Many parents talk about a flood of love and easy bonding that occurs the moment their baby is placed in their arms. But what if that doesn’t happen to you? Does that make you a bad parent? Absolutely not - It is incredibly normal for bonding to take time and effort. You’ve just birthed a person you know very little about, are experiencing wild drops in hormones, and are probably incredibly sleep deprived. So don’t beat yourself if you don’t feel an instant connection. But know that there are many ways to begin fostering that bond, helping you get to a space where you feel unimaginable love when you’re with your baby.
- Tune into baby’s five senses. If you’re having trouble figuring out the best way to bond, focus on stimulating baby’s five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. You can stimulate your baby’s sense of sight by showing them a simple image with bold colors, or taking them on a walk, pausing to let them examine leaves or bark. Rouse baby’s sense of smell by holding a tissue with a few drops of essential oils like lavender or orange oil near their nostrils. Regarding touch, most babies enjoy a simple massage, or the gentle stimulation of their scalp. For taste, all you need to do is breast or bottle-feed them whenever they seem hungry. Finally, please baby’s sense of sound by singing, or playing your favorite song.
- Talk to baby. In addition to feeling more connected to you when hearing your voice, your baby will learn language from listening to you talk. So chat to them about whatever you’re thinking about - the color of their poop, the stock market, the best plan of attack for eating a funnel cake, whatever.
- Play with baby. No need to pull out the board games or expensive brain-stimulating toys for this one, all you need to do is conjure your fun, interactive side whenever you’re hanging with baby. For example, if you’re cooking, drum a beat with some spoons, shake your butt, and make funny faces at baby. If you’re folding laundry, hold the clothes in front of your face and play peek-a-boo. If you’re grocery shopping, rattle a box of pasta. And during all the play, keep a smile on your face as this facial expression helps babies feel safe, and fortifies their connection to you.
- Put your phone away during feedings. Nurturing your baby can be an incredibly intimate act, when you bring your full attention to it. While it might be tempting to mess with your phone, or turn on Netflix, while feeding, being wholly present with baby by looking into their eyes, talking or singing to them, and holding their little hand during breast or bottle feedings can go a long way towards forging a quality bond. In addition, if you’re choosing to breastfeed, the “love hormone” oxytocin is released each time baby feeds, enhancing your ability to feel deeply connected.
- Practice baby wearing. During the fourth trimester (the first three months of baby’s life outside the womb), wearing your newborn in a baby carrier provides an abundance of benefits. First off, you’re supporting your baby’s health, as being held against your body strengthens their immune system and helps them regulate their breathing, heart rate, and temperature. Baby wearing also fosters your child’s sense of balance because being attached to you as you move around the world helps them figure out how it’s done. And did you know babies who experience more carry-time often walk sooner than babies left in carriers not attached to their parent. Lastly, you can get way more done when wearing baby, as most little ones are soothed when on their mama or papa, and your hands are free to take care of business!
- Remember fussiness is not personal. As newborns get to know the world it’s not uncommon for them to get fussy. If you ensure their basic needs are met, yet they still seem unhappy, keep reminding yourself that the fussiness is not personal, it’s just a baby being a baby. In addition, your baby may experience colic, which is typically related to stomach discomfort. Your care provider can likely provide recommendations for how to soothe colic, but in most cases you just have to ride it out - it will usually subside after a few weeks. Remember that simply being there for them when they’re having a hard time is one of the most potent ways you can bond with them.
- See a mental health specialist if the bond doesn’t come. If it’s been a few weeks, and you’ve been actively trying bonding techniques without much change in your connection with baby, check in with your primary care provider. They can help you determine if you would benefit from seeing a specialist in postpartum blues and depression, and can make a referral.
While this bond might not be instantaneous, it will develop. And when it comes, it might not always be rock solid. And all of this is okay. Your connection with your child will always be evolving, and as long as you show up to the relationship with commitment and curiosity, you’re doing great.