Tips For Bonding With Your Baby
by Ellen Derby CLD (CAPPA) (BAI), CLC, birth and postpartum doula
Many activities help you bond with your baby and your baby to bond with you. It is well known that the act of consistently meeting baby’s needs helps baby form a secure bond of trust and love with you: keeping him warm, feeding her, meeting his need for human connection (being held), changing wet and soiled diapers, helping her fall asleep, keeping baby safe. When you do these things baby’s love for you grows beyond the womb.
For mothers there are times when feeling well bonded is harder, especially if the birth was very disappointing, very very painful, frightening, or traumatic, if she is experiencing loneliness or depression, or if the baby wasn’t planned or a family loss or difficulty has arisen. It can happen after a cesarean birth. It can happen with adoption.
It is ok if you do not feel “in love” with your baby right away like all the pictures show and everyone talks about. You are not alone, this happens more than you think it does. Be patient with yourself. You probably know you love the baby but don’t feel the lovey-dovey feeling you thought you would. Give yourself time; you will.
*If you feel indifferent towards the baby and find it difficult to meet baby’s needs or don’t want to care for the baby or have the frightening feeling of wishing to harm the baby please speak to your doctor, there is help for your situation. *
In the meantime here are some things to do to help yourself feel closer to the baby:
- Breastfeed: the hormones alone, plus the skin contact & cuddling will help you bond.
- When bottle feeding cuddle baby turned toward your front during every feed.
- Hold baby skin to skin against your chest: undress baby down to her diaper and open your blouse & bra, lay baby’s chest against your chest, stroke baby’s back and sing a lullaby or hum a little tune, or just rest quietly. Cover both of you with a light blanket if it’s cool.
- Gaze at baby’s face, even undress baby down to his diaper and lay her in your lap facing you with her head on your knees, take in all of baby with your eyes. Get to know his expressions. Mimic them or pretend that is how s/he is speaking to you and respond verbally in return.
- Watch for small smiles, speak quietly to baby or sing a small song and watch her expression change in response.
- Pay attention to baby’s behavior when you talk to him or to others while holding him: s/he will turn to your voice and listen.
- Spend a little time reading to the baby, sing a song to baby, or lay the baby down while she is quiet and alert and watch him kick his legs and listen to her coos.
- Snuggle and cuddle the baby a lot. Babies love to be held, love being rocked, and love being carried in your arms or over your shoulder. This does not spoil the baby!
- Take a warm bath with the baby, not too deep and not too hot, support baby’s head but let his body float in the water, hold her close to your belly and chest, gently wash baby, but carefully, as baby’s smooth skin gets slippery! Wrap baby in a towel before getting out. Or bathe the baby in a baby tub and enjoy the sensuality of warm water and sweet smelling soap together.
- Rub a good lotion into baby’s whole skin, everywhere. This alone is a massage and babies usually like it.
- Kiss baby’s head and cheeks!
- Smell baby’s head and neck a lot! (the baby smells great and helps you know your baby in another way)
- Examine baby’s hands & fingers or feet & toes, feel how tiny & beautifully formed they are, watch how s/he uses them, allow her to grip your finger & feel the strength.
- Stroke baby’s head and hair, feel how baby’s skull is shaped in your hand.
- Enjoy baby’s diaper changing time: talk to the baby, sing a song, say the abc’s, you can say anything.
- Dress baby in fresh clothes each day, choose the cutest outfits you have, notice how baby is growing into (or out of) them and how cute the baby looks. Take a picture.
- Take baby outside and describe the world to her, you can take a walk, use the stroller, or just sit on the stoop/porch
- Dance with the baby to your favorite music, or do mommy-baby yoga
- Take the baby to visit co-workers or family: their praise will help you feel proud of the baby and will also strengthen your bonds with family and friends in your new role.
- Join a new mothers’ group, it helps to know others going through the same things.
- Rest when baby sleeps: I cannot stress how valuable this is for you. Everything in life is better when we are rested. Caring for a newborn is exhausting and often not very rewarding: good sleep gives us a renewed perspective on difficult tasks.
After 23 years of mothering and 13 years as a doula I spent some time to stop and think about what I did and do to bond with a newborn. Some things I could do as a mom but cannot do as a doula but can encourage mothers to do themselves. These are all things I have done with my own children. I too didn’t feel “in love” right away with my oldest child. When your baby begins to smile at your smiles, and respond to your voice you will begin to feel much closer to your baby. Even when your situation is ideal some days are just tough and this list may give you an idea of how to pass the day with your new baby.
I hope this helps and gives you some ideas of what others do to make it look so easy but for you feels so hard. Give some of them a try and add more when you get comfortable doing them!