Bonding with your baby

As soon as babies are born, they need and want you to hold, stroke, cuddle, touch, kiss and talk and sing to them. These everyday expressions of love and affection promote bonding and recognition. They also help your baby's brain develop. Just as an infant's body needs food to grow, his or her brain needs positive emotional, physical and intellectual experiences. Relationships with other people early in life have a vital influence on a child's development.

Some parents feel an immediate connection with their newborn, and for others, the bond takes longer to develop. Don't worry or feel guilty if you aren't overcome with a rush of love at the beginning. Not every parent bonds instantly with a new baby. Your feelings will almost certainly become stronger over time.

It also takes time to learn how to interpret your baby's cries and signals and to figure out what he or she likes and needs. Even as a newborn, each baby has a distinct personality. If you have other children, they'll also be learning how to relate to their new sister or brother.

At first most of your baby's time is likely to be spent eating, sleeping and crying. Your warm, loving responses to the baby's needs form the foundation of nurturing and bonding. When babies receive warm, responsive care, they're more likely to feel safe and secure. Routine tasks present an opportunity to bond with your baby. For example, as you feed your baby and change diapers, gaze lovingly into his or her eyes and talk gently to him or her.

Babies also have times when they're quietly alert and ready to learn and play. These times may last only a few moments, but you'll learn to recognize them. Take advantage of your baby's alert times to get acquainted and play.

To bond with and nurture your baby:

• Don't worry about spoiling your newborn. Respond to your child's cues and clues. Among the signals babies send are the sounds they make — which will be mostly crying during the first week or two — the way they move, their facial expressions and the way they make or avoid eye contact. Pay close attention to your baby's need for stimulation as well as quiet times. See "How to tell when your baby needs a break" on page 265.

• Talk, read and sing to your baby. Even infants enjoy music and being read to. They don't grasp the meaning of words, but these early "conversations" help your baby's language capacity grow and provide an opportunity for closeness. When you talk to your baby, remember that high-pitched voices are most appealing to babies. Baby talk isn't silly — babies actually prefer soft, rhythmic sounds. You can try various sounds to see if your baby shows preferences for some sounds over others. Even though a baby may not turn toward a sound, you may notice that your voice can cause your baby to settle down or become quiet.

• Cuddle and touch your baby. Newborns are very sensitive to changes in pressure and temperature. They love to be held, rocked, caressed, cradled, snuggled, kissed, patted, stroked, massaged and carried.

• Let your baby watch your face. Soon after birth, your newborn will become accustomed to seeing you and will begin to focus on your face. Babies prefer the human face over other patterns or colors. Allow your baby to study your features, and provide plenty of smiles.

• Give your baby an opportunity to imitate you. Choose a simple facial movement such as opening your mouth or sticking out your tongue. Slowly repeat the gesture a few times. Your baby may or may not attempt to mimic your gesture.

• Give your baby simple toys that appeal to sight, hearing and touch. These include unbreakable crib mirrors, rattles, textured toys and musical toys. Choose toys and mobiles with strong contrasting colors, such as black and white or black and red.

• Play music and dance. Put on some soft music with a beat, hold your baby's face close to yours and gently sway and move to the tune.

• Avoid overstimulating your baby. Offer your baby one toy or stimulus at a time. Too many play activities at once can lead to confusion and overstimulation.

• Establish routines and rituals. Repeated positive experiences provide children with a sense of security.

How to tell when your baby needs a break

Your baby may give you very direct signals when playtime is over. Watch for these clues to let you know the baby is tired and needs a break:

• Turning away or dropping arm and shoulders away from you

• Stiffening or clenching fists

• Becoming irritable

• Beginning deep, rhythmic breathing

• Tensing up, arching back

• Avoiding your gaze

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