Bonding with your baby
In 2009, after leaving my Peace Corps position in China and moving to D.C., I was a little in shock. Searching for a job became my job. I finally found a job as a nanny to an adopted 4 week-old baby boy. In China, I took weekly visits to an orphanage for special needs children out in the countryside. I felt at home taking care of this little baby boy. One of my favorite things to do with baby Patrick was take him for long walks in the baby carrier. Once, out on a walk during a beautiful spring day, a woman stopped her car after seeing me waiting at a crosswalk carrying baby Patrick. She rolled down the window and said to me, “I remember those days. Hold on tight!” I decided not to break her bubble, and tell her that he isn’t my baby. She saw the look in my eyes as a cuddled this newborn on my chest. From that moment on, I couldn’t wait to babywear my own baby. When Nico, my first child, was born, I immediately bought a ring sling. I watched tons of Youtube videos to learn how to use it properly, and then I never put him down! I wore him on my chest for 3 months. We went on long walks. We visited people’s homes, and went to parties, and that baby rarely left my chest. Physical touch was essential for my bonding to Nico. My husband also took to this. He wore Nico on his chest while hiking, or taking walks. He enjoyed keeping physically connected to him just like me. As Nico grew older, he became a very affectionate kid. I like to say it’s because of all my babywearing.
Bonding can be difficult
Bonding with your baby in utero can be much harder than when you are actually holding a little soft skinned body. However, it’s common for new moms to feel distant from their newborn baby. Bonding can take some time –especially depending on how the birth went. Early breastfeeding problems can also get in the way of bonding. Each mom has their own way they connect, and struggle to connect with their baby. Not everyone will fall in love immediately with her baby. And this might be strange to hear. This is one side of motherhood that is often kept secret. One in four moms struggle with some form of perinatal mood disorder. Many factors can contribute to this, but a large factor is if you have a history of depression. Each mom has their own way they connect, and struggle at times to connect with their baby.
There are ways to cultivate a connection with your baby during pregnancy that are the same postpartum. Reading to your baby is a great tool. Your baby can start to hear by week 16, and physically respond to sounds by week 28. It’s evident that babies heart rate increases when they hear their mom’s voice. It makes sense that reading or speaking to your baby can be bonding for both of you. Your baby knows your partners voice too. Babies are smart. They can pick out the difference in multiple voices around you. Have your partner read to both of you for in-utero family bonding!
Similarly, since babies develop hearing from such an early age, listening to music together can be a nice way to connect. There are plenty of stories about newborn babies being soothed by hearing a song often played during pregnancy. Music can be healing for both of you. The music I played during my labor is the same music I listened to all during pregnancy. Now I sing to my children at bedtime those same songs… and sometimes they tell me to stop singing!
Using water therapy during your labor is a great tool for relaxation. Your body and nerves naturally relax with you step into a warm shower or bath. Babies also calm down with warm water. In our family, we found water to be a binding element that was essential for both our children’s births as well as the bonding processing. Luna was born in the water, and Nico was labored in the water. After Nico’s first bath was a total crying disaster, we decided to continue skin-to-skin bonding by bathing with him in the bath. My mom –the early childhood expert- suggested we get Nico in the bath if he ever wasn’t consoled from nursing or being held. This really helped during those few times I wasn’t sure what else to do.
In the US, infant massage has been popular for at least the last 5+ years. However, this nourishing practiced borrowed from India, where daily oil massage has been part of normal hygiene for the last 5,000 years. Babies’ skin naturally go through a drying phase after birth. You’ll see parts of the top layer of skin peel off after a week or so. Daily oil massage keeps the skin soft while calming the nerves and creating better sleep. Who wouldn’t want to do this for their babies or even themselves? Daily oil massage is key for keeping up the immune system while staying connected to your child’s body. I found after bathing to be a great time to oil massage my babies. We connect, and they relax in a deep way.
These are some ideas to get you started on bonding with your baby. However, being open to learning how to connect in your own way is the most important. Be gentle with yourself. No matter where you are in your motherhood process, remember that this is your own path. You won't feel deeply connected to your child all the time, and it might take you a while to feel something at all. This is all normal parts of transformation. However, if you feel things are just not right, and you need some extra help, that is ok too. The sooner you get help, the better for you and the baby. Bonding is an essential process, but no one can dictate how it happens. Give yourself time, space, patience -and try a few of my ideas. I'm here for you, dear Mommas.