What does bonding with your baby look like?
Every new parent wants to bond with their baby, wants to feel that connection. For some it’s a real worry in pregnancy. How will I feel? What if I don’t love my baby? What if I feel nothing?
When you first see your baby you absolutely might feel that overwhelming rush of love and connection as you gaze at them. Or you might not. You might feel like you are looking at a strange alien creature. You might feel exhausted, in pain or out of it on meds, maybe the overwhelm of seeing your baby born is taking over. Whatever you feel in that moment isn’t the defining moment of your parenting.
For lots of people it takes time for the bond to grow. Not everyone adores a newborn (I know, but it’s true!), for some parents it comes more naturally when their baby interacts – smiles, laughs, shakes a toy or even says ‘Mama’ or ‘Dada’.
You might be doing things in your pregnancy to help with bonding. Maybe you rub your bump or you talk to your baby or play music. Your partner might be doing the same, or maybe all your preparations – building a cot, washing clothes, buying a pram – are part of that bonding process.
Once you get home with your baby and start to settle into life together how do we grow those bonds and attachment?
It might be really simple. If you are the parent breast or chest feeding your baby you probably spend a lot of time holding your baby while you feed, maybe while they nap after a feed, through the night and through the day. The person breastfeeding often does develop an attachment and the baby will attach to them as a place of safety and security because, on a primitive level, they are essential for their survival.
But what about the other parent? If your partner is breast or chest feeding your baby 12 times a day and spends hours trapped under a feeding, sleeping baby how do you find your bond?
It can be a really hard time for partners to figure out their role here. If breast/chest feeding is important to your family then time skin to skin and time at the breast is crucial to make it work and this can lead to the other partner feeling a bit left out.
When I teach on feeding we talk about expressing and the million and one reasons someone might have for expressing. At the top of the list is often for partners to feed and bond with baby. It’s natural to see it that way breast/chest feeding is often seen as being all about bonding. Food is how we nurture, it’s how we show love. People are welcomed into our homes and we want to feed them. Culturally food = love.
So is the partner feeding the baby at huge advantage and should the other partner give some bottles of milk to bond?
Well maybe, but it’s natural for a baby to quickly bond with the parent breast/chest feeding because of erm, survival. Your baby won’t feel safe being far from their source of food. But it isn’t necessarily a disadvantage if your anatomy doesn’t work for feeding a baby.
In those early days and weeks it’s really important for baby to spend lots of time at the breast/chest to establish a milk supply. It’s important to feed on demand to get all the right signals in your body to produce milk as and when it’s needed. Expressing and bottle feeding early on needs to managed with so much care to make sure the feeding journey isn’t derailed.
So what can you do?
In the postnatal period your partner needs you. But needs you in a really practical way. They need food and drinks, snacks and more drinks, encouragement, reassurance, someone putting the washing machine on, someone to listen and someone to bring snacks. I know, I know. You’re excited and exhausted, you just had a baby, you want to do baby stuff not be refilling water bottles and popping out for more cake.
How do we make this work? Where does the bonding come in? Well, for some that support of their partner might be part of the bond. That caring for your partner equals caring for your baby. But equally, that might not make sense for you.
My advice to partners looking for ways to bond is to find your thing. It might be a special song you sing, maybe a little game when you change a nappy, a walk with baby in the sling, bath time (maybe sharing a bath together), skin to skin with you, a massage for baby, maybe you can help with winding or sleepy snuggles.
Whatever it is, you’ll find your own thing for you and your baby and it doesn’t need to involve a bottle if that isn’t what you, your partner and your baby want. And if it takes time, don’t panic. You are still the perfect parent for your baby, you will be caring for them brilliantly and one day you will realise that the bond, the love, is there.