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The Truth About Bonding

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    How quickly you bond may depend in part on how you felt during your pregnancy. Were you delighted to find out you were expecting? At least a few times during those nine months did you feel really good and enjoy your growing belly? Did you have support from your husband, friends, and family? If a mom can answer "yes" to these questions, she's more likely to want and love her baby.

    And then once your newborn finally arrives, there are a host of other factors that can affect how easily the two of you become pals.

    Time together after delivery Being alone with your husband and your baby shortly after delivery can be an ideal time to begin bonding. Within the first hour of life, a newborn enters into a period of heightened, quiet alertness that lasts about 45 minutes, says Dr. Klaus. "The baby can look directly at Mom's and Dad's faces and respond to their voices," he says.

    Many hospitals allow this intensely personal family time, postponing certain procedures, such as putting vitamin K ointment in the newborn's eyes. But if yours doesn't or if you've had a c-section, don't worry. Your infant will spend about ten percent of every day of his first few weeks in this state. He'll seem curious, and he'll study your face and listen intently to your voice. During these moments, sit peacefully with him, changing your facial expressions and vocal sounds to keep his attention. Such back-and-forth interactions help strengthen the ties between you.

    Your recovery Most moms experience the "baby blues" for one or a few days after giving birth because of hormonal changes. Being aware that this normal phase should pass soon can help you get through it, as can talking about how you feel with other moms, family members, or your husband.

    But in the meantime, this sadness can interfere with how quickly you bond. After all, it's hard to tend to your baby when you're down, overwhelmed, or distracted. So if you find you're still feeling blue after you get home, have your husband line up some support. Hire a cleaning service for a few weeks, ask a neighbor to pick up some things at the store for you, allow a friend to cook dinner. "Your goal should be twofold: to spend as much time with your baby as possible and to focus on your own well-being," says Dr. Klaus.

    For 10 to 15 percent of women, the blues extend into weeks of postpartum depression, when they may experience unexplained weepiness, loneliness, and sleep problems. If you feel this way for more than two weeks, seek help: Ask your ob-gyn for referrals to experts or support groups in your area or call the national organization Depression After Delivery (800-944-4PPD).

    How prepared you are "When Alexandra was born six years ago, I was shocked by how much of a commitment being a parent was," says Jodi Marinos of Boca Raton, FL. "I hadn't thought about the fact that I couldn't just run out to do errands anymore on a whim. I wish I'd realized how consuming motherhood is, though, truth be told, there's no way to really comprehend it until you become a parent." Still, taking a childbirth, babycare, or prenatal-exercise class before you deliver can help you understand what to expect later and may help you hook up with other new moms. "Often these classes turn into playgroups once the babies are born, which are as much fun and help for the mothers as they are for the kids," says Weatherston.

    Your baby's personality and health It's easy to bond with a happy infant, harder with one who's fussy. "About twenty percent of babies are simply born with an irritable temperament, and their nature has nothing to do with the quality of the care their parents give them," says Kagan. "Parents need to realize this and not burden themselves with guilt."

    Taking time to play Singing and dancing with your baby, tickling, playing peekaboo: Such games let him see your joy and respond in kind, forming tighter bonds between the two of you. With a very young baby, try these fun tricks: As he watches, stick out your tongue and bring it back into your mouth or open up your mouth really wide and close it, then see if he repeats the action. Don't be surprised if in a few months he invites you to play, sticking out his own tongue so that you can imitate.

    Previous miscarriages If you've lost a baby, giving birth can stir up emotions that you thought were settled. You may find yourself longing for the child youonce hoped for, even while you have your newborn in your arms. "Moms need to face these feelings and work to resolve them," says Weatherston. "Talking to a counselor, doctor, or friend can help them move on."

    The relationship between you and your husband It's true that your marriage changes after you've had a baby  -- you become a family. But now is the time when you need to support each other and share the joys of your infant  -- as well as the responsibilities. If you have unresolved issues with your partner, it's best to try to work them out before the baby is born. Afterward, keep talking  -- and listening  -- so that you understand each other's needs.

    Getting physical You needn't sleep in the same bed with your baby to bond, but lots of physical contact can help. In the first few weeks, lie skin to skin for a little while each day. Try putting her in a front baby carrier to keep her close to you as you walk around in stores. When you bathe her, take time to really appreciate the miracle of each little toe, the softness of her hair, and the peach fuzz on her skin.

    Consider learning infant massage. "It makes babies less irritable, better able to sleep and digest their food, and simply happier and more relaxed," says Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

    The first few months that you spend getting to know your baby will likely be among the most special times in your life. Sure, you'll be exhausted and pulled in every direction. But in some ways you'll never feel more loved or love anyone more than the bundle you get to hold in your arms and call your own.

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