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Baby Bonding

Overview

Few things are as powerful as the mom-baby connection. But the fact is, some moms feel an instant bond the second they see their baby, and some don't. You may feel confused, scared, and disconnected at first, and that's completely normal. Either way, there are lots of ways for you to build a lasting bond with your baby.

How bonds develop before birth

Your relationship with your baby starts well before you two meet face to face. Throughout your pregnancy, you've been as close to each other as humanly possible: Your breath provided the oxygen for your baby; your blood transported everything that was essential for life. Your hormones, your diet, your stress level, and your health habits directly affected him or her. And your baby, obviously, was changing you. Your labor and delivery also play a role in your bonding experience. Your physical and emotional condition after birth affects how you interact with your newborn initially. If labor is especially long or difficult, or if you are afflicted with a pregnancy-related ailment like preeclampsia (a condition marked by hypertension that can cause debilitating migraines), you may be too weak or tired at first to focus completely on bonding.

Ways to strengthen your bond

Hold your baby. Most hospitals now recognize the importance of parent-newborn contact as soon as possible after birth.

Carry her often. A Columbia University study found that after a year, 83 percent of infants whose moms wore them in front carriers were strongly attached to their moms, compared with 38 percent of infants who were placed in baby seats.

Be responsive. Pick up your baby whenever she cries. (Even if you have no idea what she wants, your responsiveness builds her trust in you.) Feed her when she's hungry. Breastfeeding is ideal because it involves skin-to-skin contact and holding, but bottle-fed babies also reap the wonderful benefits of being snuggled and making eye contact.

Talk to her. Even though she doesn't understand the words, communicating with her encourages her to interact with you. Touch your baby, whether you kiss and nuzzle her, massage her after a bath, or blow raspberries on her belly.

Get in face-to-face time. One-day-olds can readily distinguish between a photo of their mother and one of a stranger by noting differences in hairline, research shows. And many moms say they didn't fall completely in love with their babies until they and their infants began staring into each other's eyes, which happens around 2 months.

Don't go it alone. Having support after you bring your baby home has been shown to reduce the risk of postpartum depression. If there's someone to help care for your baby so that you can sleep, eat well, and have time to recharge your mental batteries, you're more likely to enjoy your newborn. It's natural to feel helpless, worried, or overwhelmed at times. Talk to your friends, your partner, and your doctor about it so you can get the support you need. And give yourself permission to spend time away from your baby. Even a short walk alone, a meal out, or a nap helps. You might also look into local moms' groups. (Check the bulletin board at your pediatrician's office, community listings in your local paper, or online.)

When your baby won't get close

You're nuzzling your baby but he's not nuzzling you back. What gives? Cuddly as babies look, not all of them love to snuggle. If yours doesn't, experiment with other types of touch. For instance, your baby may find gentle touch too stimulating but respond to a firmer rub. If skin-to-skin contact is too much, he may like a pat on top of his clothes. If he balks at being stroked at all, try just resting your hand on him.

Other ways to get close:

Get on the floor. Lie beside him and talk or sing, blow kisses or whisper, or read to him.

Revel in routine. Think of diaper changes and bathtime as opportunities to touch and play.

Dance. Combining cuddles with movement might make him less squirmy.

Give a massage. Some babies enjoy massage even if they don't like being cuddled.

Swaddle him. Being wrapped helps some babies. Once he feels secure, he may not mind being held close.

 

Bonding when you work

Studies show that moms who work outside the house build relationships with their children that are just as solid as those of stay-at-home moms -- probably, researchers speculate, because working moms compensate by making the most of the hours they do spend with their babies.

When you come home, make your baby your priority -- no checking e-mail, returning phone calls, or rushing to get dinner on the table. Instead, cuddle with her, read her a story, tell her about your day, and ask her about her day (even though she can't answer yet). Then be sure to involve her in your at-home routine. Take her with you to the bedroom while you change into comfy clothes, and put her in an infant seat near you while you make dinner so she can watch you cook.

All she wants and needs is you, so don't feel pressured to come up with stimulating experiences every minute you're together in order to make up for lost time. Just be spontaneous and loving, and your moments together will be rewarding.

Helping dads connect with their babies

Some new dads take to their babies instantly. Others feel intimidated by the strength of the natural mother-child intimacy, or nervous about handling such a tiny being.

To get your partner involved, encourage him to:

* Cuddle, change, and bathe the baby.

* Burp the baby afterward, when you're breastfeeding. You might also introduce a bottle of expressed breast milk once nursing is well established so your partner can take part in feeding (and give you a break).

* Take the night shift. You get some much-needed sleep and he gets some prime time soothing his fussy baby.

* Have fun. Singing to your infant, talking to him in funny voices, or simply rolling a ball or shaking a rattle in his direction can be surprisingly engaging -- for your child and for his dad, too. For more strategies, go to our Dads and Babies guide.

Summary

Like any relationship, it takes time to build a strong bond with your baby. The most important thing is to relax -- and have fun. Everyday activities are powerful bonding opportunities for you, Dad, and your baby to get closer. So giggle together, coo at your baby when you change her diaper, talk to her, make eye contact, and interact with her as much as possible.

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