The first three months of a baby’s life can be tough. In fact, this phase is often called the “fourth trimester” because there’s a massive amount of development still occurring while the baby adjusts to life on the outside - going from the familiar, temperature-controlled comfort of the womb to a sudden onslaught of lights, smells, sounds, and vast, open spaces with temperature swings. While their senses are still developing, babies become inundated with new sensory information. Although they cry instinctively, newborns don’t know whether they are hungry, wet, tired, bored, overheated, cold, pained, or frightened – they just know something isn’t right.
Newborns rely on loving parents to soothe this sensory overload and meet their basic needs. Through this consistent caregiving, the parent-child bond grows. The beauty of this phase is that every moment – when you gaze at your newborn, touch her skin, feed her, rock her to sleep, change her diaper – is a part of the bonding process. With mindful communication and these simple tasks, the parent-child bond can flourish.
Get a Head Start
Bonding starts as early as those first little flutters in your belly. As your baby grows, consider all those little kicks and movements early signs of his personality asserting itself. Meanwhile, he’s hanging on your every word. By the time your baby’s born, he’s able to recognize your voice, so talk to him often (partners too!).
Breastfeeding provides an incredible opportunity for bonding. While you nourish your baby, she snuggles in close (exactly where she wants to be) and takes in your scent, the sound of your heartbeat, and the sensation of your touch. Since your baby can only see roughly 8-12 inches (about the same distance from your areola to your face), it’s the perfect time for soothing talk as you gaze into each other’s eyes. This is how babies first learn to trust and be comforted by you. Plus nursing releases feel-good hormones prolactin and oxytocin, which promote relaxation and attachment.
Amazing bonding happens with the bottle too! Hold your baby close and lavish her with all the same nourishment, attention, eye contact, touching, and talking.
Babies respond to touch from the moment they’re born. Holding your baby close on your bare chest is known as “skin-to-skin,” and it’s one of the best things you can do for your newborn. Early, constant contact with your warm skin helps to stabilize his body temperature, heart rate, and stress levels. It also releases oxytocin in both of you. Long skin-to-skin cuddles in bed, a rocking chair, or a recliner are the perfect recipe for bonding.
Whether in a sling, wrap, or carrier, newborns love being close to their caregivers in this way, particularly during the first 3 to 6 months of life. Your heartbeat and movement help them relax, and they adore being able to see and smell you at all times. Additionally, it’s easy to attend to their needs when they are right there. Read more about the benefits of babywearing here.
Sleep with Your Baby Close By
If possible, have your baby sleep in your room in a bassinet next to or attached to your bed. This will make nighttime feedings easier and help curb your new baby anxiety. Babies tend to be much calmer and sleep better when they sense you nearby.
Gentle Infant Massage
Research has found that massage can not only improve the relationship between parent and baby but also relieve stress in infants and ease postpartum depression in mothers. To learn how to most effectively massage your baby, find a video online, read a book, or take a class.
Eye-to-Eye and Face-to-Face
Your baby gets meaningful communication from making eye contact with you and gazing at your face in close range. From early on he will try to imitate your facial expressions and gestures. Sharing plenty of up-close face time is the best way to begin open communication with each other.
Form Little Routines
Babies love repetition and routines. It gives them a sense of stability in all the chaos of life. By examining your baby’s expressions, movements, and reactions, you start to become the expert on her likes and dislikes – how she likes to be held and what sounds she responds to. Once you find something that works, make it a part of your daily routine.
Talk, Read, Sing
There is nothing more familiar or calming to your baby than the sound of your voice. By talking to your baby often, you are inviting him to participate in your relationship. It also helps him filter all the new information he’s receiving from the surrounding world. He’ll love hearing your conversations and listening to you read and sing – and he’ll especially love when you narrate or describe things you’re seeing (cars passing or leaves falling) or doing together (a bath or diaper change).
Move, Dance, Rock
Newborns love movement – after all, they’ve just spent nine months swishing around in the womb. They also love rhythmic sounds. Put both together in any combination to amp up the fun when your baby is feeling playful or soothe her to sleep when she is tired and restless. You can try dancing, swaying from side to side, or bouncing on a birthing ball.
Attention, Kisses, and More Kisses
Perhaps the easiest way to establish a bond with your newborn is to simply turn down the volume on the outside world and lavish her with attention and love. Kiss all the toes, exchange a thousand smiles, let the laundry and dishes pile up, and relish these tender moments. It is impossible to spoil a newborn with too much love and attention, so have at it. You will both be happier, calmer, and more self-assured for it.
You are enough.
Babies need a healthy connection with their parents and caregivers to feel secure, develop self-esteem, and adapt to the outside world. But it’s important to know that it’s okay if your bond isn’t immediate. Some parents feel a special attachment as soon as they hold their child for the first time, but for others (around 20% of new parents) the bonding process can take longer. The good news is bonding is not a one-shot deal. It continues to happen as your child develops – so don’t worry if you aren’t feeling that instant connection. As you care for your new baby, you may find that your attachment grows. It may not be until your baby shoots you a toothless grin that you suddenly realize you’ve bonded. But if you are feeling especially concerned that you and your baby haven’t begun bonding, talk openly with your pediatrician.
When it comes to bonding with your newborn, the most important thing to remember is simply that you are enough. By attentively meeting your baby’s daily needs, you are already actively creating a bond. And the consistent comfort your baby gets from you is laying the foundation for life-long confidence and self-esteem. All the rest is the sweet, beautiful sugar on top.
What are your favorite ways to bond with your newborn? We’d love to know. Please leave a comment below!