Bonding is an intense emotional tie between the parent and baby that often begins during pregnancy and continues after birth. Nevertheless, after all the excitement and anticipation, when the baby finally arrives, some parents find it difficult to form an attachment with their baby.
In the past, researchers thought that time spent with the newborn was sure to seal the bond between them. However, there is no evidence to suggest that bonding begins at birth. We now know that parent-baby bonding is extremely complicated and that there are many reasons why relationships take time to grow and develop.
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula that makes parents feel overwhelming love and affection for their baby. The trauma of birth, ill health, lack of support, sleeplessness, depression and other difficulties may affect the bonding process.
The following strategies can help parents to feel closer to their baby:
- Massage is one sensory delight that can strengthen the bond because it provides an opportunity for parents to express their love. Babies usually feel very relaxed afterwards and sleep better.
- Skin to skin contact has significant benefits on parent-baby relationship building. It reduces the baby's stress levels, builds up resistance to infection and gets breastfeeding off to a good start. Skin to skin contact also facilitates the bond between father and baby.
- Looking into the baby’s eyes is a fantastic way to get to know and understand them and a vital means of communication. Parents are usually delighted when the baby makes eye contact with them, which in turn strengthens the two-way relationship.
- Some experts advocate carrying the baby in a sling. The theory of Attachment Bonding argues that babies are less likely to cry if they are continuously carried. Being close to the parent creates an intimate and secure environment for the baby and promotes deep bonding between them.
- Early communication is extremely important. Establishing a dialogue between the parent and baby brings them closer together.
- Babies love music and movement being held close. Dancing also helps parents feel much closer to their baby.
- Singing is a musical way of speaking and babies just love it. Songs and rhymes do more than entertain; they enhance the parent-baby bond, they improve socialisation skills and they introduce babies to speech patterns.
- Cuddling up and reading a book is a wonderful experience for a baby, no matter how young they are. For parents who find it hard to talk to their baby, reading aloud may be one way of making conversation.
- Parents recognise the unique smell of their own baby, and the baby is similarly attracted to maternal and paternal odours such as the smell of breast milk, perfume and after shave. Familiar smells on a blanket or inanimate object can provide psychological comfort to a baby during periods of transition (e.g. leaving home for nursery, hospitalisation). Even adults have been known to be comforted by their baby’s smell on a favourite bear or doll.
- Research shows that bouncing and rocking games that encourage parents to interact with the baby in a fun way activate maternal and paternal hormones that enable them to connect more deeply with the baby. However, the quality of interaction between the parent and the baby is the real benefit.
I think I have post natal depression, what do I do now?
Having a baby is a life-changing experience, and for many parents, the transition to parenthood is not easy. Many women find themselves without the support network of relatives, friends, and family and with little or no experience in the practice of baby care. Some of these women may be recovering from premature birth, difficult delivery or caesarean section, which is major abdominal surgery. New research has shown that between two and five percent of women develop post-traumatic stress disorder because of incomplete recovery. The condition can have a detrimental effect on early bonding and attachment. However, many women think that asking for help is a sign of failure; others do not realise that they need it.
New dads thrown in at the deep end may also find the sense of responsibility overwhelming and need support if they are to function effectively as parents. Bonding can also be delayed if the baby has significant health issues or special needs. Other problems such as sleeplessness, loneliness and depression are shared by many parents and it can be a great relief for them to talk to a sympathetic and uncritical listener.
The following supportive networks and parent and baby groups such as Baby Sensory encourage parents to meet others in a similar position to themselves and so find support. The Primary Care Trust and the National Childbirth Trust can also help parents who feel overwhelmed or depressed after the birth of their baby and through all the different stages of parenthood. Parents can also talk things over with their GP or health visitor.
For advice and support on postnatal depression, bonding issues and all aspects of parenting, parents may find the following websites helpful:
CRY-SIS www.cry-sis.org.uk - support for families with excessively crying, sleepless and demanding babies.
Fathers Direct www.fathersdirect.com -information aimed specifically at fathers on all aspects of parenting.
National Childbirth Trust www.nct.org.uk - information and advice on all aspects of pregnancy, breastfeeding and early parenthood.
Parentline Plus www.parentlineplus.org.uk - advice and information for parents and carers.
Working Families www.workingfamilies.org.uk - information and advice on parental leave and childcare.