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The Truth About Bonding

Myths & Facts

Over the past several years, intense focus on newborn and toddler development has given us a much greater understanding of how parents and infants bond. But out of that research have also risen some common misconceptions:

  • If you don't bond with your baby within a few days after birth, you won't ever be able to bond as well as parents who did. Not true. Couples who adopt, for example, often don't meet the baby until he's several months old, but they bond every bit as much.

    Likewise, when fathers go off to war and don't see their baby for the first year of his life, they come back and within a few weeks have bonded, says Kagan. "If you don't feel intense closeness immediately, it's not going to make any difference in your relationship with your child."

  • If you don't breastfeed, you can't bond. Breast milk is the best nutritional choice for your baby, and clearly, nursing can enhance bonding: It causes your body to release the hormone oxytocin and your brain to release serotonin, two natural chemicals that can encourage warm, maternal feelings. "But you can bond just as well if you bottle-feed your baby," says James Lemons, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Riley Children's Hospital, in Indianapolis. What's more, bottle-feeding gives Dad a chance to be close to his baby.

    "When our son, Robert, was a newborn, I took care of him for a three-hour stretch each night when I got home from work so that my wife could get some rest," says Bob Irving of Putnam Valley, NY. "It was during those hours  -- when I gave him a bottle, burped him, and changed him and we watched the World Series together  -- that I think Robert and I really bonded. Beth breastfed him the rest of the time, but being able to give him one bottle of formula a day made a big difference for all of us."

  • If you put your baby in daycare, you won't bond. It's true that the more time you spend with your baby in the early months  -- learning to understand her various cries and body language  -- the more opportunities you'll have to bond with her. But, say experts, it's not necessarily the amount of time you have together that matters most for bonding; rather, it's the nature of that time. Are you happy being with your baby? Do you interact playfully with her and respond to her needs? These things count more than simply being there.

    It's also true that if you put your baby in the care of another loving, responsible adult, you'll get a break, your baby will get attention, and you just might be that much happier to see her  -- a feeling she can sense.

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