Getting close to your newborn baby has been compared to the heady feelings of falling in love, although not all women experience this. Janet Fyle, midwife adviser at the Royal College of Midwives, gives her tips for getting off to the best possible start.
Bonding with your baby during her first days, weeks and months is an important stage in building the foundations of a loving relationship.
Research studies have shown that close attachment with parents as an infant is crucial for good mental health and development in later life.
“The bonding process can start during pregnancy because babies can respond to sounds and will start to recognise your voice and your partner’s,” explains midwife Janet Fyle.
“When parents see their baby on a scan or the mother feels it kick is usually the first time that the mother may connect with the baby, and this can help the mother to begin to visualize what the baby is like and how it might be developing.”
After the birth
“Women’s bodies release intense bursts of the ‘love’ hormone oxytocin after birth and during breastfeeding,” explains Janet.
“Many women report feelings of euphoria after birth – they feel an attachment that makes them want to shower their baby with love and affection, and protect them from harm.
“But there are other reasons why this sometimes doesn’t happen instantly, especially if the woman has had a long or difficult labour or if the baby is taken to a special care baby unit.
“Sometimes the pregnancy wasn’t planned or the mother has other worries about her relationship or job. This is normal and there is no need to feel guilty because you still care about your baby and all women show their emotions differently. Those feelings may just take a little longer to develop – don’t beat yourself up about it.”
Tips to boost bonding
Immediately after birth your midwife will help you to bond with your baby by encouraging the following:
- Skin to skin contact: Your midwife should lay your baby on your chest so that your skin and the baby’s touch – touching helps the bonding process. Your partner may be encouraged to hold the baby to his naked chest too. Health professionals will try and leave you alone together to allow you to have some quiet time to get to know your baby.
- Breastfeeding: You’ll be encouraged to give your baby its first breastfeed as soon as possible – amazingly, babies naturally make their own way to the nipple as they can smell the milk, but don’t worry as some babies may not want to feed immediately.
“If your baby has to go to special care baby unit, you might not be able to hold your baby immediately – but try not to worry too much about this – you’ll be encouraged to care for them in the special care unit as soon as possible,” says Janet.
Ways to bond later on
Giving your baby lots of cuddles, love and attention will encourage him/her to trust you and thrive better.
- Respond to your baby’s cries quickly:Babies cry for a reason – they may be hungry, tired, lonely, hot, cold or scared – it is their only way of communicating in the early days. “It helps them to know that if they cry out you’ll come quickly,” says Janet.
- Use eye contact: Your face is totally fascinating to a baby and they’ll enjoy just looking at you – hold them close and stare into each other’s eyes.
- Talk to your baby: The sound of your voice is already familiar to your baby after all that time she spent in your womb and it can be soothing if you talk to him/her a lot.
- Smile: There’s nothing like a smile to convey your love – she’ll/he’ll delight you when she starts to smile back.
- Massage: Massaging your baby is a wonderful way to soothe and calm him/her and can help you both feel closer – you may find that you do this instinctively anyway if she cries or is upset. Touch will release the hormone oxytocin in your baby and you, and make you feel calm and relaxed. Baby massage can also help babies with sleep, wind, colic and relaxation. Ask your midwife to show you how.
- Spend time alone: New parents are sometimes overwhelmed by well-meaning visitors – but try and find some quiet time for you and your partner to get to know your baby and vice versa.
Get your partner involved too
“Your partner can get very close to your baby too, so let him bathe and change the baby soon and as often as possible, and encourage him to talk to the baby. Your baby will love to stare at his face and listen to his voice,” advises Janet.
What to do if you don’t bond
“Sometimes not bonding with your baby after a few weeks can be a symptom of postnatal illness – a type of depression a mother can develop after giving birth,” says Janet.
“If you feel like that – low, miserable, unable to cope or sleep – it’s important to discuss it with your midwife or health visitor. They will be able to listen, reassure you and suggest ways of helping you lift your mood or refer you to your GP or local support groups.
“Some women though – although they love their babies and care for them – are just not the touchy-feely type and have other ways of showing their love. It may be connected to their own childhood or a reflection of other things that are going on in their life, such as money worries or job insecurity. They are still very good mothers though.”
Find out more about the child health care options available to your family. You can also discover more information in our Pregnancy and Childcare Centre or if you have a specific question, you can ask our experts.