What are bonding and attachment with newborns?
Bonding and attachment are 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 with newborns: why it’s important
Bonding between you and your newborn is a vital part of development.
When your newborn gets what they need from you, like a smile, a touch or a cuddle, your newborn feels the world is a safe place to play, learn and explore. This lays the foundation for your child’s development and wellbeing throughout childhood.
Bonding also helps 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 your newborn’s brain grows, your newborn starts to develop memory, thought and language.
Understanding your newborn’s bonding behaviour
Your newborn uses body language to show you when they want to connect with you and strengthen the bond between you. For example, your newborn might:
- smile at you or make eye contact
- make little noises, like coos or laughs
- look relaxed and interested.
When you notice and respond to your baby’s cues and body language in warm and loving ways, your baby feels secure. This also helps your baby learn about communication, social behaviour and emotions, and encourages your baby to keep communicating. It all helps to build your relationship with your baby.
How to bond with your newborn
Warm, gentle affection makes your newborn feel safe and builds your bond. You can also build your bond through your interactions with your newborn – for example, when you give your newborn things to look at, listen to and feel. This gets your newborn’s brain working and makes it grow. Try these ideas:
Here are some ideas:
- Regularly touch and cuddle your newborn. From birth, your newborn can feel even the gentlest touch. Try stroking your newborn gently when you change a nappy or at bath time.
- Respond to crying. You might not always be able to tell why your newborn is crying. But by responding, you let your newborn know that you’re always there.
- Hold your baby. Try rocking or holding your newborn against you, skin on skin. Or carry your baby in a carrier or sling.
- Make your newborn feel physically safe. Provide good head and neck support when you’re holding your baby. Or try wrapping your baby, which recreates the secure feeling of being in the womb.
- 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 newborn learn to recognise the sound of your voice. It will also help your newborn learn language later.
- Sing songs. Your newborn will probably like the up and down sounds of songs and music, as well as rhythm. Soothing music might help both of you feel calmer too. Your newborn won’t mind if you’ve forgotten the words or the tune.
- Look into your newborn’s eyes while you talk, sing and make facial expressions. This helps your newborn learn the connection between words and feelings.
When bonding and attachment aren’t easy
You might have bonded with your baby the first time you saw them. But it’s OK 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 suggestions 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, try cuddling and singing or reading aloud.
- See the world from your baby’s perspective. Imagine what your newborn is looking at, feeling or trying to do. Discover what your newborn really likes and dislikes. For example, is your newborn a social baby who doesn’t mind being passed around the family? Or do they 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. It’s best to respond when your newborn wants to feed, sleep or play.
You’re the most important part of your baby’s life. If you’re worried about your relationship with your baby, ask for help. Getting help when your baby is young can make a big difference to both of you. If you need it, get support. If you’re physically and mentally well, you’ll be better able to provide the love and comfort your baby needs.
Bonding with more than one carer
Babies form their main attachments to the people who care for them most – especially their parents. Your baby can also form attachments to other people who regularly and lovingly care for your baby and make them 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, if you have one, to do other things, like paid work, grocery shopping and household chores. It can also just give you a break.
In many cultures, many members of the family and community are involved in raising children, and babies form attachments with many people.