I always looked forward to being a mother. When it was time to bring my daughter home from the hospital, I walked in the door with an overwhelming feeling of change. Everything felt so different. And I quickly became saddened by my new life (or this loss of my old life). In those first few days, I struggled with immense pain from postpartum healing as well as breastfeeding difficulties that made it hard for me to enjoy my newborn. These moments of frustration, pain, and anxiety in the hours and days after birth can cause you to mourn your past life, and may even lead to resentment. But it doesn’t have to. Despite the challenges that come with the newborn stage, there is also indescribable love and immeasurable joy. One way to increase these feelings is through bonding. If you’re struggling to feel connected to your newborn like I was, here are some things you can try!
Bonding in Pregnancy
Although I didn’t realize it, I was able to lay the foundation for bonding with my newborn during pregnancy. If you’re still pregnant, start the process now by talking and reading to your belly, putting your baby's ultrasound picture where you can see it often, and rubbing your belly in response to baby kicks and movements.
Immediately After Birth
Some of the most precious moments with your newborn will be right after birth. If you’re able, hold your baby skin-to-skin on your chest immediately following delivery. This creates an incredible connection and bond with your baby due to the release of hormones during labor and delivery. This first hour is often called the golden hour for this reason. So take advantage and hold your baby as much as you can in that timeframe. Ask if measurements and any medical tasks can wait until after the first hour.
First Few Weeks and Months
Bonding Through Touch
Skin-to-skin: Skin-to-skin is a great way to continue to feel bonded with your baby even beyond your stay in the hospital. One of the best times to do this is immediately after giving your baby a bath. This helps your baby regulate his temperature while also increasing your bond.
Baby carriers, slings, or wraps: Baby wearing allows you to snuggle and stay close to your little one even when you have stuff to accomplish. This is great if you have more than one child! I personally loved my Solly Baby wrap. It was super lightweight, soft, and comfortable and allowed me to snuggle my son without tiring out my arms.
Infant massage with lotion and chest rub: This was my favorite routine we started with my daughter. Not only did it help signal to her it was time for bed and encourage better sleep habits, but it became our favorite 5 minutes of the day. After giving your baby a bath, do a quick infant massage and rub some lotion and chest rub on your little one. I love lavender scents for nighttime.
Snuggles and kisses: One of the best ways to continue feeling close to your baby is to give lots of snuggles and kisses. My oldest daughter didn’t enjoy snuggling, so when my son was born I took advantage. If your baby is a cuddler, spend the time doing so! You will never look back and regret the amount of time you spent holding and loving on your baby. Similarly, make sure to give your little one lots of kisses. Giving kisses makes your little one feel loved but can also turn into a fun playtime activity. My son giggles a lot when you kiss his belly after diaper changes or when you give butterfly kisses on his cheek. Watching him laugh and enjoy the kisses from us increases our love and bond.
Bonding Through Sound
Talk and sing often: Your baby has listened to you for the past 9 months and recognizes your voice more than anyone else's, so remember to talk to your baby often. Allowing your little one to hear your voice frequently throughout the day will promote both his emotional development and cognitive development, while also helping you feel just a bit less lonely. Similarly, find times to sing to your baby (even if you don't have a voice as gorgeous as Carrie Underwood's). There is something about a beautiful melody that can calm a fussy baby. When you are the one helping your baby relax and calm down through song, you are teaching your baby that you are their safe space. Some of the biggest smiles I’ve received from my kids are when I’m singing to them. And those genuine grins increase my love for them tenfold.
Read together: Some people believe that it’s not important to read to newborns. However, this could not be further from the truth. Similar to talking to your baby often, reading allows your little one to hear your voice more frequently. It also gives you a chance to snuggle up together, giving you added closeness. Aside from bonding, you will also be benefiting your child in countless other ways. Read about all those incredible benefits here.
Bonding Through Play
Dance: Find ways to move with your baby! One of the best ways to do this is dancing. If you have a newborn, you can sway to gentle music. If your baby is a bit older, being silly and dancing around is a great way to have fun together.
Learning activities: Babies grow and develop so quickly! They especially learn through explorative play. One of my favorite ways to encourage this is through baby subscription boxes that deliver age-appropriate toys to your door each month. When you get your new box each month, get on the floor and play with your child. Encourage her to explore and learn with you. Teaching and facilitating learning, even in infancy, can help increase that connection and trust.
Exercise: Exercise is incredibly advantageous for our mental health, especially in those months after delivery. However, finding time to do so with a newborn is difficult. One of the ways to accomplish this while bonding with your baby is through taking an exercise class together. For example, mommy and me swimming is very popular in many areas. Find a class and enjoy some light exercise while also having fun with your little one. You will not only create fun memories for yourself, but increase your playtime (and therefor bonding time) with your baby.
Smile often and laugh: Smiling is always the best medicine. If you’re feeling a disconnect from your baby, smile at her often! The act of smiling will also increase your own mood. This may seem overly simple, but the act of smiling has long been researched. Babies who receive smiles develop greater self esteem and bond better with their caregivers. Making your baby laugh is another great way to feel closeness. In our home, we have always loved teasing our babies by smelling their feet and being overly dramatic about their stinky toes. This often leads to lots of giggles and smiles.
Bonding Through Sleep & Eating
- Breastfeeding AND bottle feeding: One of the best things that helped me bond with both of my babies was breastfeeding. Breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin that encourages nurturing and bonding. However, the first few weeks were difficult and I often wanted to give up. Once I got my breastfeeding challenges resolved, I was able to build a great closeness with my babies in this way. Although breastfeeding is a great way to bond, do not ever feel like you will be less bonded to your baby if you cannot do so! For many moms, bottle feeding is just as effective (and sometimes more so) at establishing a bond. If you are a new mom and breastfeeding is causing you intense amounts of stress and anxiety, it can actually be more difficult to bond with your little one. Always do what is best for your mental, emotional, and physical health.
Sleep near baby: Allowing your baby to be close by can help you hear their cries, pick up on cues and signals, and allow you to respond more quickly to your baby’s needs in those early weeks. This helps you to understand your baby better than anyone. Bassinets are a great way to accomplish this.
Sharing food: Once your baby is old enough for table foods, share bits of your food with him. It may sound crazy, but babies interpret this in a similar way that they interpret kissing. In a very recent study, researchers found that infants and toddlers recognize that saliva-sharing acts demonstrate intimacy and attachment. Read more about this interesting study here!
Other bonding tips:
Put the phone away and make eye contact: No matter what activity you are doing with your child, ensure you are giving your undivided attachment. Put your phone away, remove distractions like television and work, and look at your baby. Feeding time and snuggles aren’t going to help you bond if you’re distracted because you're not focusing on your baby and your love for them.
Practice self care: There are so many moments in those first few weeks where you may become frustrated or upset. It’s so hard to take care of a newborn when you don’t know what they need yet. Practicing self care through yoga, exercise, baths, reading a book, or however you best take care of your mental and emotional needs can help you stay calm in moments of stress. Getting frustrated and angry at your baby makes it difficult, if not impossible, for you and your baby to build a bond with one another.
Remember, bonding takes time. For some moms it happens instantly, but for most of us we need to consciously strive each day to do things that will increase and build upon it. Although bonding may seem complex, it all comes down to providing that quality time and love that we all desire. As long as you are doing something to increase your time spent with your baby, your connection and bond will grow.
Looking back at my experience as a frightened and naïve new mother makes me wish I could reach out and express to myself how much better it would get. After weeks of feeling sad, incapable, and frustrated at myself, I found myself growing in closeness and love with my daughter to the point that I didn't think it was possible to feel any greater love. I was soon proved wrong when my second came along. As mothers, our love is infinite, and our babies will feel that through each touch, moment, and smile we share.
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