Can baby bonding take time? A parent's guide to connecting with your newborn
Baby bonding is often portrayed as some instant, ''magical'' moment - but what does it really look like? Vhi Health Coach Dr Mou Sultana explains how it differs from parent to parent and is more of a process that needs nurturing.
For most of us, the term ''baby bonding'' should conjure up that warm, fuzzy feeling a parent has for their newborn. A sense of love and tenderness as you watch them sleep, stare, and smile. Indeed, all these things play their part in forging a bond – the emotional tug a parent experiences towards their child.
That said, it’s also a term that can upset or trigger new parents, particularly those who aren’t feeling that connection quite yet. It’s really important that this doesn’t become a source of pressure or shame. Not everyone will bond intensely with their child and society still has quite rigid thinking around how we “should” feel. Every parent’s path to connection can be different. And it’s something you can nurture – which we can help you with!
What if I don’t have that instant bond?
Bonding can begin during pregnancy or immediately post-birth for some, while for others it occurs much later – you mightn’t start “feeling it” until a year into parenthood. Your partner, for instance, may begin to bond a lot later post-birth.
It’s helpful to note the difference between your bonding and the child’s “attachment”. Attachment is the connection the child feels for a caregiver; it’s what gives them a basis for exploring the world and future relationships. “Bonding” is more to do with your experience.
So, are you keeping your baby warm, safe, fed, and cleaned? Talking to your baby? Singing to them? Taking them out for walks? Then you’re doing fine!
How can you approach pregnancy?
To be proactive about nurturing a connection, an expectant mum can touch or rub their belly, sing or talk to the baby. Feel for movement and respond in your own way. Play soothing music and see if there is any reaction. Notice their patterns of sleep in the womb. You can get to know your baby through their movements even at this stage. Partners can be involved in this, too, by rubbing bellies, feeling for movement, and interacting with the baby in the womb.
What should you do once your baby arrives?
Hold them, smile at them, and talk to them during different activities. If they rub their eyes or turn away, pick up on those cues and tell them they must be tired or feeling sleepy. Let them know they’re loved, all that good stuff. The key is to be consistent in how you act and to try to do it with a sense of positivity, so you both get a feel for one another, and that mutual connection develops.
Skin-to-skin contact is also a core part of this. It plays a key role in your baby’s development, positively influencing brain activity and stress hormones. So, make sure you’re regularly snuggling up to them. This includes partners: right after mum’s skin-to-skin moment, have your own moment with the newborn.
Are there common bonding “moments” to look for?
By the end of month 1: Babies will be able to track the movements of your face as you speak to them but lose eye contact if you move too fast.
Month 2: Babies will be more able to track your face and, when you smile at them, you might even get a smile back if you’re lucky!
Month 3: Babies start reaching out to strike faces or pull hair. If you say “ouch!”, they may look shocked or even cry. If you try to distract them, you might get a chuckle. When people talk, they might start to echo sounds, trying to join the conversation.
Month 4: Babies might laugh out loud if you are being silly. If you stop talking, they can start making noise, as if they’re taking turns.
Month 5: Babies can blow raspberries by now! They should know your face very well, giving a warm smile when you appear and possibly crying when you disappear.
Month 6: At this stage, babies might start calling “mama”, “dada” – or “gaga”! If they drop something, they will follow the object and try to grab it. If you pick it up for them, you might have just created the best game ever! They will keep dropping it and expect you to pick it up. This is just one cue to be consistent – and also a test of your patience!
Bonding at your own pace
As delightful as these moments can be, the most important thing is to meet the needs of your little one. Once you’re doing that, cut yourself some slack. Becoming a parent is a life-changing event. Not everyone will feel happy and content. You may feel anxious and scared when you look at your baby, doubting your ability to parent, questioning your coping skills, and anticipating mistakes. You’ve become responsible for another human being and might already be missing your old life. It’s supposed to be a bit scary! All this is normal.
Make sure to check in with your exhaustion levels and mental wellbeing. If you have any worries, don’t hesitate to talk to a professional. It won’t be the first time they’ve listened to those concerns. Don’t pile added pressure on yourself over this intense, overwhelming “bond”. Take care of your baby, take care of yourself, and the rest will follow.
Our team of paediatric specialists at Vhi 360 Health Centre is on hand to answer your questions and provide important care.
This content is for information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from your GP or an appropriate medical professional if you have concerns about your health, or before commencing a new healthcare regime. If you believe that you are experiencing a medical emergency call 999 / 112 or seek emergency assistance immediately.
Meet our Vhi Verified Expert
Dr Mou Sultana
Vhi Health Coach
Chartered Psychologist and Psychotherapist