The parent-child bond grows through everyday caregiving. Your baby may be cute and cuddly, but he's also an entirely new person you have to get to know. There's no magic formula, but a few things can help the process along.
- Have plenty of skin-to-skin cuddle time. Human touch is soothing for both you and your baby, so hold him often and stroke him gently.
- Breastfeed your baby. Breastfeeding releases hormones in your body that promote relaxation as well as feelings of attachment and love.
- Communicate throughout the day. Look into your baby's eyes while you talk and sing to him. Narrate what you're doing, thinking, and feeling.
- Play with him every day.
- Carry your baby in a sling or front carrier. Feeling your baby's warmth, smelling his sweet scent, and looking down often to make eye contact with him can help you bond.
- Spend plenty of close-up face time with your baby. Smile at him, and return the smile when he smiles first. Before long, you'll be having a kind of conversation with him – when you smile, he smiles. And when you coo, he'll coo back.
- Read to him every day. Cuddle up together with a colorful book.
- If your baby has to spend some time in intensive care and is hooked up to wires and monitors, ask the hospital staff to help you touch and hold your baby safely.
Is it unusual to have a hard time bonding with my baby?
No, it's not unusual to find bonding a challenge. Becoming a parent overnight is a major, overwhelming life change, and it's natural to feel a lot of complex emotions.
When should I be concerned?
Many new parents start to feel closer to their baby over time. If, after a couple of weeks, you find that you don't feel more attached to your baby than you did the first day, tell your baby's doctor and let your own healthcare provider know.
Some new mothers have trouble bonding with their baby because they're struggling with postpartum depression (PPD). This is a common condition that occurs in at least 10 percent of births and can lead to serious problems if left untreated. Call your provider if you experience five or more of the following symptoms almost every day, for most of the day, for at least two straight weeks:
- Extreme sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Constant crying
- Loss of interest or lack of enjoyment in your usual activities and hobbies
- Trouble falling sleep at night, or trouble staying awake during the day
- Loss of appetite or eating too much
- Unintentional weight gain or loss
- Overwhelming feelings of worthlessness or overpowering guilt
- Restlessness or sluggishness
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Feeling that life isn't worth living
- Other possible signs of PPD include being irritable or angry, lacking interest in your baby, avoiding your friends and family, constantly doubting your ability to care for your baby, and worrying excessively about your baby.
If you're worried that you might have PPD, there's no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed about seeking help and treatment – it's the best move you can make for both you and your baby. If your provider thinks you may have PPD, she'll refer you to a therapist or psychiatrist for treatment, which could include medication.