Bonding with baby

It sounds like the simplest thing in the world – bonding with your lovely new bundle. But what does it mean? Why is it so important and what happens if bonding doesn’t come so easily?

Although bonding is different for everyone, it generally means the feeling of unconditional love and attachment between parent and baby.

NCT Practitioner & Tutor Fran Bailey says: ‘In a nutshell it’s the way that parents begin to build a relationship with their baby, getting to know and understand them.’ It’s what makes you instinctively want to care for, nurture and protect your child.

Why is bonding important?

Developing a strong bond with your baby can help parents at an exhausting and challenging time.

‘It’s all that warm, fuzzy and overwhelming emotion that can help carry you through the disrupted nights, the unsoothable wailing and the challenging nappy changes,’ says NCT’s Senior Policy Adviser Elizabeth Duff.

A strong bond is also vital for a baby’s social, emotional, intellectual and physical development.

It helps them feel safe, secure and calm as they learn to trust you.

Research shows having a good bond can help with children’s mental health, self-esteem and their abilities at school and later in life.

Connecting with your bump

For some parents, bonding with baby begins during pregnancy.

Reading about their development can help you feel a connection, as can decorating a nursery, buying baby clothes, or giving your bump a nickname.

Your partner may want to talk, sing or read to your tummy. Stroking your bump, massaging it with oils, or watching baby moving while you’re in the bath can all be enjoyable experiences for both parents.

Seeing your little one at scans or hearing their heartbeat can also help.

Some mums and dads say that finding out their baby’s sex makes them feel more attached; others feel just as connected without knowing.

However, try not to worry if you don’t feel much towards your baby during pregnancy.

You may be overwhelmed by the thought of becoming a parent; as well as exhausted, sick or worried about your own or your baby’s health.

Often as the baby starts to move, kick or hiccup inside it can feel more real and the connection can grow.

Bonding after birth

During labour, the hormone oxytocin is released. This can help create a feeling of euphoria, love and protectiveness.

To help bonding, skin-to-skin contact can be really beneficial for you both, as your smell and touch will help your baby feel secure.

Elizabeth says: ‘Aim for a lot of skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible, but don’t despair if this doesn’t work out. It is still important in later days for warmth, comfort and helping breastfeeding if that’s your decision.’

It’s worth mentioning to your midwife that you’re keen to have skin-to-skin contact after the birth. And remember it’s great for dads too.

One mum recalls her husband feeling self-conscious having skin-to-skin contact in front of the midwives.

‘After what I’d been through, and the number of people who’d seen me give birth, removing his top and cuddling our new baby was the least he could do!’

She adds: ‘However he did really love it. There’s nothing quite like feeling your baby’s soft, perfect, warm skin up against your own.’

Think about the days after the birth and whether you’d like time to bond as a family without too many interruptions or visitors.

It takes time

While some parents feel a surge of unconditional love straightaway, for many others the bond can take a little longer to develop.

And there are many reasons why this might be the case, including:

  • A long, traumatic or premature birth;
  • A baby requiring special care;
  • Difficulties in post-birth recovery;
  • Problems establishing feeding;
  • Sleep deprivation;
  • A baby who cries a lot;
  • Surprise or disappointment about their sex;
  • Or a difficult relationship with your own parents.

It’s a hugely emotional period and it can take time for the bond with your baby
to grow

It’s important to try to put aside any guilt. Don’t be hard on yourself.

Your body has been through a huge amount and life has been turned upside down. It’s understandable if you’re not completely in love straightaway.

Don’t compare yourself to friends or people on social media – often they may be feeling the same as you but painting a different picture to the outside world .

Feeling like this doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent or that you don’t love your baby.

Getting to know each other

Acknowledging that it can be more of a slow burn rather than an instant love can be helpful. Much like making friends, it takes time for the relationship to develop.

The more you get to know your new arrival, their personality and what they like and dislike, the more bonded you may feel.

You might feel more in tune with your baby simply by performing the basics of caring for them. Feeding can become precious quiet time together, or you could try to make nappy changes more special by rubbing their tummy or tickling their feet.

Elizabeth says: ‘The best and simplest approach is for both parents to spend as much time with – and focused on – their baby as they can.’

She adds: ‘Accept help for housework and anything offered that leaves you time with your baby.’

Plus, as your little one gets older and more responsive, you may begin to feel deeper emotions. As a newborn all they do is feed, poo, cry and sleep, but their first smiles and giggles can be a key moment in the development of your relationship.

How to help bonding

Use the power of touch – stroke your baby’s cheek, hold their hand, take a bath together, or try baby massage

One NCT mum says: ‘I found cuddling my sleeping newborn one of the simplest but most special bonding times.’

‘With my first baby I was too conscious of forming bad habits so I was preoccupied with putting him down as soon as he was asleep, but with my second baby I took time to enjoy those precious moments.’

Elizabeth adds: ‘When your baby falls asleep, it’s tempting to rush off and get household jobs done.’

‘But the serenity of gazing at a safely sleeping baby can help you achieve your own calm and enable more warmth and love to flow!’

Debs Dennehy, mum to Elizabeth and volunteer with Staines, Ashford & Egham NCT branch, says: ‘I remember bonding with my daughter by playing music and singing along. I loved it when she started to smile if she heard me singing (despite my terrible voice!)’

Bonding through play

  • Smile, talk, make eye contact
  • Rub noses
  • Stick your tongue out and see if baby imitates
  • Make silly faces
  • Dance together – sway, twirl or bounce baby or let them watch you leaping around
  • Play peek-a-boo
  • Try tickling baby
  • Blow raspberries
  • Make funny noises
  • Copy baby’s sounds
  • Sing nursery rhymes and perform actions
  • Look out for baby classes like sign language or baby yoga

What about your partner?

John Dennehy with baby Elizabeth

Some dads and partners worry they won’t bond with their baby – perhaps because they haven’t experienced kicks in the womb or undergone the hormonal changes to prepare them like their partner has.

They may also be concerned about feeling left out if their partner is breastfeeding.

There’s no need to worry because there are so many ways to build a connection, including all of the ideas we’ve suggested above.

Dads and partners can change nappies, get baby bathed and dressed, take them for walks, carry them in a sling, feed bottles of expressed breastmilk or formula and wind baby. Learning their baby’s needs and cues can help the dad or partner feel attached and vice versa.

Rest assured, even if it takes a little while, you and your partner will build a strong, enduring and very special bond with your baby.

A helping hand to build that bond

If you’re worried you’re not bonding with your baby or you’re feeling detached or resentful, you might need extra support as it can be an indication of postnatal depression (PND). It’s always helpful to be honest about your feelings with your GP, midwife or health visitor. The sooner you get support, the sooner you can get your bond with your baby back on track.

Supporting you

NCT branches
Check out your local NCT branch where you can make friends with others in the same boat and gain vital support.

NCT Postnatal Courses
At our Early Days postnatal courses you can share your thoughts and feelings with other new mums in a friendly environment with the help of a trained NCT practitioner.

NCT website
We have a wealth of information about the practical and emotional side of caring for a newborn and yourself.