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The Truth About Bonding

Cut yourself some slack

You've got all those postpartum discomforts weighing on you, haywire hormones, a wreck of a house, too much company and not enough help, and a child who doesn't know who she is, where she is, or what she wants most of the time. Try to put yourself on automatic pilot and learn the basics of babycare one step at a time.

It's actually those simple (okay, not as simple as they seem) acts of diapering and feeding and holding and singing to your baby that promote the mother-child bond. As you respond to your baby's needs, she learns about you and the fact that you are her universe. Her sense of security grows as she develops the expectation and understanding that whenever she feels hungry or tired or out of sorts, you'll know just what to do to make her feel better.

Of course you may not always feel like you know just what to do, but you are in fact learning right along with her. Think back on your first dates with your partner: You were nervous about everything from what to order in the restaurant to what to say during the football game. Yet here you are still together after all these years. You and your baby will be also, and she won't care what you look like first thing in the morning, either, as long as she, too, has easy access to your boobs.

When a baby becomes "attached" (just another, more clinical-sounding word for bonding), she feels secure in her relationship with you, knowing you will always be there to love and protect and meet her needs. Rest assured, she'll get there no matter what choices you make about feeding, sleeping, and everything else. There are many ways to bond, and you have the brains, instincts, and loving heart to nuture and bond with your baby in your own way.

What about Dad?

Once upon a time, fathers paced back and forth in hospital waiting rooms in anxious expectation of the doctor's bursting through the doors to announce the arrival of a healthy baby boy or girl. The prevailing wisdom in those days --and it wasn't all that long ago --was that the early months and years belonged to Mom. Dads bonded when it came time to have a catch or teach their offspring how to ride a bike. Fatherhood has changed in many ways since then, not the least of which is that dads want and are expected to have a bigger role from the get-go.

Bonding can (and should) occur between father and child. Yet dads still face some of the same challenges their own fathers and grandfathers did. Sure, men today make more time to be around for prenatal exams and tests, shop for nursery furniture, and coach their partners in labor. But for the most part, they still head back to work within days of their baby's birth. Even though the Family Medical Leave Act has been around for more than a decade, we all know that the concept of men taking paternity leave is still taboo in plenty of workplaces. Not surprisingly, then, it's easy for Dad to feel as left out as ever.

In these early months, one of the most important things you can focus your mental energy on is helping Dad get involved in his baby's life. This will benefit you on several fronts: Most obviously, you'll have more help, more often. Next, the stronger the bond between Dad and his child, the easier it will be for him to deduce and fulfill the baby's wants and needs. Here are a few ways to make all that happen: