Love at first site is a beautiful notion, but it's not always a reality for parents and their newborns. While a strong attachment, called bonding, develops naturally between most babies and parents, it is often not instantaneous.
Typically, moms and dads begin to bond with their infant within a few days or weeks of the birth. A bond may form quicker between mother and child, because the mom tends to be the one breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, changing diapers, and spending more time with the baby.
Of course, this is not always the case. Even mothers who are the primary caregiver still may not bond immediately to an infant. And some fathers bond very quickly with their babies. Also, parents of more than one child may not bond as quickly with one baby as they did with another.
If this happens, don't panic or feel guilty. How quickly you bond may depend on a number of factors, such as an extended hospital stay for you or your infant, fluctuations in your hormones and emotions, lack of adequate sleep, the amount of alone time spent with the infant, and personalities. Bonding with your baby will happen on your baby's and your timetable.
It's important to note that a certain level of bonding between baby and parents occurs even before the baby is born. Even if the parents don't feel it strongly, the baby experiences it. She or he grows used to hearing the voices of mom, dad and other family members while still in utero.
I saw evidence of this towards the end of my pregnancy with my older child. I was about 34 weeks pregnant and was having a final ultrasound. The technician was showing us close-up shots of his face. My husband spoke and the baby quickly turned her head in the direction of his voice. Amused by his response, my husband moved the opposite side and spoke again. Once more, he turned toward her daddy. The bond between father and son was already being formed.
To learn how to bond with your baby, it's helpful to first understand how babies bond with their parents, family members and caregivers.
How your baby bonds with you
Infants respond to and are soothed by skin-to-skin contact with others.
Eye contact is good way of communication between the baby and others, but it must be at close range when the baby is young. Infants can only see about 8 to 15 inches away.
Babies respond to human voices and enjoy hearing people talk. They also try to use their own voices and communicate by making sounds at an early age.
Babies also bond by trying to imitate facial expressions and hand movements of the people around them.
Ways you can bond with your baby
Have skin-to-skin or close contact with your infant
The baby can smell your scent, feel your warmth and hear your heartbeat.
While the skin-to-skin contact happens naturally for babies and mothers who breastfeed, it is also possible for fathers and for mothers who don't breastfeed their babies.
Hold the baby against your bare skin when feeding or cuddling him or her. One of my favorite ways to keep my babies close and increase the bond with them was to carry them in a sling or front baby carrier.
Interact with your infant at close range
Whenever possible, stay within 8 to 15 inches from your baby's face when you're playing, talking or interacting with him or her.
Not only does this help build the bond through eye contact, it also helps your baby clearly see your gestures and facial expressions.
Talk and sing to your baby
Your infant loves to hear your voice, because he or she is already familiar with it.
Your baby was listening to it even before birth. Don't worry if you have no idea what to say or don't know the words to many lullabies. Your baby won't even care what words you speak or sing, as long as it's done in a happy, soothing tone.
Spend one-on-one time with your baby
Devote time to simply play with, snuggle or rock your baby when no one else is around to distract your attention from each other.
This is when some of the best bonding time between parent and baby happens.
Remember, there is no exact science to bonding with your baby, nor will it happen at a precise time. However, if more than a few weeks have passed since your baby was born and you haven't yet felt an inkling of closeness to your baby, it is suggested that you speak with your doctor. You may be experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression.