your voice as you read, sing or talk to her. However, be understanding and sensitive to your baby’s needs. If she is overtired she may not be soothed with singing and bright light at the same time as a bath or massage. It’s often too much stimulation in her already overloaded nervous system.
Although the sense of sight is slower to develop in your baby than the other senses, she can still connect and bond with you through her eyes. In the early weeks she will be able to focus on your face at about arms distance so look into her eyes and make eye contact while you hold or feed her—it will help her feel comforted and reassured. Your newborn will start to smile at you at around 5weeks of age so be sure to smile back as a smile releases feel-good chemicals for both you and your baby. The facial expressions that you make towards your baby are very important as they confirm and clarify feelings about other people and situations. After 6weeks of age try dimming the lights at sleep time as this helps your littlie feel calm and secure when she needs to sleep. Understanding how to satisfy your little ones developmental needs is an important part of bonding so as she gets older provide more activity time with varieties of colours, shapes, and activities.
The emotional connection between you and your baby is strong, which means your baby can often be unsettled if you are feeling anxious or stressed. So while you are learning to connect and bond with your baby try not to aim for perfection. Instead, aim to balance the needs of your baby while looking after yourself. Accept support from friends and family and if you are struggling seek professional help early as the bonds you create with your little one influence the way she will live and cope in the future.