What is bonding?
When experts talk about bonding, they’re referring to the intense attachment you develop with your baby. It’s the feeling that makes you want to shower him with love and affection, or throw yourself in front of a speeding truck to protect him.
What if I don’t bond right away?
Don’t worry. Bonding often takes time. As long as you take care of your baby’s basic needs and cuddle her regularly, she won’t suffer if you don’t feel a strong bond at first sight.
Some dads feel bonded to their baby within the first few minutes or days of birth, but it may take a little longer – that’s perfectly normal. After all, a brand-new little human has just landed in your lap! You also may be helping your partner recover from birth, and you probably haven’t slept for more than a couple hours at a time. Take it easy on yourself, and know that the bond will develop before long.
In the past, researchers thought it was crucial to spend a lot of time with your newborn during her first few days to establish a bond right away. But now we know that bonding can take place over time. Parents who are separated from their baby soon after delivery for medical reasons or who adopt their kids later in childhood also develop close, loving relationships.
“There’s so much discussion about bonding with a new baby that parents often feel guilty if they don’t feel some incredible attachment to their new baby immediately,” says Edward Christophersen, a pediatric psychologist in Kansas City, Missouri. “But bonding is truly an individual experience, and it’s just as reasonable to expect the bond to develop over a period of time as it is for it to develop instantaneously.”
What are the best ways to bond?
The parent-child bond strengthens over time through everyday caregiving. There’s no magic formula, but a few things can help the process along.
Have skin-to-skin cuddle time. Human touch is soothing for both you and your baby, so hold him often and stroke him gently.
Play with him every day. Newborns can enjoy playtime as much as older babies. Your style of play may be different than your partner’s, and that’s okay. Your baby will love playing with both of you.
Carry your baby in a sling or front carrier on walks or as you go about your daily routine.
Read to your baby regularly. Hold him close as you read.
Mirror his movements and echo his coos and other vocalizations. These are the first steps to communicating with him.
Talk to your baby throughout the day. At first it may seem like you’re talking to yourself, but it will start to feel more natural if you keep it up.
Just because your partner is breastfeeding doesn’t mean you’re out of the parenting loop – caring for your baby is a team effort. Once the baby is fed, you can take over by burping her, singing to her, playing with her, or just holding her. One BabyCenter mom says, “One of the things we do is have her daddy wear the baby after [she] is fed. She needs to stay upright after feeding, so this lets her settle and get that close time.”
If your partner is pumping her breast milk, you can also take over some of your baby’s feedings. That way you and your baby have some extra bonding time, and your partner can get some rest. Those quiet middle of the night feedings when just you and your baby are awake can be truly special.
Let your healthcare provider know if you continue to feel distant from your baby, and if efforts to encourage your feelings of attachment don’t seem to be working. It’s possible that a mood disorder could be interfering with your ability to bond. Experts have recently begun to recognize that postpartum depression – a condition usually associated with new moms – can affect dads, too.