8 Tips to Help You Bond with Your Baby

The first few weeks with my newborn baby were about as typical as it can get.  We worked hard to get her to eat and regain her birth weight, we woke up every three hours to feed her, and we enlisted the help of family members.  As common as these experiences are to most new mothers, I probably shared another experience with them: having a difficult time bonding with my baby.

After nine months of carrying my daughter inside me and feeling her kick, her birth was surprisingly anticlimactic.  I looked at her with mixed emotions.  I was overjoyed that she appeared healthy, but I wasn’t sure what to do with her.  What followed the next few weeks didn’t help me to bond with her.

How Bonding Became Hard

As long as my husband, parents, or other family members were around, they “helpfully” looked after the baby so I could rest.  They only brought her to me to nurse, which was a struggle in those early days.  In other words, they would hold my daughter in their arms and coo at her, their faces lighting up with joy.  I would take my daughter in my arms for business purposes only, and she would scream and fuss and writhe away.  They were bonding with her.  I wasn’t.

Over time, as I took on more responsibility, I started to accept my role as mother and caretaker.  But I still didn’t feel like I was bonding with my daughter.  If anything, it was getting worse.  I realized that every single interaction we had was forced.  As soon as my husband got home from work, I would thrust the baby in his arms.  All weekend long, whether we were at home or out and about, my husband took over childcare duties.  I never held my daughter when I didn’t have to.

The moment I realized I was having trouble bonding with my daughter, I reached over and took her out of my husband’s arms.  It was finally my turn to hold her because I wanted to.  As time went on, my connection to my daughter grew.  I can honestly say we have a strong bond and that I enjoy the time I spend with her.

A Common Struggle to Bond

It can be so hard for new moms to bond with or enjoy their new babies.  With all the daily demands, we get into a checklist routine without spending much time being present with our babies.  Our new baby is a completely new experience for us, one that we don’t understand.  We don’t get much feedback, either, other than crying.  How can you bond with someone who is not responsive to you?  Sometimes we are overwhelmed with the stress of caring for our baby and can’t process a love connection.

We know in our brains that we love our babies – we want what’s best for them, after all – but we don’t feel in our hearts that connection.  Here are some ways I learned to help create a strong bond with your baby:

1 – Take the Baby When You Don’t Have To

Just like I realized that I never held the baby unless I had to, a lot of new moms may be experiencing the same phenomenon, especially if they stay at home.  Taking the baby of your own initiative accomplishes several things:

  • It readjusts your attitude toward your child – he is not a “job” or a “project” – he’s a person.
  • You get to experience the best of your baby – you aren’t just feeding him or changing his diaper, you are engaging in hands on contact during those quiet moments or during play.
  • It allows you to “fake it till you make it” – you are telling yourself that you want to hold your baby, and so you begin to feel that way.
  • Others will see the two of you as bonded – holding the baby when you don’t have to can send a territorial message to those in your community, “This is my baby and I love him.” This doesn’t mean you can’t let others hold your baby or accept their help.  By holding your baby, though, you are accepting your role as mother and all the qualities that go with it.

2 – Find Out What You Know

If you are the primary caretaker for your baby, you know a lot about her.  Some days it may feel like you are just getting by or that all she does is cry.  However, you two are learning a lot about each other each day.  Take a few minutes to think about what you know about your baby.  Try to think of something you know about her that nobody else knows.  What would you tell a babysitter about her?  How does she like to be held?  What does she like to look at?  What are her bowel movements like?  Yes, even little things like diaper habits can make you feel like an expert about your child.  As you discover what you know about her, you will realize you are uncovering her personality.  This is a huge step toward bonding with your baby.  In addition, it helps your self-esteem as a new mother to know you know your baby like no one else, and it gives you energy to keep going.

3 – Do What Your Baby Really Loves

Building on what you know about your baby, figure out what makes her happy.  For my daughter, that was being walked around the house in circles.  Later on, it was glass cups, and now it’s hats.  Making an effort to do what your baby really loves will help you bond because you’ll be sharing fun times together.  As a busy mom, you spend a lot of time doing what needs to be done: caring for the baby and making sure she survives in general.  You do tummy time for her physical development.  You sit nearby when your baby starts to sit up, just to make sure you are there to catch her.  You spoon feed her.  Although love is your motivation in doing these tasks, the truth is any caretaker could do them just as well.  What makes you a family is experiencing life together.  If you do what your baby really loves, she will reward you with smiles and laughter, and that will melt the hardest of hearts.

4 – Get Out

One of the best ways to bond with your baby is just to get out.  Does that sound counterintuitive?  There are many good reasons getting away from your baby will actually make you closer.

  • You won’t be gone long before you miss your baby. Even if you don’t feel like you have started to bond yet, you will be surprised how quickly your thoughts turn to your baby once you are separated.  Even if the separation is due to the baby sleeping, you will miss her.  It seemed every night when I put my daughter to bed I immediately wanted to see her again.  Especially on days when I didn’t feel things had gone well, I wanted to spend time with her.
  • You will share your insights with your sitter. If you have been paying attention to what you know about your baby and what he loves, then you will enjoy telling these things to your sitter.  As you prepare to leave your baby with another person, you will find yourself spewing forth caretaking advice of encyclopedic proportions.  Even if you’re nervous to leave your baby with someone else, just knowing that you know so much about your baby will give you a sense of peace.
  • You will get recharged. Maybe it’s hard to bond with your baby because you are over tired.  Perhaps you are just too stressed to give yourself emotionally to your baby.  Go out, get recharged.  When you come back, you will be in a better place.
  • You will share your baby with someone else. Every weekend when my husband takes over childcare for me, I follow him around the house.  Suddenly taking care of our daughter looks like the most fun thing in the world.  Sharing your baby with others and seeing her through their eyes helps you realize how much you care for her.  You are proud of your baby.  You enjoy your baby, and you want others to as well.

5 – Put down the smart phone

One of the best ways to bond with your baby is to simply be present with him.  Sit down with him while he plays and observe him.  Even if you don’t “get” kids, you will soon find yourself involved you baby’s play.  Hold him and sing to him.  Whatever you do with your baby, do it with him.  If you hold on to technology, you will never feel rested.  Everything your baby does will feel like an interruption.  I don’t have to spout research on the impact of smart phones on babies – I know from experience.  If you are connecting with your phone, you are not connecting with your baby.

6 – See the world through your baby’s eyes

Get on your baby’s level and see what she is looking at.  This is especially effective with newborns.  Lay on your back and look up at the ceiling fan with them.  Watch the movements of the dog as it walks by.  Try to think about what the world is like from your baby’s perspective.  It will help you understand her, and it will help you to bond.

Photo courtesy of Modern Hello Photography in Wichita, KS

7 – Breastfeed (or Bottle Feed)

Be the person your baby associates with comfort.  Your baby may not be mobile now, but he will soon be able to show his preference for caretakers through his actions.  You want to be that caretaker your baby prefers.  Maybe you feel like you are running on auto pilot throughout the day with your baby: feed the baby, burp the baby, change the diaper, rock the baby to sleep.  In each of these actions you are establishing yourself as the caretaker – the one who nurtures your baby.  You are the one he goes to for food.  You are the one who changes his pants.  You are the last thing he sees before he falls asleep.  In these seemingly little things, your baby will learn to respect and love you, and you will feel your love grow in return.

8 – Some Things Just Take Time

On average, most mothers don’t feel like they truly bond with their child until their baby is six months old.  Interestingly enough, this is about the age where your baby will start to become more interactive and self-sufficient.  Sometimes we can try everything to bond with our baby, but we just don’t internalize our love until our baby interacts with us.  In the meantime, everything you do to keep your baby both healthy and happy is an act of love.  Remember, just because you don’t feel like you are bonding with your baby doesn’t mean you don’t love her!  You are in a temporary phase of life where your love is an act.  Give it time, and it will bloom into a strong, well bonded relationship.

Are you an adoptive or foster parent?  I have been there, too.  These tips will work for you as well, but you will have additional challenges besides dirty diapers and colic to face.  Keep trying, and you will eventually feel inside what you are acting out on a daily basis.

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