Baby Bonding - Why is baby bonding with mother or father important?

Bonding is the intense attachment that develops between both mother and father and their baby. It makes parents want to shower their baby with love and affection and to protect and care for their little one. Bonding gets parents up in the middle of the night to feed their hungry baby and makes them attentive to the baby's wide range of cries.

Scientists are still learning a lot about bonding. They know that the strong ties between parents and their child provide the baby's first model for intimate relationships and foster a sense of security and positive self-esteem and parents' responsiveness to an infant's signals can affect the child's social and cognitive development.

Why Is Bonding Important?

Bonding is essential for a baby. Studies of newborn monkeys who were given mannequin mothers at birth showed that, even when the mannequins were made of soft material and provided formula to the baby monkeys, the babies were better socialised when they had live mothers to interact with. The baby monkeys with mannequin mothers also were more likely to suffer from despair. Scientists suspect that lack of bonding in human babies can cause similar problems.

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.

But bonding is a process, not something that takes place within minutes and not something that has to be limited to happening within a certain time period after birth. For many parents, bonding is a byproduct of everyday caregiving. You may not even know it's happening until you observe your baby's first smile and suddenly realise that you're filled with love and joy.

The Ways Babies Bond

When you're a new parent, it often takes a while to understand your newborn and all the ways you can interact:

Touch becomes an early language as babies respond to skin-to-skin contact. It's soothing for both you and your baby while promoting your baby's healthy growth and development.

Eye-to-eye contact provides meaningful communication at close range.

Babies can follow moving objects with their eyes.

Your baby tries — early on — to imitate your facial expressions and gestures.

Babies prefer human voices and enjoy vocalising  in their first efforts at communication. Babies often enjoy just listening to your conversations, as well as your descriptions of their activities and environments.

Making an Attachment

Bonding with your baby is probably one of the most pleasurable aspects of infant care. You can begin by cradling your baby and gently rocking or stroking him or her. If you and your partner both hold and touch your infant frequently, your little one will soon come to know the difference between your touches. Both of you can also take the opportunity to be "skin to skin" with your newborn by holding him or her against your own skin when feeding or cradling.

Babies, especially premature babies and those with medical problems, may respond to infant massage. Because babies aren't as strong as adults, you'll need to massage your baby very gently. Before trying out infant massage, be sure to educate yourself on proper techniques by checking out the many books, videos, and websites on the subject. You can also contact your local hospital to find out if there are classes in infant massage in your area.

Breastfeeding and bottle-feeding are both natural times for bonding. Infants respond to the smell and touch of their mothers, as well as the responsiveness of the parents to their needs. In an uncomplicated birth, caregivers try to take advantage of the infant's alert period immediately after birth and encourage feeding and holding of the baby. However, this isn't always possible and, though ideal, immediate contact isn't necessary for the future bonding of the child and parent.

Adoptive parents may be concerned about bonding with their baby. Although it might happen sooner for some than others, adopted babies and their parents can bond just as well as biological parents and their children.

Bonding with Daddy

Men these days spend more time with their infants than dads of past generations did. Although dads frequently yearn for closer contact with their babies, bonding frequently occurs on a different timetable, partially because they don't have the early contact of breastfeeding that many mums have.

But dads should realise, early on, that bonding with their child isn't a matter of being another mum. In many cases, dads share special activities with their infants. And both parents benefit greatly when they can support and encourage one another.

Early bonding activities include:

participating together in labour and delivery

feeding (breast or bottle); sometimes dad forms a special bond with baby when handling a middle-of-the-night feeding and diaper change

reading or singing to baby

giving the baby a bath

mirroring baby's movements

mimicking baby's cooing and other vocalisations — the first efforts at communication

using a front baby carrier during routine activities

letting baby feel the different textures of dad's face

Building a Support System

Of course, it's easier to bond with your baby if the people around you are supportive and help you develop confidence in your parenting abilities. That's one reason experts recommend having your baby stay in your room at the hospital. While taking care of a baby is overwhelming at first, you can benefit from the emotional support provided by the staff and start becoming more confident in your abilities as a parent. Although rooming-in often is not possible for parents of premature babies or babies with special needs, the support from the hospital staff can make bonding with the infant easier.

At first, caring for a newborn can take nearly all of your attention and energy — especially for a breastfeeding mum. Bonding will be much easier if you aren't exhausted by all of the other things going on at home, such as housework, meals, and laundry. It's helpful if dads or other partners can give an extra boost with these everyday chores, as well as offer plenty of general emotional support.

And it's OK to ask family members and friends for help in the days — even weeks — after you bring your baby home. But because having others around during such a transitional period can sometimes be uncomfortable, overwhelming, or stressful, you might want to ask people to drop off meals, walk the dog, or run an errand for you.