Bonding is the intense feeling of love and attachment that you develop for your baby. It’s such an important process because it helps develops your mother’s instinct to fiercely protect, and unconditionally love your baby. For some women it happens instantly after birth; for others it can take weeks or even months to develop. This process also positively impacts women in developing feelings of confidence and empowerment as a mother, as well as helping them to maintain good mental health.
Bonding with your baby during her first days, weeks and months is an important stage in building the foundations of a loving relationship. Having a close loving bond with your baby is vital in ensuring you also create a secure attachment bond with your baby. This attachment bond helps babies to develop emotional skills, such as trust and empathy and enables them to make friends and build relationships with others as they go through life. It also helps them to feel safe and secure.
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 begin during pregnancy when babies start to respond to sounds and to recognise your, and your partner’s voices,” explains registered midwife, Rosie Henley.
“Seeing their baby on a scan or feeling the baby moving inside them are two key points at which a mother may first really connect with the baby, because they can begin to visualise 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 during and after birth and during breastfeeding,” explains Rosie.
“Many women report feelings of euphoria after birth – describing a sense of attachment that makes them want to shower their baby with love and affection, and protect them from harm.
"For others the feeling doesn’t happen instantly. This can be due a long or difficult labour or birth, 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 and these circumstances can also affect the bonding process.
"It’s important to remember that this is a normal response and there is no need to feel guilty. It doesn’t mean you don’t care for your baby, just that those intense feelings may take a little longer to develop. The good news is that there are lots of positive ways to help. For example, cuddling your baby, having lots of eye contact and doing something special like baby massage.”
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 their 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.
Feeding: You’ll be encouraged to give your baby its first feed as soon as possible. Whether you’re breast or bottle feeding, you can do so skin-to-skin and ensure lots of eye contact with your baby, which helps with the bonding process. Check out our article for lots more tips for feeding your baby.
“If your baby has to go to special care baby unit, you might not be able to hold them 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 Rosie. “Lots of special care baby units promote kangaroo care, which is where the baby is placed skin-to-skin with the mother inside a special material wrap. It helps the bonding process by making the baby feel safe and secure, and increases the mother’s confidence in caring for her baby.”
Ways to bond later on
Giving your baby lots of cuddles, love and attention will encourage them to trust you and thrive better.
Respond to your baby’s cues quickly: Being in tune with your baby and learning their different cues can help you to respond to their needs more quickly:
Crying – Babies cry for a reason. They may be hungry, tired, lonely, hot, cold or scared – it’s their only way of communicating in the early days. “It helps them to know that if they cry out you’ll come quickly,” says Rosie.
Rooting – when your baby is hungry, they may start sucking their hands or moving their head around with their mouth open. Respond to this cue quickly because it will be easier to feed them now, before they start to cry.
Tiredness – getting to know when your baby is tired and settling them to sleep can help them learn to self soothe and sleep more deeply and for longer.
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 them a lot.
Smile: There’s nothing like a smile to convey your love – they will delight you when they start to smile back.
Baby massage: Massaging your baby is a wonderful way to soothe and calm them 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 them bathe and change the baby soon and as often as possible, and encourage them to talk to the baby. Your baby will love to stare at their face and listen to their voice,” advises Rosie.
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 Rosie.
“If you feel 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.
“Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that some some women – however much 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. Either way, they’re still very good mothers.”
If you’re concerned about bonding with your baby or have a question about this or any other aspect of your baby’s development or becoming a parent it’s important to reach out for help. GPs, midwives and health visitors are all well equipped to identify and manage common condition and enable you to enjoy your new baby to the full. You can also get information and support at any time of the day or night through our Early Years Support Service.
Early Years Support from AXA Health
At AXA Health, we understand that becoming a parent – and a family – is a life-changing event, which at times we may not feel fully prepared for.
That's why we've developed our Early Years Support Service for anyone embarking on parenthood, however many times you may have ‘been there’ before!
Available through our Health at Hand team, the Early Years Support Service has registered midwives and nurses at the end of the phone for you or your family to talk to, day or night, 365 days a year*.
We're here to provide medical information and support, whenever you need us. So, if you’re looking for reassurance, a friendly chat, or if you have questions about anything from pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period, to adapting to parenthood and beyond, call us on 0800 003 004. If you prefer, you can also contact us by email via our Ask the Expert service and one of the team will get back to you.
*Availability of specialist support:
Nurses and counsellors are available 24 hours a day, every day.
Midwife and pharmacists services available 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm Saturdays and 8am to 12pm Sundays. Call backs can be arranged.
We will transfer members to our Counselling service as appropriate.
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