Inside: Does the thought of not bonding with baby scare you? Do you worry that you won’t know how to bond with your baby the “right way”? Maybe you’re in the middle of some substantial mother and baby bonding problems. Use this article to learn the best way for how to bond with your baby.
Five days after having my first son, my husband went back to work. To say I was terrified would be an understatement.
Who signed the waiver saying I was fit to be a mom? Who thought I was capable of having complete responsibility of this little baby on my shoulders?
After 25 minutes of trying to keep my husband from going to work, I gave in and accepted the fact that today was the day that I would spend an entire day alone with a brand new baby. And I had no idea what to do.
Looking over at the little bundle we had brought into this world just 5 days earlier brought on a tsunami of emotions and a rage of panic. Wiping away the tears that spilled over my cheeks into a puddle on my lap, I tried to take 3 deep breaths to calm myself down.
Suddenly, I noticed something wasn’t right. I loved my baby. I really, truly did (and do). But something was missing. Wasn’t I supposed to feel some instant connection and inseparable bond with this baby? I gave birth to him after all, shouldn’t we have that mother and baby bond that everyone talks about?
But I didn’t feel it.
All the fears, anxiety, and unpreparedness of the moment sent my body swirling.
What if he rejects me?
What IS bonding time with baby, anyway? Is there a magic formula?
I think the hospital made a mistake and sent us home too soon. I’m not ready for this.
How does mother-baby bonding work?
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The Unfortunate Problem of Not Bonding With Baby
Balancing a screaming baby on one hip at three in the morning while I dig around in the closet to find the diapers didn’t make me feel bonded to my baby. It brought on frustration.
Because of the large number of moms everywhere who would stop me when I was pregnant to tell me how special the mother-baby bond was and how natural of a thing it was, as soon as I realized I didn’t feel it, I felt like a bad mom.
According to them, this mother and baby bond wasn’t something you needed to work for. “You’ll just feel it.” “It will just be there.” they’d tell me. After having my son, with this knowledge in my head, I felt inadequate as a mother and like something was wrong with me because our mother-baby bond wasn’t “just there”.
It wasn’t there at all.
One afternoon as I was getting in some of my many-thousand steps of the day, walking laps around our house while bouncing my son in the Infantino, I thought that I must be missing something. I didn’t feel the “magic bond” all the other moms talked about.
All I felt like was an on-call feeding machine and diaper changing expert. So far, motherhood felt about as gratifying as grating my skin with a cheesegrater.
The days were hard, the nights were exhausting, miserable and hard. Every evening around 7 o’clock I would break down and cry uncontrollably because I knew tonight was going to be just as hard as last night, if not harder because after another night of sleeplessness, I was running on even less sleep than the night before.
Then, every morning just before my husband would leave for work I would cry again and beg him not to go. Beg him to stay home today. And every new day brought on a new crazy cycle caused by the disconnect I was feeling from my baby.
Because I was feeling this way, I thought I clearly wasn’t doing this “mom thing” right. I beat myself up and convinced myself that something was seriously wrong with me and that I didn’t love my baby enough. That if I did love him enough, we would have that unbreakable bond so many moms excitedly told me about.
The Importance of Bonding With Baby
Numerous studies have been conducted that all concluded the same thing: mother-baby bonding is a vital part of healthy development in the infant.
Bonding with your baby is so vitally important because it will help you be attentive to your baby’s cries, you’ll be able to decipher the different cries baby has, and you’ll be more understanding and willing to comfort your child when it’s 5 in the morning and they’ve been crying all night long.
If you take nothing else away from this article, let it be this:
A lack of bonding with your new baby doesn’t make you a bad mother.
“Most infants are ready to bond immediately. Parents, on the other hand, may have a mixture of feelings about it. Some parents feel an intense attachment within the first minutes or days after their baby’s birth. For others, it may take a bit longer.” – KidsHealth
The first few weeks and months at home with your new baby shouldn’t be rushed. Take extra time for things, spend more time cuddling, holding, and being receptive to their needs. Studies show that babies who are held and comforted when they need it during the first six months of their life tend to grow into toddlers and children who are more secure and confident.
Don’t worry if bonding with your baby doesn’t come immediately after birth. For some parents, it may take weeks or even months to start to form a bond with the new baby, and that’s okay.
If you feel a lack of bonding with your baby and you’re wondering what you can do to kickstart the bonding process, we’ll go over a few things you can do to learn how to bond with your baby when it feels unnatural. First…
Typical Mother Baby Bonding Problems + What’s Causing Them
For my son and I, it took a couple of months before we really “perfected” our mother and baby bond.
Sure, I loved him very much, but I still struggled to want to be there for him when I hadn’t gotten more than 5 minutes of sleep in 3 days. I knew I needed to tend to his cries and comfort him, so I did. But it wasn’t something I enjoyed doing, it was more of a chore than a honor. One large contributing factor of our lack of a bond was the intense mommy burnout I was feeling at the time.
A few reasons why you are struggling to connect with your newborn baby may be:
- Postpartum depression or the baby blues. Both PPD and the baby blues can cause a hindrance in the mother-baby bond. It’s hard to feel attached and emotionally connected to this new tiny human when every moment is a battle against your own mind. If you have the signs of postpartum depression or signs of the baby blues, you’ll want to see a doctor immediately to get the help you need.
- Wacky hormones. Since hormones – particularly dopamine and oxytocin – play such a big role in bonding with your baby, if the postpartum period is throwing your hormones off you may find yourself struggling more than usual to bond with your new baby. Give it time and try to focus on the positive in each moment, and see your doctor if it goes on for too long or if you feel a lack of control over your hormones.
- Traumatic birth. If your labor and delivery was traumatic, long, or particularly more difficult than “normal”, that could be the reason you’re struggling to bond with your new baby.
- Rushing it. Sometimes, the whole process of bonding with a new baby takes time. This is new territory for everyone, so take a deep breath and give it time.
- Overwhelmed/Worried about motherhood. Having the weight of the responsibilities of someone else’s life on your shoulders is a big load to carry and can easily overwhelm and stress out moms. Get a support group around you and take it a day at a time.
“While bonding does not occur instantly for everyone, it should be well established within the first few months after you bring your baby home.” – Mary Beth Steinfield, M.D.
How to Bond With Your Baby + The Best Baby Bonding Practices
For nine long months, I anticipated the arrival of our sweet bundle of joy. I spent the days daydreaming (which isn’t healthy, by the way) about what it would be like to have that unbreakable mother-child bond that everyone talked about and spent the nights getting kicked in the ribs and making my way to the bathroom every 7.2 minutes to pee.
But, after having my son and feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities of being a mom, I was discouraged because I didn’t feel that magical bond every mom told me about. I didn’t feel like motherhood had “changed my life” the way I was promised it would. And I certainly didn’t want to be awake every 2 hours at night soothing a fussy baby back to sleep.
The connection wasn’t there.
Instead, fear, anxiety, and tiredness engulfed my body and made me want to take a 3-week vacation to escape my mommy problems at home. But I stayed. And eventually, I learned how to bond with my baby when I was completely overwhelmed by motherhood.
Here are some practical things you can do to start bonding with your baby when it feels unnatural…
1. Get Naked (well, not completely)
Skin to skin contact has been proven time and time again to strengthen the bond between mom and baby.
Skin-to-skin contact releases the oxytocin hormone – better known as the love hormone – and is your body’s natural way of bonding and feeling fond of something.
Even if it feels like nothing is happening during skin to skin, try to carve at least 5 – 10 minutes out of every day to just lay on the couch and cuddle with your baby with no clothes in the way, because your body is working behind the scenes to build a strong and unbreakable connection to your new baby.
Skin-to-skin contact is especially important in babies from birth up until 6 months. Skin to skin will also:
- Reduce breastfeeding complications. A baby’s natural instinct from birth is to breastfeed, and skin-to-skin contact allows baby to be in close proximity with his mother and to locate and latch onto the breast without much, if any, intervention from mom or anyone else.
- Release dopamine, which is a motivating hormone that encourages reward-motivated behavior.
- Calm both mom and baby. It will help you feel relaxed and will alleviate stress.
- Stabilize baby’s temperature. During pregnancy, baby’s temperature was stabilized inside the womb by the work of the mother’s body. After birth, baby’s body needs to learn how to stabilize his temperature on his own. A study conducted on skin-to-skin care found that a baby’s temperature stabilized quicker from skin-to-skin contact with mom or dad than with artificial warmers.
- Reduces crying. A study concluded that: “human infants recognize physical separation from their mothers and start to cry in pulses. Crying stops at reunion.” – NCBI
- Boosts baby’s immune system. As baby lays on your bare chest, the antibodies pass from your skin to your baby’s body which enhances their immune system. It also helps hydrate baby’s skin, which protects the baby’s body from harmful bacteria.
- Helps baby gain weight faster. “When babies are warm, they don’t need to use their energy to regulate their body temperature,” Ludington says. “They can use that energy to grow instead.” – Parents
And no, don’t worry, you aren’t going to “spoil” or “ruin” your baby by holding them too much.
Skin to skin contact is a vital part of building a bond with your baby and also encouraging and helping them to grow and develop.
Researchers have watched mothers and infants in the first few days after birth, and they noticed that skin-to-skin moms touch and cuddle their babies more. Even a year later, skin-to-skin moms snuggled more with their babies during a visit with the pediatrician. (Source)
2. Make Eye Contact
Eye contact with babies not only creates a connection by syncing their heart rate and emotions with yours, but it can also strengthen their communication and learning skills by synchronizing their brainwaves with yours.
“When the adult and infant are looking at each other, they are signalling their availability and intention to communicate with each other. We found that both adult and infant brains respond to a gaze signal by becoming more in sync with their partner. This mechanism could prepare parents and babies to communicate, by synchronising when to speak and when to listen, which would also make learning more effective.” – Dr. Victoria Leong
Furthermore, a study was done on 36 infants that measured the patterns of their brain electrical activities while they watched a video of an adult singing nursery rhymes.
The first video was of the adult singing nursery rhymes while looking directly at the infants. Next, she continued singing nursery rhymes but turned her head away and averted her gaze from the infants. Then, she kept her head turned away but looked directly at the infants.
The researchers found that the infants’ brainwaves were more synchronized to the adults’ when the adults’ gaze met the infant’s gaze, rather than when her gaze was averted.
All this to say, eye contact is an important part of creating a bond between parent and baby. Eye contact tells your baby:
- You are important
- I am ready to communicate with you
- You have my attention
- I want to have a bond with you
3. Read and Sing
Singing and reading to your baby not only maintains their attention, but it also encourages them to direct their gaze to their mother (or the person singing to them), which encourages a bond through eye contact.
Research has shown that babies as young as 6 months can understand words – long before they can speak, point, or walk.
Reading to your child helps them connect the things in the world – or book – with the words that they belong to.
You can and should be talking to your baby throughout the day, explaining what you’re doing, reading books to them, and singing songs. Surprisingly enough, they will often understand some of what you’re saying, and the more familiar they get with words and the things that belong to those words, the more they can learn and develop.
If you feel awkward or don’t know how to start narrating your day to your baby, start with something simple, like:
- “Do you want some banana on your green spoon?”
- “We’re going to change your diaper now.”
- “Let’s put your blue dinosaur shirt on.”
- “We’re going to go for a walk to get the mail in your big stroller and we’ll even bring along your Sophie giraffe for you to chew on.”
4. Disconnect For the Day
Having constant distractions that pull your attention away from your child isn’t helping create a bond with your baby. Instead, scrolling through Facebook is causing you to feel inadequate as a mother, is planting seeds of jealousy and contempt in your heart as you see other mothers post pictures of their “perfect lives” and is making you feel dissatisfied with your life.
What if you were to put the screen down for 24 hours and spend that time giving your child 100% of your attention?
Everyone these days is stressing about how much screen time kids have and how to limit screen time for kids, but no one’s talking about the problem with adult screen time.
Hold up – before you go off saying how you spend all day, every day, with your child, hear this:
You can be present with your child without being engaged.
It’s possible to be in the same house, the same room, doing the same thing, as your child but be a million miles away. You may spend your whole day with your kid, but if you spend it behind a screen, you’re not truly there. You’re not engaging with them or giving them the type of nurturing interactions they need.
“Time spent on devices [or in front of screens] is time not spent actively exploring the world and relating to other human beings”. – Source
Staring numbly at a screen while giving your child diverted attention tells them you’re physically present, but that they are less important than the screen and therefore only deserve interrupted and half-hearted attention.
Another study showed that after an infant attempted to interact with an expressionless and distracted mother, the infant adjusted his face and body away from his mother with a hopeless and withdrawn facial expression. On top of that, the infant grows weary, becomes more distressed, and explored their environment less.
And the problems didn’t disappear as soon as the mothers put their phones down, either.
The study goes on to say, “and [the infants] experienced lower emotional recovery when mothers put the screens down. Results suggest that mobile device use can have a negative impact on infant social-emotion functioning and parent-child interactions.” – Tracy Dennis-Tiwary
“Caregivers absorbed in devices frequently ignored the child’s behavior for a while and then reacted with a scolding tone of voice, gave repeated instructions in a somewhat robotic manner… seemed insensitive to the child’s expressed needs… or used physical responses (one female adult kicked a child’s foot under the table; another female caregiver pushed a young boy’s hands away when he was trying to repeatedly lift her face up from looking at a tablet screen). In general, “highly absorbed caregivers often responded harshly to child misbehavior.” It’s as though they could not tolerate having any interruption to their screen addiction. – Source
You need to hear that last sentence again:
By being engrossed in a screen and ignoring our children we are acting as though we cannot and will not tolerate having any interruption – our children – to our screen addiction.
Putting the phone down and focusing your attention on your child isn’t easy, especially when scrolling through social media is just a natural habit. This book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, can help you make the switch.
How to Bond With a Baby Questions + Answers For You
After I had my son, I had endless questions about how to create a bond with him. After realizing that there was nothing wrong with me or him, we just hadn’t made the “natural” connection, I set out to learn how to bond with my baby, which brought up a number of questions.
I’ve done my best to go over every question regarding mother and baby bonding that I could think of and provide detailed answers that are backed by science to help you create a bond with your baby.
The questions we’ll be going over are:
- How to bond with baby (and 6 practical things to do today to start the bonding process)
- Importance of bonding with baby
- Reasons why you’re not bonding with baby
- What happens when a mother doesn’t bond with her child?
- What age do babies get attached to mom?
- How do I know if my baby is securely attached?
How to bond with baby
Bonding with baby may come naturally to some, but to others it may take some time and work. Here are a few things to do to bond with your baby today:
- Help them feel safe. Newborn babies have a moro reflex that happens when they feel a lack of support, it causes their arms to rapidly shoot out from or tuck into their body, and will cause them to feel like they’re falling. You can help your baby feel safe and secure by wrapping them in a wrap and holding them close to your body. When you put baby down, try to place them down slowly, avoiding hurried or sudden movements.
- Respond to their needs. Help your baby feel safe and secure and grow trust in you by responding to their cries. When they’re young, it can be hard to know why baby is crying, however by holding them close and responding you will help them feel secure.
- Touch. Cuddle, rock, and hold your baby close (you can use one of these to be able to hold your baby close while getting daily tasks done) throughout the day to grow a strong bond with your baby.
- Interact. On top of regularly touching and cuddling your newborn, make a habit of interacting with them throughout the day by talking and singing to them.
- Infant massage. Infant massage is simply creating a calm atmosphere and and massaging and kneading each part of your baby’s body gently. Be careful not to tickle your baby or hurt them. Start with a gentle touch and read your baby’s reactions to determine whether they are enjoying it or not. Over time, you can start to use a firmer touch. The benefits of infant massage are an improved mood in baby, positive effect on infant hormones that control stress, encourages a bond and connection between mom and baby, helps baby sleep better.
- Take time to enjoy the moment. Being a new mom is filled with all kinds of challenges and hardships. It can be easy to lose yourself in your mommy-do list and forget to spend time with your baby just being with them. Take time every day to slow down and enjoy time with your child.
Importance of bonding with baby
Mother-baby bonding is a vital part of every baby’s early days. Creating a bond releases hormones in the brain that encourage rapid brain growth, as well as promotes the development of connections between brain cells which are critical aspects of learning, growing, and dealing with emotions.
“Bonding is an important human instinct that gives babies a sense of security and self-esteem. Bonding also helps parents feel connected to their newest family member.” – WebMD
Reasons why you’re not bonding with baby + common mother and baby bonding problems
Wondering, “why can’t I bond with my baby?” can make a mother feel incompetent and like a failure. What most moms don’t know is that about 30% of moms don’t feel the mother-baby bond immediately.
A few contributing factors to delayed bonding could be:
- Postpartum depression or the baby blues
- A traumatic labor and delivery
- Being separated from baby after delivery
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Postpartum anxiety
- Hormone dysfunction
What happens when a mother doesn’t bond with her child?
The lack of a mother-baby bond may result in a fussier baby who is more difficult to soothe, increased stress in both baby and mom, increased chances of postpartum depression, more breastfeeding difficulties, and a child who develops slower mentally and physically.
What age do babies get attached to mom?
Babies will be familiar with and have a connection with their mother before they’re even born. Inside the womb, they become in tune with your heartbeat, they hear the blood rushing through your arteries, they get soothed when you walk around, and they can even decipher your voice from others.
After birth, here are a few timeframes and signs of attachment to watch out for:
- “By 4 weeks, your baby will respond to your smile, perhaps with a facial expression or a movement.
- By 3 months, they will smile back at you.
- By 4 to 6 months, they will turn to you and expect you to respond when upset.
- By 7 or 8 months, they will have a special response just for you (they may also be upset by strangers). Your baby may also start to respond to your stress, anger or sadness.”
How do I know if my baby is securely attached?
Three signs that your baby is securely attached to you are, if they keep track of where you are while they’re doing their own thing, desire to be near you when they are feeling anxious or distressed, and they find comfort in being near you or touching you.
How to Bond With Your Baby… Your Turn
What are your best tips for bonding with baby? Did your bond with your child come naturally, or was it something you had to work for? Feel free to share in a comment below!
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