by Chris Thomas, KinderCare Education team
As parents, we want the best for our children. In the first months of a baby’s life, that means developing a secure and healthy bond, which is a level of trust and attachment that will allow him or her to mature into a fully functioning, independent child. The Beatles once said, “All you need is love.” Parenting an infant, however, is a little more complicated. Apart from loving your child unconditionally, here are five methods to help foster and strengthen the bond between you and your baby.
Pay attention to your baby’s cues. Cries might sound indistinguishable at first, but listen closely and you’ll recognize a pattern. Babies will often make distinct sounds when a basic need should be met, such as hunger, sleep, boredom, or diaper changes. Understanding the different cues will allow you to respond to your child’s needs quickly and consistently, which helps build attachment and trust.
Have as much physical and verbal contact with your baby as possible. Cuddle time with baby is sweet and fulfilling in itself, but there’s more going on under the surface. From babywearing (carrying a baby close to the body in a sling or other form of carrier) to simple stimulative play, physical contact allows baby to know and recognize parents’ smells, touches, and sounds. Skin-to-skin contact or kangaroo care (holding your diapered baby against your bare chest), for example, can be highly beneficial in that it can do the following:
- Regulate your child’s body temperature, breathing, and heart rate
- Calm your child, which may lead to less crying, more alertness, and improved sleep
- Increase mother’s breast-milk production, which can improve success in breastfeeding
Verbal contact—whether reading, singing, or simply talking to your baby—not only helps both parents develop a personal connection to baby but stimulates and strengthens the child’s language development, especially if continued throughout childhood.
Use feedings to connect with your child. These are times to talk lovingly to your baby, touch your baby gently, and gaze into your baby’s eyes (which provides an emotional connection that both the child and parent can feel). This can be achieved by both parents, too. A spouse can participate by bottle-feeding breast milk or formula to baby, or by simply being present during feedings to connect with baby as a family.
Develop healthy sleeping habits with baby. Nighttime will be an adjustment period, but healthy amounts of sleep are highly important for parents and baby—attention and restfulness can aid in developing bonds during wakeful periods. When establishing sleeping arrangements, do what makes your family comfortable. Some parents prefer their babies to sleep in their own rooms with baby monitors, in order to acclimate more quickly to independent sleeping. The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, recommends sleeping close to your baby but not on the same surface. Placing baby’s crib, bassinet, or bedside sleeper directly next to your bed can provide easy access for both parents to tend to baby’s needs throughout the night, and can encourage breastfeeding and increase the bond through touch.
Take care of yourself and your relationships. It’s important to reach out to your support system when child-rearing gets tough. Taking time for yourself and your spouse, even a quick breather or walk together, can make you that much more focused on caring for your child and developing the bond between you.
If there’s one thing new parents should remember, it’s this: All babies are different. Advice and influence will pour in once baby enters the world, but what worked for one family may not work for yours. Take the time before, during, and after baby’s arrival to research parenting styles, and use methods that work for your family and your baby’s unique personality.
The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two by William Sears, MD, Martha Sears, RN, Robert Sears, MD, and James Sears, MD
The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karpp, MD
On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep by Gary Ezzo, MA, and Robert Bucknam, MD