That rush of joy and love that overwhelms new parents is the stuff of legends. And while most parents feel some elation, it’s not necessary that you immediately form a connection with your baby. If you are plagued by feelings of failure or guilt or disappointed that there’s no sizzling chemistry, stop right there.
Did you know that you can start bonding with your baby even before they are born? Rubbing your belly, talking and singing to your baby, playing calming music for them, and even having an ultrasound (which helps the news sink in) can set the stage and help you hit it off from day one.1
The bond between a baby and mom or dad need not always form instantaneously. While some parents may form a bond within a few minutes, others may take days or even weeks. This is not a sign that you’re a bad parent. Know that as long as you’re looking after your baby and taking care of their needs, a connection will eventually develop between you two. Here are a few ideas to build a strong bond with your baby:
1. Make Skin-To-Skin Contact And Cuddle Your Baby Often
Touch is one of the basic senses through which you bond with your baby. Skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible after your baby is born gives the mother and the baby a chance to recover from the birth and get more familiar with each other. Typically, after birth, your baby will be placed on your chest, giving them a chance to gradually adapt to the outside world in the presence of your familiar voice, smell, heartbeat, and warmth.
Bonding with your baby helps release chemicals and hormones which promote connections in the brain important for learning, physical growth, and development. Your relationship with your baby is also their first relationship. It will help them feel secure and develop their sense of self as well as form good relationships as adults.2
But a dad’s touch is important too. One study looked at the impact of skin-to-skin contact with the dad in cases of cesarean birth where contact with the mother was limited. It was found that those who had contact with the father were comforted, became calmer, stopped crying, and became drowsy sooner than those who did not.3 Research also shows that skin-to-skin contact between newborns and fathers results in a stronger attachment between them.4
Some day-to-day routines can also create opportunities for this. For instance, babies usually love a soothing massage. Use slow, firm, and gentle strokes to massage your baby. You can try a massage after your baby’s nap, before a bath, or even after you change them. But avoid massaging them for about 20 minutes after a feed as it can be uncomfortable. Using an edible oil like olive oil can help your hands glide comfortably over your baby’s body. A 10- to 30-minute massage can leave both of you feeling quite blissful.5
Continue to give your baby lots of cuddles as they grow. Touch stimulates your baby’s brain to release chemicals that make them feel good. And babies feel secure and reassured when they are held. They also love the warmth of skin-to-skin contact.6 A daily massage allows for reassuring touch and can be a relaxing and bonding time for your baby and you.
2. Take Care Of Your Baby’s Everyday Needs And Stick With It
The bond between your baby and you becomes stronger through the daily process of taking care of them. Feeding, changing, bathing, and putting your baby to sleep may not seem like special things but these everyday activities are, in fact, what builds your relationship. And as you keep doing this, something will click and fall into place. It might be when you burp your baby and he or she makes that funny face or when they first smile at you. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind:
Bonding may take a little bit longer if your baby was in intensive care or has been adopted. But remember that it’s just a question of time. You will have just as strong a bond with an adopted baby as a biological one.7
Respond to your baby: You are biologically cued to act when you hear your baby cry. Your baby may be crying because they are hungry, they need a nappy change, or they are uncomfortable because it is cold or the light is too bright. When you respond immediately and take care of the issue, your baby feels secure and comfortable. They realize that you are taking care of them and will learn to trust you. This not only strengthens your bond but also helps them form trusting relationships in the future.
Sometimes, you may not understand why your baby is crying. Comfort and reassure them anyway. Your baby will know that you’re paying attention and can be relied upon. Don’t worry about giving your baby too much attention – you can’t spoil a baby.8 9
Feeding time is bonding time: Feeding is a special time that can help you establish a rapport with your baby. Breastfeeding offers many benefits for both your baby and you and helps build intimacy. But if for some reason breastfeeding is not for you, don’t worry – you can also bond with your baby while you bottle feed. Just make sure that too many people don’t feed your baby. If your baby is routinely fed by just you or your partner, your baby will get familiar with both of your touch and smell. This allows a loving, intimate relationship to develop between you.
Keeping your baby in touch with your skin, especially the first time you feed them, can be a particularly strong bonding experience whether you are breastfeeding or using a bottle. Also, remember to respond to cues from your baby such as sucking on the fingers or moving the head around looking for your breast. This indicates that the baby is hungry.10 11
3. Talk, Read, And Sing To Your Baby
Here’s a handy tip on building a stronger bond with your baby through talk – when you sing or talk to your baby, look into their eyes and pay attention to your facial expressions as well. This not only promotes closeness but also teaches your baby the connection between feelings and words.12
Your baby loves interacting with you. Talk to them in a reassuring and soothing tone and they’ll become familiar with your voice (and pick up language skills!). Babies like listening to a sing-song voice so roll out the “baby talk” rather than normal adult conversation when you chat with your baby. You can also sing rhymes and songs to your baby. Or set aside a special time to read together. No, you don’t need to wait till your baby starts to understand words to do this. That one-on-one time you spend together is going to cement your relationship.
4. Tending To Baby’s Needs Help Dads Bond Too
It can sometimes be challenging to be a new dad. But if you feel that dads are “naturally” at a disadvantage when it comes to dealing with babies, banish the thought. Nature has equipped dads to be caregivers too. In fact, just like moms, new dads too experience hormonal changes that promote caregiving and attachment to their baby. Studies also show that dads can be just as responsive and sensitive to babies as moms – the only difference might be that dads seem to have more playful interactions, while moms have more affectionate interactions with their little ones.1314
So how can you build a bond with your baby? Being involved in caring for your baby and playing with them will help you build a strong bond. Here’s a quick round-up of the highlights:
- Be involved in taking care of the baby. Remember, other than breastfeeding, dads can do everything that moms can do. Bottle feeding or changing your baby can promote attachment between the two of you. Or you might want to take over a particular activity like bathing. Allow your baby to play and splash and enlist a beloved toy to make this a happy time for your baby.
- Cuddle and hold your baby frequently or give them a daily massage. Holding your baby on the left side where they can hear your heartbeat can be particularly reassuring for the baby.
- Sing and read to your baby. Or play games like pat-a-cake or peek-a-boo.15 16
5. Address Unresolved Bonding Problems And Ask For Help
Don’t worry too much if you don’t feel an instant connection to your baby. As we’ve seen, it can sometimes take a while for a relationship to develop between you and your baby. Factors like hormonal changes, being exhausted, a difficult birthing process, or postpartum depression can limit you from bonding with your baby easily.17 The important thing is to move forward and these steps should help with that:
If even after weeks of looking after your newborn, you feel resentful, detached, or panicky, or don’t feel a sense of attachment, make sure you speak to your doctor. Postpartum depression is a reality for many moms and you will need professional help to pull you out of this. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Ask for help from family and friends: Having a new baby brings huge changes and you may take a while to adjust to it. Lean on family members to help with household chores, grocery shopping, cooking, or doing the laundry so that you can spend time taking care of your baby. But if adjusting to your new life is taking a long time or is causing significant distress, don’t hesitate to speak to a healthcare professional.
Recognize that it’s normal to feel the blues: In the first week after delivery, as many as 80% of mothers may get the baby blues. During this time, you may be sensitive, irritable, or anxious. This normally goes away on its own and is nothing to worry about. But if you feel like this for longer than a couple of weeks, it could be the beginning of postpartum depression.
Be attuned to the possibility of postpartum depression: 13% of women suffer from postnatal depression. Feelings of inadequacy, sadness, guilt, shame, worthlessness, or emptiness that wash over you and leave you overwhelmed can be signs of depression. Being afraid of or for the baby, appetite changes, insomnia, or not being able to cope with daily life can be other symptoms that you should watch out for. If you experience these symptoms for more than a few days, you should speak to a doctor.18 19
|↑1||Bonding with your baby during pregnancy. Healthdirect, Australia.|
|↑2, ↑8||Bonding with your baby. Healthdirect, Australia.|
|↑3||Erlandsson, Kerstin, Ann Dsilna, Ingegerd Fagerberg, and Kyllike Christensson. “Skin‐to‐Skin Care with the Father after Cesarean Birth and Its Effect on Newborn Crying and Prefeeding Behavior.” Birth 34, no. 2 (2007): 105-114.|
|↑4||Chen, Er-Mei, Meei-Ling Gau, Chieh-Yu Liu, and Tzu-Ying Lee. “Effects of Father-Neonate Skin-to-Skin Contact on Attachment: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Nursing research and practice 2017 (2017).|
|↑5||Baby massage. Women’s and Children’s Health Network.|
|↑6, ↑9, ↑12||Bonding with your newborn. Raising Children Network.|
|↑7, ↑11, ↑17, ↑18||Bonding with your newborn. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑10||The special relationship between you and your baby. NHS Lothian.|
|↑13||Lamb, Michael E., and Marguerite B. Stevenson. “Father-infant relationships: Their nature and importance.” Youth & Society 9, no. 3 (1978): 277-298.|
|↑14||Hashemian, F., F. Shafigh, and E. Roohi. “Regulatory role of prolactin in paternal behavior in male parents: A narrative review.” Journal of postgraduate medicine 62, no. 3 (2016): 182.|
|↑15||Bonding for dads. Raising Children Network.|
|↑16||Tips on bonding with a newborn for first-time dads. The Irish Examiner.|
|↑19||Common emotional problems in parents with new babies. Department of Health.|