Bonding is the strong, emotional tie between a baby and its parents – that feeling of unconditional love and protectiveness. For many mums, we feel that bond before our baby is even born – sharing your body with someone for 9 months will do that to you!! We also hear a lot about how important the first hours of a baby’s life are for bonding and it’s true that the period immediately after birth is an important one for you and your baby to begin to get to know each other, but if anything happens which means that you don’t have this time together (such as if you have a general anaesthetic for a caesarean or if your baby needs special care), this doesn’t mean that you’ll have problems with bonding. Bonding is a process which happens over time, not something that you only have one shot at, just as every baby and every parent is different, every parent-child relationship will vary too.
The first time you see your baby you may fall instantly in love with him or her – or you may not. If you’ve had a long labour, or if you’ve had pain-relieving drugs, you may be feeling exhausted or woozy and all you may want to do is sleep. Your baby may be tired too. If you find that you don’t love your baby immediately, try not to worry about it. It will come with time, as you do things for your baby and get to know him or her. If you act in a loving way, you’ll start to feel loving too.
One thing that can help with bonding is having skin-to-skin contact with your baby straight after she’s born. This also helps to calm your baby and to regulate her breathing, temperature and heart rate. It also stimulates your breastfeeding hormones (helping your womb to contract and reduce bleeding), and encourages your baby to breastfeed, if that’s what you’re planning. What it involves is holding your baby, in just a nappy, directly against your naked chest, with a cover of some kind over his/her back.
Skin to skin contact isn’t only beneficial between mother and baby. It is also beneficial between the father and baby. By placing the baby on its father’s chest, wearing only its nappy, the same bond can be formed that is seen between mother and baby. This will greatly enhance the father-baby relationship and lead to a closer bond as the child grows. Skin-to-skin after birth can be done with dad if the mum can’t have skin-to-skin for any reason. So go on all you fathers out there – get your top off and cuddle your baby!
If you’re planning a c-section, ask your surgeon about your options for a ‘gentle’ c-section. This involves making a few small changes in the procedure, such as placing the baby right on your chest after delivery, to allow you and your partner to feel more a part of the birth.
In fact, not only is skin-to-skin beneficial straight after birth, but it’s been recognised that it also helps in the following days as well. The bonding process is something that happens over time. This is why it’s now being recommended that we go back to the ‘old ways’, where mums stay in bed for ten days after giving birth. This is because it’s important for a mother to spend time examining her baby, getting to know every bit of her – particularly if they had a difficult birth and are battling to bond. The bedroom sanctuary invites skin to skin contact, which is so important in the early days.
Many hospitals and midwives now encourage skin-to-skin. If you’d like to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby at birth, put this in your birth plan .
As an extension of skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding gives new mums the opportunity to spend time with their newborn, to take in just how perfect they are to and make much needed eye contact. The intimate contact promotes bonding by teaching you to read your baby’s facial expressions and sense her body language, while your baby learns that you are a source of care and comfort she can trust.
Talk, smile, laugh and sing
In fact any communication will help you and your little one’s bond to become stronger and stronger. Whilst he may not understand you, your baby knows your voice from his time in the womb, and will find it a source of comfort. Whether you want to go for nursery rhymes or the latest Justin Bieber, your baby will love to hear you sing (really!) – in fact they could be your one and only fan!! Keep your eyes peeled for that first smile – it’ll be your chatting, smiling and communicating that initiates it!
This not only gives you and your little one some much needed peace and calm away from the hustle and bustle of well meaning visitors, but is also a great way to continue bonding. Massage encourages bonding by creating the perfect environment for touch, eye contact, exchange of personal odours, and vocalisation with your baby. The exchange of smiles and eye contact during massage are important in building a relationship of love and trust between you. When you massage the skin, the body produces the hormones prolactin and oxytocin. These hormones help to lower the levels of stress hormones in your body and help combat the symptoms of stress. You will both experience the benefits of these hormones when you practise massage.
When should I worry ?
Almost half of all new mothers can feel that they haven’t bonded straight away with their baby but sometimes bonding with your baby just doesn’t seem to happen at all and this could be a sign of postnatal depression, a condition that affects 1 in 10 women with new babies. Some of the things to look out for include:
- Depression – feeling low and unhappy for much of the time
- Irritability – towards baby, their siblings or, most often, your partner
- Fatigue – most mums feel pretty tired but utter exhaustion is something else
- Sleeplessness – despite the exhaustion, when you go to bed you can’t sleep
- Loss of appetite – or sometimes over-eating which leads to guilt about your weight
- Not coping – feeling like you’ve got too much to do and not enough time to do it
- Anxiety – being afraid to be alone with your baby, not thinking your child is a beautiful gift but rather a strange and demanding little ‘it’ If you think you may be suffering from PND, speak to your Health Visitor or GP.
It’s Dad’s turn
A father’s nurturing responses can be slower to develop than a mother’s but dads are still capable of a strong bonding attachment to their infants during the newborn period.
This bonding period for dads is called engrossment, and means not only what dad can do for his baby, such as holding and comforting, but also what baby can do for his dad. Bonding with his child after birth brings out the sensitivity in a father who has his own unique way of relating to babies, a difference which your baby will thrive on.
There are many ways in which dads can enhance this bonding including;
- Cuddling your baby, making eye contact and smiling
- Stroke your baby – the skin is the largest organ in the body, full of nerve endings which stimulate a newborn
- Talk to your baby – it doesn’t matter what the topic is, anything goes, even the latest football scores! Your baby will recognise your voice from when he was in the womb
- Physical care- bath him, change his nappies, feed him if he’s bottle-fed, carry him in a sling or take a bath with him.