Bonding with Your Baby, It’s a Relationship for Life

Bonding with our baby doesn’t happen in just one moment, like all relationships it’s a journey that develops, adapts and requires nurturing.

The idea that many of us are presented with is that we will meet our baby and it will be love at first sight. Sometimes it is. Sometimes though, it’s more like ‘oh hey, nice to see you’ and maybe ‘lets get to know each other’. I’ve heard many women privately talk about the latter but publicly mainly hear about the former. The truth is like all relationships the work to stay relating to each is more meaningful than how it started. When you see a well connected relationship between adults, you can’t tell whether that couple caught eyes and fell in love at first sight, or if they were mates for 5 years who then went deeper and the same applies for your your relationship with your baby. It’s not a moment, it’s a commitment and like all relationships it will have it’s ups and downs.

Bonding with your baby can start early on in pregnancy. You can take time to tune in and notice their rhythms, talk to them and just get a sense of their watery world and how you are both connected. You may find this easier if you’re pregnancy journey feels fairly smooth. If you’re pregnancy is physically or emotionally challenging, there may feel like there is less space for this and that is fine, you’ve got plenty of time to nature this connection when your baby is here.

After you birth you’re meeting your baby for the first time and people often talk about the ‘golden hour’ (the first hour after birth) as being a really important time for bonding with your baby, having skin to skin and falling in love. It may be and I hope you feel empowered to create an experience that feels connected, calm and joyous for you both. However it may be that you and your baby are either a bit tired or blurred by the birth experience, or may not be together for that time. Remember that you can create that space at any time, it’s about giving yourself that time, when that happens is less important. Whenever you do it, try and find a time you’re both relaxed and can get some oxytocin going and getting some feel good hormones.

This is also a time for partners to finally meet their baby and connect, as they haven’t had the pregnancy experience.

This created bonding space can be created time and time again, quiet spaces to get to know each other outside of the business of life. Time to process this new being and give them time to process you.

Bonding with your baby is unique to your relationship and isn’t a reflection of love, it’s about getting to know each other and figuring out how to navigate this space together. Like all your relationships this will be unique for you and your baby, can be different with different babies, your bond may be different to your partners and the time it takes to feel more settled together can vary on the circumstances of your life, how your journey started and how you are feeling about the changes yourself. We can create a bond and still have natural ambivalence around the changes we are experiencing and the expectations of our role in parenting this new person.

It’s also an ongoing adapting journey as you, they, and your lives change over the years, so take any pressure off yourself to make anything ‘perfect’. As with all relationships, there are some techniques we can use to create connection, here are some practical ideas you can consider and try:

CALM SLOW SPACES

Create them or find them in a day / moment, time without other distractions to just absorb each other and watch each other. Pick up on the subtle cues and movements of your baby, just getting to understand their uniqueness and giving them time to take in yours, without lots of external stimulus. They may not chat but there is so much going on for your baby, it’s nice to create time to take it all in for them and you in what can sometimes feel like a rollercoaster. This can be especially useful if you’ve had challenging birth journey together or birth has unsettled you, having time to process it all and slow down as you adjust to life together.

TOUCH

The research has shown the vast benefits of skin to skin contact as close after birth as possible and ongoing. New born babies regulate their nervous states from their parents, calming stress, regulating their body temperature and giving them immune boosting micro-biome plus supporting breastfeeding, if that is the journey you are hoping to take.

Touch can also include massage and stroking, studies have shown the benefits of pain relief and reducing stress for baby’s that are touched or gently stroked, if you can’t have skin to skin perhaps gently stroking your baby. If your baby is in NICU many now actively encourage you to hold and connect with your baby as much as is possible in the circumstances, as there are many benefits for you both.

Mindful gentle massage can help you feel and getting a sensory experience of your baby too and you can extend this to inhaling their scent as you hold them and breathe, what do they smell like, what does their sin feel like? Can you sense the changes week to week as they grow?

EYE CONTACT

New born babies don’t necessarily open their eyes wide but can look around and when held close can see your face and expressions. Studies have shown that babies and children, even non-verbal, respond to the facial expressions of their mother, so eye contact can be a good foundation of giving focussed attention to your baby and also a foundation for your future communications together. We all want to be seen and heard, including our babies.

It can also give you a focus to connect, if you aim to mindfully do this a few times a day. There can be a sense of loneliness in spending our time looking after someone who doesn’t give us mental or physical stimulus in return for our attention in those early weeks and months. See if you can notice one thing about your baby you enjoy when looking at them, perhaps the shape of their nose or their small hands, what do you notice that brings a smile to your emotions?

COMMUNICATION

Large proportions of our communications are non-verbal, and with babies this really does play a part as they neither understand language nor use it! This can feel like a one way street but your baby is picking up on lots of your emotions and actions. Consider your tone and facial expressions when around your baby and directing attention at them but also use it as an opportunity to set up good habits. Even if your baby can’t speak, use early time together to calmly let your baby know what you are doing before you do it, e.g “I’m going to open your nappy now’ then count to 5-10 in your head as you look at them and watch for responses. Then let them know about the next thing… It gives you a chance to watch your baby’s cues but also have muscle memory for when they can speak, plus sets up a lovely base for consent and respectful touch.

More than anything bonding with your baby is about you both getting to know each other, sometimes that happens early, sometimes years later but there is always the space to look to make it happen. Babies are people and can have their own temperament, character and they may not always fit with yours but if you can understand each other, have compassion and good communication, you’ve got the basis of a great relationship together.

SUPPORT

Whether it be familiar support of a partner or trusted family member or friend, having someone on your team to advocate for you and your baby adjust and figure each other out can help in keeping this process feeling safe. Someone who can keep others at bay if you want to pull up the drawbridges, or someone to call on for emotional or physical support if its’s feel too much.

If you’re feeling like deeper support would be helpful after a couple of months or further down the line, parent-infant, family or personal therapy can be a great way of breaking through some of the challenges you may be facing in a gentle, guided and safe way. Getting help if you feel you need it for your life together as a family, is one of the bravest things you can do.

Resources

Parent Infant Partnership

https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/baby-friendly-resources/implementing-standards-resources/skin-to-skin-contact/

https://aimh.org.uk/getting-to-know-your-baby/

http://www.healthscotland.com/documents/5755.aspx

Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal Communication. New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction.

Sue Gerhardt (2004). Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain

Magda Gerber (Rev. 2003) Caring For Infants With Respect

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