At a glance
- It’s completely normal to take a few days, a few weeks or several months to feel that special bond
- Bonding can still take a while. But bear with it, don’t feel pressured, and it will come
When you were pregnant, you probably imagined the moment you’d hold your beautiful new baby for the first time – how your body would be flooded by love, how you’d feel an instant desire to protect them, how you’d both be surrounded by heavenly choirs of angels blowing trumpets. Well, maybe not the trumpets.
Most of us imagine that magical moment of pure ‘bonding’ with our new baby, and while some mums do feel that right from day one, there are plenty who don’t and let's not forget partners, it's just as important for them to bond with baby too.
How long should the bonding process take?
It’s completely normal to take a few days, a few weeks or several months to feel that special bond. There may never be one ‘wham bam’ moment, just a gradual growing of love. So it’s important not to feel under pressure to bond or feel a failure as a mum if you haven’t bonded.
There are a few reasons you might not bond straight away: if you've had a long labour and/or a difficult and traumatic birth, if you’re exhausted, if your baby has a health problem or has to be looked after in special care. Or if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your new responsibilities and wondering if you’ll ever manage to get a nappy on the right way round.
Even if you don’t tick any of those boxes, bonding can still take a while. But bear with it, don’t feel pressured, and it will come.
What are the best ways to bond?
In the meantime, here are some tips that new parents find helpful. Share them with your partner too as they can help you both to make those connections that make you feel confident and set you up to be fantastic parents.
Go for skin-to-skin
Holding your baby close, with your skin next to theirs, as soon as you can after the birth can really help with the bonding process. If you can manage to do this within 30 minutes in a calm and relaxed environment, then that’s the ideal. But on a busy ward it’s not always easy, and some mums can’t if they’ve had a Caesarean or their baby is in special care. So if you can’t, don’t panic. Ask your midwife or doctor to let you know when you can.
Chat and smile
No, they won’t understand you, but your baby will already know your voice, and research shows even newborn babies can recognise a smile. So right from the start, stroke their cheek, lean close towards them and smile (at this point they can only see about 30cms in front of them), chat and sing.
Pull faces at your baby
Your baby is still getting to grips with how his body works, so the more interesting, funny, unusual faces you show them, the more he will begin to understand about himself. Your baby will soon begin to recognise regular faces such as happy and sad and may start copying actions such as sticking out his tongue when you do.
Sing to your baby
It doesn't have to be a nursery rhyme and it doesn't have to be in tune! You’re not performing to Simon Cowell here, you are singing to your biggest fan – if you enjoy it, your baby will love it too.
Dance with your baby
If you don’t feel like singing, try dancing round the room while your baby is watching. This can be a great stress reliever as it triggers feel-good hormones in your body. Dancing with your child close to you can be very relaxing if they are upset or tired, while they may love being twirled around, jiggled about and flipped over if they’re in a more playful mood. Moving your baby around has the added benefit of a bit of toning for your arms, anything that helps
Hustle out the visitors
Bonding happens when the atmosphere is calm and relaxed and you’ve got time to focus one-to-one on your baby. If you've got home from the hospital to find your house has been colonised by an endless stream of well-meaning visitors, ask your partner to act as bouncer!
Try baby massage
Lots of mums have found this really helps with bonding. Massage encourages the release of your body’s feel-good hormone oxytocin and can lift your mood. The one-to-one contact with your baby will help you ‘tune in’ to them.
Learning while bonding
Simple games that you can play with your baby will not only be a fun and bonding experience, but will be teaching them things crucial for development. Here’s some you could try…
Playing peek-a-boo treats your baby to loads of lovely eye contact with you which he’ll love. It also helps your baby learn that someone can still exist, even if he can’t see them. They might try covering their own face and when you ask where they’ve gone, they begin to understand the concept even more.
Try playing this kind of game with some of your baby’s toys and give the toys voices. When toy lion goes off to hide, you can help your baby to find him again…and when your baby is hiding, you and lion can have a conversation about where he’s gone. This helps to re-enforcing that you are helpful, kind and, most importantly, devoted to his happiness and wellbeing.
Pretend the toy is talking to your baby, then wait a moment as if your baby has answered, before reacting. This can be good fun for you too as you can make up all kinds of answers for your baby.
Here’s a little role play you could try…
“Hello Tom! (pretending toy lion is speaking) what's your favourite food?
Pause for pretend answer.
No! (mock shock from Lion) I can't believe you like crocodile on toast with melted cheese!”
The giggles you begin to get from this game as your baby starts to learn what is coming next can be a tonic for you as well as him.
When your baby is very young, he will experience more through touch than anything else, so try gently passing different materials over your baby’s tummy or cheek. You can talk about hard and soft, warm and cool, rough and smooth. Your baby may want to grab the items and you can then make a game of taking them back…letting them grab them again…taking them back…and so on.
You can introduce colours, numbers, animal names or just about anything you want to in this way. For young babies, you can offer a piece of greaseproof paper. The scrunching sound it makes fascinates and because it’s greaseproof, if won’t disintegrate in his mouth if chewed, and let’s face it, everything ends up in their mouths.
When should I worry?
Try not to – remember bonding can take six months or more. But if after a few weeks you feel very detached and resentful towards your baby, and it’s interfering with your ability to look after both of you, then you may need some extra support. Talk to your health visitor or GP, who will look out for signs of post-natal depression. Don’t be afraid to get help – PND is perfectly treatable and quite common.
“Bonding with a new baby isn’t always an instant process. The more you touch, hold and get to know your baby, the more your love will gradually grow,” Bounty expert, Consultant Obstetrician Richard Smith
This is how some Bounty mums experienced bonding with their babies:
“My little boy is just over 10 months now, and to be honest it took a good six months to bond. Just enjoy the new things your baby does, as I was worried so much about not bonding that, looking back, I feel I missed out on smiles etc.”
“My baby is now three weeks old and I don’t feel that 'rush of love' people talk about - I had an emergency C-Section after 24 hours of extremely painful induced labour. I am getting there slowly and it’s good to read that not everyone gets the instant reaction.”
“My baby was seven weeks early so I didn’t get to hold him or feed him as he went straight into the incubator. I did worry about bonding, but the more you do his daily care, top and tail washing and change his nappies the more you fall in love and bond.”