There’s a lot of information about the importance of parents bonding with their baby and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Try not to worry if you don’t feel as close to your young baby as you’d like to. Most parents find that with time and a few gentle tips, a close bond happens without trying too much.
Why bonding is important
Bonding, also called emotional connection or attachment, is nature’s way of ensuring a baby’s survival. They need to build a close relationship with the people most likely to ensure they will grow towards independence. Bonding also helps to lay the foundation for a child’s development and wellbeing throughout their childhood. 
Bonding also supports babies to grow physically and emotionally. They learn that the world is generally a safe place and that they will be protected from harm if there is a connection between them and their caregivers.
I’m just not feeling it!
Some parents describe a rush of love the minute their baby is born. And it’s not unusual for women to talk about a connection with their growing baby during pregnancy. It’s also true that many parents don’t feel very much when their baby is first born, other than a sense of relief that the labour and birth are now over.
Bonding is not always instant – it can take time to fall in love with our babies.
There is no perfect window of time when bonding needs to happen. It’s not unusual for parents to feel a sense of anxiety when they don’t feel a strong sense of attachment in the early days and weeks and even feel that they are somehow inadequate or there is something wrong with them. But like many situations in life, it’s not helpful if we try too hard and analyse too much.
Sometimes it’s useful to try to turn down the volume on the thinking part of our brain and turn up the feeling part. We are hardwired to build a close connection with our babies. But for many parents and for all sorts of reasons, this doesn’t happen as quickly as we’d like it to.
Reasons why bonding can take its own sweet time
- When a baby was unplanned and/or not the preferred gender.
- When pregnancy/labour/birth have been challenging.
- When a baby is born premature and needs special care. This is especially true if the baby and mother are separated.
- When there are breastfeeding difficulties.
- Issues with emotional connection between ourselves and our own parents.
- Other challenges such as mental health, housing, employment, or financial stress. These all have the power to ‘eclipse’ whatever else is happening in our lives.
- Not enough time to enjoy the baby because there’s too much of a demand on our time.
Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint why bonding doesn’t happen as quickly as we’d like. The baby may be particularly unsettled, cry a lot or not respond easily to soothing measures.
Ten tips to help bond with your baby
- Spend time with your baby, just sitting and holding them. Early parenting is a busy time and it’s easy to get caught up in the tasks of caregiving. Love and connection often happen in the times when we do less ‘for’ and more ‘with’ our babies. Try to find windows of time just to be still and in their company.
- Keep your baby close during their sleep times. The safest place for babies to sleep is in their own safe cot in their parent’s room for the first 6-12 months of life. Having them close when you’re sleeping will also help to build a physical and emotional connection.
- Take your time. Aim not to rush whatever it is you’re doing, whether it’s changing their nappy or settling them. Make a conscious effort to stop, pause and absorb what your hands are doing.
- Respond to your baby when they’re crying. This will help them to feel you are close and willing to help regulate their emotions. Small babies can have big feelings and it’s up to the adults around them to help them feel they’re safe.
- Read books to your little one. Even from birth, babies love to be read to. Choose picture books with bright colours and simple stories. You’ll find your baby will develop a preference for the same (or a couple) of books. Reading is a lovely thing to include when going through settling routines.
- Avoid overthinking what you should, would or could be feeling. You’re an individual, just as your baby is. This means you will love and connect in your own time and in your own special way.
- Sing songs to your baby and look for their responses. Remember, they don’t care if you’re not a great singer. It’s the sound, pitch and rhythm of your voice which will help them to soothe.
- Be open to the cues or signals your baby is giving you -they will help you to fall in love with them. Often a baby’s smell, eye contact, small cooing noises and uncontrolled movements are their way of reaching out and seeking connection.
- Find ways to help your baby feel physically and emotionally safe. Most young babies like to be wrapped and held closely. When they’re unsettled, they like the sensation of being rocked and swayed gently.
- Give yourself permission to love your baby in your own unique say. Love is not the same for all of us; sometimes it’s more subtle and based about what we don’t feel, rather than what we do. What’s important is that you’re caring well for your baby and they’re thriving. Bonding comes in its own good time so trust yourself and your baby to help you.
Bonding with the non-birthing parent
Many non-birthing parents struggle to feel as if they’re really contributing to their baby’s care in the very early days, especially when their baby is breastfeeding. A baby’s physical care is generally around changing nappies, getting them ready for for feeds and settling.
The in-between feed times is when non-birthing parents can really make a difference, as well as being supportive to their partner.
Differences between mothers and fathers
Research has shown that mothers tend to be more educational when they play with their babies and children. Whereas, fathers show more of a playfulness and just enjoying the game, whatever it may be.
In the early weeks of life, before babies are old enough to smile and respond too much, it can be particularly hard for fathers to feel their baby is connected to them. But very quickly, at around six weeks of age, babies learn social skills such as smiling, eye contact and engaging. It’s not surprising that this is the time when many fathers say they really start to feel their baby is getting to know them and starts responding to their presence.
Go gently and be kind to yourself. And try not to compare the love you have for your newborn with your older children who you’ve known for much longer.
If you’re still struggling to bond with your baby
- Speak with your GP and/or maternity care provider. Your Child Health Nurse is another excellent resource person. Any of these health professionals will be able to refer you to support services who specialise in building emotional connection.
- Speak with your partner about how you feel. They know you and may be able to offer you some helpful support.
- Be open to advice on strategies which can help build emotional connection. Early intervention is always valuable, even if, at first, it may not seem to be particularly relevant for us.
About the Author:
Written for Nourish Baby by Jane Barry. Jane has qualifications in general, paediatric, immunisation, midwifery and child health nursing. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Applied Science (Nursing) and has almost 35 years specialist experience in child health nursing. She is a member of a number of professionally affiliated organisations including AHPRA, The Australasian Medical Writer’s Association and Australian College of Children and Young People’s Nurses.
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