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Bonding with baby

Bonding, maternal or paternal bonding, is the feeling of positive thoughts, emotions, and behaviour parents have for their babies.

This special attachment can begin soon after birth for some women, but everyone is different and the bond can take some time to develop.

If you haven't begun bonding with your baby, don't worry, it should happen over time.

Why do parents bond with their baby?

Bonding is an important human instinct that gives babies a sense of security and self-esteem. Bonding also helps parents feel connected to their newest family member. It begins to happen even before the baby is born - when you feel the first little flutters inside you or see your baby kick on the ultrasound screen. Your baby also starts getting to know you in the womb through the sound of your voice and the feel of your touch.

How does parent-baby bonding happen?

Bonding happens in many ways. When you look at your newborn, touch her skin, feed her, and care for her, you're bonding. Rocking your baby to sleep or stroking her back can establish your new relationship and make her feel more comfortable. When you gaze at your newborn, she will look back at you. In mothers who are breast-feeding the baby's cries will stimulate the release of milk.

Why aren't I bonding with my baby?

Although bonding can be immediate for some people, others stare at the tiny, screaming creature they have just brought home from the hospital and wonder, 'Who is this person?' Don't feel guilty if you aren't bonding with your baby straight away. Remember that the process sometimes takes time. As you care for your new baby you may find that your attachment grows. It may not be until the first time your baby gives you a toothless smile that you suddenly realise you have bonded.

Bonding can be more difficult if you had a Caesarean section and couldn't see your baby immediately after the birth. It can also be difficult if your baby was premature and had to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), or if you adopted your baby. It may take longer to bond in these instances, but it should still happen.

Some mothers develop postnatal depression, which prevents them from bonding completely with their baby. The pain and exhaustion from childbirth - especially from a difficult delivery - can also get in the way of the bonding process.

Sometimes a mother or father's situation can affect their relationship with their new baby. Any of the following can interfere with your efforts at bonding:

  • A childhood that lacked a positive parental role model
  • A history of depression or mental illness
  • A past pregnancy loss or loss of a child
  • Lack of a social network
  • Life stresses such as a difficult job or money troubles
  • Marital problems
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