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The Truth About Bonding

I knew I had bonded with my eldest child, Liam, when he received his first vaccination at 2 months. He let out a wail, his legs flailed, and suddenly I felt tears rolling down my face. The logical side of me knew the shot was for his own good, but the mother lion in me wanted to push the pediatrician out of the way, scoop Liam up into my arms, and make the pain go away. Which is just what I did (without the push, of course). I sat in the examining room for a full 20 minutes afterward, not caring whether the doctor might need it for another patient; I had to cradle, kiss, and rock my baby  -- and anyone who dared interfere with that, beware.

I bonded with my second child, Michael, now 5, during the middle-of-the-night feedings in his early weeks of life, when in the soft glow of his bedroom nightlight, I nursed him and sang to him and found pure happiness in the simple, lovely task of nurturing.

We all have images of that magic moment when we become forever bonded to our babies, locked in a hold of emotion stronger than any we've ever felt before. Usually those visions involve the moments right after birth: Flush with pure joy, we cradle our infants and become instantly attached.

The truth is, while this scenario may play out for some parents, it's certainly not universal. In surveys, up to 40 percent of new moms say they didn't feel genuine affection for their baby until the end of the first week.

"Bonding is a dynamic process that takes place over days, months, and all the years that you are a parent," says Marshall Klaus, M.D., coauthor of Bonding: Building the Foundation of Secure Attachment and Independence. "But there is a time, usually in the first few weeks, when a mother feels that the baby has become hers and that she would want to harm anyone who might threaten him. It can be an alarming feeling, but it's actually a good sign that you've bonded." In a few more weeks, Dad also will come to feel this way.

Laura Flynn McCarthy's last article for Parenting was "Raising a Stress-Free Child," in the March 2001 issue.