About bonding and attachment with newborns
Bonding and attachment is about always responding to your newborn’s needs with love, warmth and care. When you do this, you become a special, trusted person in your baby’s life.
Bonding between you and your newborn is a vital part of development.
For example, when your newborn gets what she needs from you, like a smile, a touch or a cuddle, she feels the world is a safe place to play, learn and explore. This gives her the foundation for emotional wellbeing and the ability to cope with setbacks later in life. Bonding and attachment also help your baby grow mentally and physically. For example, repeated human contact like touching, cuddling, talking, singing and gazing into each other’s eyes make your newborn’s brain release hormones. These hormones help your baby’s brain to grow. And as his brain grows, he starts to develop memory, thought and language.
Understanding your newborn’s bonding and attachment behaviour
Your newborn uses body language to tell you when she needs something – for example, a feed or a nappy change. She’ll also use body language to show you when she wants to connect with you and strengthen your bond. She might:
- smile at you or make eye contact – babies love to look into your eyes
- make little noises, like coos or laughs
- look relaxed and interested
When your baby needs a break or perhaps a different, gentler approach, he might:
- look away, shut his eyes or yawn
- try to struggle or pull away
- look tense and unsettled
When you learn to ‘read’ your baby’s messages and respond the right way, it encourages her to communicate more. This is good for your bond and also helps your baby learn about communication, behaviour and emotions.
How to bond with your newborn
Bonding with your newborn through warm, gentle affection makes her feel safe. Here are some ideas:
- Regularly touch and cuddle your newborn. Try rocking him or holding him against you, skin on skin. Or stroke him gently when you change his nappy or bath him.
- Respond to crying. You might not always be able to tell why your newborn is crying. But by responding, you’re helping her to feel safe.
- Make your newborn feel physically safe. Provide good head and neck support when you’re holding your baby. Wrapping your baby recreates the secure feeling of being in the womb.
You can bond with your newborn by giving him things to look at, listen to and feel. This gets his brain working and makes it grow. Try these ideas:
- Talk to your newborn as often as you can in soothing, reassuring tones. You could talk about what you’re doing, or tell stories. This helps your baby learn to recognise the sound of your voice. It will also help her learn language when she’s older.
- Sing songs. Your newborn will probably like the up and down sounds of songs and music, as well as rhythm. Soothing music might help him – and you – feel calmer. Your newborn won’t mind if you’ve forgotten the words or the tune.
- Look your newborn in the eyes while you talk and sing, and make facial expressions. This will help her learn the connection between words and feelings.
- Stimulate your newborn’s sense of touch. From birth, your newborn can feel even the gentlest touch. Try gently stroking his feet with soft fabric while you’re changing his nappy. And talk about it – for example, ‘Does that feel soft?’
When bonding and attachment isn’t easy
You might have bonded with your baby the first time you saw her. But it’s OK and normal if you didn’t feel an instant connection. Bonding and attachment can sometimes take weeks or months of getting to know and understand your baby.
Here are some suggestion to help your bond develop:
- Take time to enjoy being with your baby. Caring for a new baby can be busy, but it’s good to spend time just being together. For example, you could hold your baby close and read to him in a sing-song voice. He’ll love hearing your voice, even if you’re reading your favourite magazine or newspaper.
- See the world from your baby’s perspective. Imagine what she’s looking at, feeling or trying to do. Discover what she really likes and dislikes. For example, is she a social baby who doesn’t mind being passed around the family? Or does she prefer to watch what’s going on from the safety of your arms?
- Be flexible. Most newborns don’t have definite day and night sleep patterns. This means it isn’t realistic to expect your newborn to follow a strict routine. It’s best to respond when your baby wants to feed, sleep or play.
Bonding with more than one carer
Your baby forms his main attachments to the people who care for him the most, like you and your partner, if you have one. He can also form attachments to other people who regularly and lovingly care for him and make him feel safe. These people might include your baby’s grandparents, paid carers and older children.
Bonding to more than one person helps your baby learn about trust and closeness to people. It can also make it easier for you and your partner to do other things, like paid work, grocery shopping and household chores. It can also just give you a break from being a carer.