What is bonding?
Bonding is the feeling that makes you want to shower your baby with love, when you know you would do anything to protect her.
And while you’re savouring the high, the feel-good hormone dopamine that’s coursing through your body is also helping your baby to attach emotionally to you.
Will I bond with my baby straight after birth?
You may do, but try not to worry if you don’t. Some, but not all, parents feel a deep attachment to their baby straight after the birth. The hormone oxytocin, which is released during pregnancy and in greater amounts during labour, helps to create a feeling of euphoria and love for your newborn. You may feel an overwhelming urge to protect your baby from the first moment you see her.
For other parents, strong feelings of attachment take a little longer to develop. You may simply feel too tired after your baby’s birth to bond with her straight away. Or perhaps you had a long labour, or a difficult birth, and this has affected your feelings.
Your baby may have been born with a health problem, which may make you feel worried or distressed. Or perhaps you feel disappointed about your baby’s sex. These feelings are understandable and entirely normal.
If you have twins, you may find bonding with both your babies a challenge at first. It may be that one baby needs to be cared for in the neonatal unit (NNU) while your other baby stays with you on the postnatal ward.
If that’s the case, your midwife will encourage you to visit the NNU as often as possible to help the bonding process along.
If you can’t be physically close to your baby, your midwife may give you pictures of her. Looking at pictures of your new baby can help you to bond with her. Just seeing an image of your baby may also help you to express milk for her while she is being cared for in the NNU.
Can I do anything to help the bonding process at birth?
Try to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby as soon as you can. Skin-to-skin is when your baby is placed on your chest as soon as you’re ready to hold her. Your newborn bonds through touch and smell, and her senses are tuned in to respond to your unique smell and the feel of your bare skin.
Your midwife may also encourage you to breastfeed your baby soon after you have given birth to help you both bond.
You may not be able to hold your baby straight after she is born. This may be because you’ve had a caesarean, or if your baby needs special care. Try not to worry, as you haven’t missed a crucial chance to bond. Your midwife should help you to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby as soon as it’s possible to do so.
If your baby is premature, she can have skin-to-skin contact when she is strong enough. Skin-to-skin contact for premature babies, also called kangaroo care, will comfort your baby and encourage her development. It will also help you to bond with each other.
What else can I do to build our bond?
Rest assured that your attachment will develop gradually through everyday caring for your baby, when you:
- answer her cries
- hold her close and cuddle her
- give her plenty of eye contact
- talk to her
- smile at her
Even when you’re not holding your baby, try to keep her close to you, so she can see you. Have her nearby in her Moses basket or carrycot during the day. Keep your baby in your room at night for her first six months, so you can tend to her quickly and easily when she needs you.
Interacting with your baby as you care for her doesn’t just help you to bond, and her to flourish. It also helps your baby’s brain to grow and develop.
Baby massage may help along the bonding process. As you massage your baby, it will come naturally to you to chat to her and make eye contact with her. You’ll also learn to read your baby’s cues as you massage her. You could ask your midwife or health visitor whether there are any baby massage classes in your area. Your local children’s centre should also be able to help you find a class.
You may not have to do anything specific to develop an attachment to your baby. It may simply be the first time you see her smile that you realise you’re completely and utterly filled with joy and love for her.
What if I don’t bond with my baby straight away?
Try not to worry. You’re certainly not alone, as many mums aren’t ready to bond with their baby immediately. You may feel guilty about not feeling an incredible attachment to your new baby immediately. But bonding is an individual experience that develops at its own pace. It may take days, weeks or months for the bond between you and your baby to develop fully.
Your baby may be cute and cuddly, but she’s also an entirely new person, one you may have to get to know before you become truly close.
Skin-to-skin contact with your baby, by both you and your baby’s dad, will help you all to strengthen your attachment to each other.
Be reassured that as you get to know your baby and learn how to soothe her and enjoy her presence, your feelings of attachment will deepen.
When should I worry?
It may be that, after a few weeks, you don’t feel more attached to your baby than you did on the day she was born. You may even feel detached from her and resentful, or hostile towards her, or blame her for the way you feel. It could be that you are exhausted and need some extra support.
If that’s the case, talk to your doctor or health visitor as soon as you can. Try not to worry about sharing your deepest feelings, even if you feel bad about them. Your doctor and health visitor are used to hearing about new parents’ worries and fears. It’s important that you’re honest so you can get the help you and your baby need.
It’s important that you seek help as soon as you notice the symptoms of PND. But rest assured that it is both common and treatable. Your doctor will be able to offer you the support and treatment that you need to help you recover and develop a lasting bond with your baby.
Will her dad bond easily with her?
Your baby’s dad is likely to experience his own feelings of attachment if he:
- talks to your bump
- is at your baby’s birth
- cuts your baby’s cord after the birth
- holds your baby
- bathes your baby
It’s thought that dads also experience hormonal changes before the baby is born, and these changes may prepare them for fatherhood. Some maternity units encourage dads to experience skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible after their baby is born.
Seeing your baby’s first smile, trying baby massage and early play may help her dad to form and strengthen attachments with his newborn. Though for some dads, the bonding process does take a bit longer.
Check out our top tips to help dads bond with their baby.