Q: Where was the rush of love?
A: It is a common misconception that bonding always happens with an outpouring of emotion and joy as soon as your baby arrives. While many parents do have strong feelings for their baby at birth, it’s just as normal for this to be a gradual process. If the attachment between you wasn’t immediate, you may feel disappointed and even cheated—especially if circumstances such as exhaustion from a difficult labor or emergency treatment got in the way of your first moments. Like many parents you may find that your bond grows as you spend time with your baby, gain confidence as a parent, and get to know your newborn.

However, if you feel like you’re going through the motions and not getting closer to your baby, try some ideas that are known to build closeness between parent and child. Skin-to-skin contact, baby massage, and quality time looking, talking, and touching your child can all help build up your relationship. Feelings of depression can also make you question your bond. If this is the case, seek help from a health professional, your family and friends, or a therapist as soon as possible.

Q: My son was premature and is in an incubator. Will I miss out on the most important bonding time?
A: You haven’t missed the boat to bond with your son—throughout his first year he’ll be particularly tuned in and ready for the attachment to grow between you. Don’t wait though; even while he’s in the hospital neonatal unit there is plenty you can do to get close. Your touch will matter to him even if you can’t hold him. Stroke, pat, or simply place your hand against his skin as much as you’re allowed. Keep talking and singing; the sound of your voice will soothe and reassure him. You may have less time with your baby than you would like, so leave a recording of your voice so he can hear you even when you’re not around. Do get involved in his routine—feeding him and changing diapers are part of his daily care, and helping out will prepare you for taking him home.

If you are daunted by the busy medical environment or the equipment being used, ask the nurses to explain it all to you. They can also advise you on how to touch and care for your newborn without disturbing any tubes or devices being used.

Q: I’ve heard of something called “kangaroo care” for babies. What is it and how does it help?
A: Skin-to-skin contact between mother and newborn, also known as “kangaroo care,” means placing your baby on your chest or tummy, with skin touching, just after her birth or within 24 hours. It works best when you are feeling relaxed and hold your newborn lightly but confidently as she lies against you. Cover her back with a blanket to keep her warm. The timing of this care in the first few hours makes a positive difference to your relationship with your baby. You’ll find it easier to bond, she will cry less, and it is known to make breastfeeding easier. There is no time limit for skin-to-skin contact; you and your partner can continue in the weeks to come as one of the many ways the three of you can become close.
Q: My baby arches away from me and is much less affectionate than I expected. Is something wrong?
A: Most babies love physical affection, but they can have preferences as to how they are held and touched. Try different positions—when he’s alert and wants to look around, use a front baby sling so you can hold him close while he faces away from you to watch the world go by. Check your timing too; if he’s awake and ready to play, a close cuddle with you won’t be his first choice, so give him some time under his baby gym or playing with toys, then try again when his need to be busy has been satisfied.

It’s also possible that he is reacting to a lack of confidence in the way you hold him. He’ll feel safe and secure when you support his head and body well with your hands, lift him slowly without quick or jerky movements, and hold him against your body for a cuddle. If he’s resisting your touch in general, try to build up his tolerance by starting small, holding his hands or feet, for instance. Once he’s used to that, increase the contact to other parts of his body. This is worth addressing now, as his ability to give and receive affection throughout life can be shaped by these early experiences.

Q: Will giving my baby a pacifier make it easier to comfort him when I leave him to go back to work?
A: Not all babies need or want a pacifier, whether you are returning to work or not. Some infants become very attached to a pacifier, depending on it to fall asleep or calm themselves when they’re upset. Others will prefer to suck their thumb, hold a favorite blanket, chew on a soft toy, or stroke or pull at their own hair as a way to self-soothe. Before you offer the pacifier, check to see if your baby has other ways to comfort himself. If you do offer your baby a pacifier, bear in mind that speech and language therapists recommend you get rid of it when he’s between eight and twelve months old. It’s possible that continued use past the age of one can have a negative effect on speech development by restricting and changing the pattern of tongue movements and altering teeth positioning. Pacifiers are not recommended if you are breastfeeding, since they can cause confusion when your baby is learning to suck and reduce the time he wants to nurse.

In deciding whether or not to give your baby a pacifier, you may also want to take into consideration a small but carefully conducted study from 2005 that found that using a pacifier at night reduced infants’ risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). While pacifier use did not automatically guarantee less risk, it was found to be strongly associated with a reduced chance of SIDS.

Q: I come home tired from work every day. How can I have more energy for my partner and son?
A: Moving your focus from the work to the home environment can be hard, especially when there’s a new baby to take into consideration. On the commute home, try to put work thoughts aside and begin to imagine your partner and your baby and what they’ve been doing while you were away. This means you are tuning into them in advance. Do expect to be pounced upon as you arrive home with tales of the day from your partner and an urgent need for hugs and cuddles from your baby. Remember staying home alone with a baby all day is equally, if not more, exhausting than a day at work.

The more quickly you give your attention, the more successful will be your homecoming. Young babies cannot wait while you go get a drink of water or relax; their need is immediate. Give yourself over and you may find your tiredness makes way for pleasure as you enjoy the new relationship. Make sure you choose low-key, quiet activities with him to promote the calm that is needed before bedtime. Avoid rough-and-tumble and tickling games, since they may cause your baby to become over-excited, and he’ll find it more difficult to sleep. You won’t be too popular with your partner, either, if your baby’s well-planned bedtime routine is spoiled.

Q: Is a forward- or backward-facing stroller preferable?
A: It is common for babies to spend between 30 minutes and two hours every day in their strollers. For most children, that time is spent facing away from their caregivers. While this gives a baby a great view of his surroundings, it does limit your ability to interact with him, comment on what he is seeing, and monitor his face and body language to see if he is tired, entertained, or overstimulated. New research emerging directly links backward-facing strollers with improved communication skills. Speech and language experts recommend them, since they allow you and your child to make eye contact and speak and listen to each other while you’re on the move.

It’s up to you to decide on which stroller is best. Whether your baby is forward or backward facing, it’s your conversation with him as you travel that makes each journey a learning and bonding experience for you both.

Mirroring your child’s emotions

In her first year your infant will experience her feelings mainly as physical reactions in her body. You’ll probably notice that when she is angry she’ll look red and hot, with her face screwed up, and her hands balled closed, and she’ll be waving both her arms and legs at you in frantic gestures. Your baby can easily be overwhelmed by all the physical sensations that swoop through her body when she has strong emotions such as frustration, love, dislike, and fear. It’s up to you to show her that you accept her feelings, that they don’t scare or overwhelm you, and that she doesn’t need to feel afraid of them. You may be doing this instinctively when you mirror her emotions.

According to attachment experts, mirroring involves reflecting your child’s emotions, but in a milder, less intense version. As you look at her you may also slightly tilt your head to the side, which denotes understanding. Holding her while a feeling grips her can reassure her that she is safe. Help her put a name to her feelings by talking about what is going on. For example, when you say “You look angry” or “Is that a sad face?” you are helping her to label her emotions. You can mirror your child’s emotions from birth and your steady reaction will give her confidence that feelings need not overpower her.

Too many visitors Feeling overwhelmed

After my baby was born I felt like an exhibit at the zoo, with well-meaning family and friends visiting in droves. My husband and I had hardly any time alone with our baby to get to know each other and start our new lives as a family of three. In the end we drew the line and gently but firmly asked people to visit during one hour a day while we got our routine figured out. Our parents were a bit disappointed but respected what we’d asked, and now, when they do come over, we’re glad to have them because we get time on our own as well.


Your newborn is ready for the most important relationship of her life, the one she shares with you

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