Bonding with your baby is essential for their development and helps you form a healthy, secure relationship with them. It can take time, though, so don’t panic!
For new mums, bonding with your baby is incredibly important. Your baby’s first months after birth are vital for brain development and growth, and bonding can be a great way to stimulate this and nurture your relationship.
That said, it’s not uncommon for mums to experience some initial difficulty or delay with bonding. After all, the time following your child’s birth can be exhausting. As a new mum, you are adapting to a whole new way of life, there are sleepless nights, and many mums encounter postnatal depression too.
At Hiccups & Buttercups, we’ve created a guide to help you gain more insight into:
- What bonding is
- What attachment styles are
- Why bonding is so important
- Some top tips for bonding with your baby
What is bonding?
When bonding with your baby, you are creating a loving, caring, and emotional connection. As their primary caregiver, you’ll typically feel drawn to establishing a safe, nurturing environment for them and feel the pull to fulfil their needs.
It’s important to remember that bonding is a process, and it is not necessarily something that you’ll feel instantaneously after your child’s birth. Bonding can take a few days, weeks or several months, so try not to pressure yourself or feel bad if you’re not suddenly flooded with these feelings straight away.
At Hiccups & Buttercups, we spoke to Dr Claire Plumbly, a Clinical Psychologist, for her insight into why some mothers experience delays in bonding. She said: “Sometimes a stressful pregnancy or birth; adjustment to the demands of parenthood or perfectionist standards can impact on your experience of those early days or weeks together. This can make some new parents feel concerned about their bond with their baby. If this is the case, please remember that some relationships take more time to develop but that this is a normal experience.”
What are ‘attachment styles’?
Bonding and attachment styles go hand-in-hand together. Your child’s attachment style refers to how safe and secure they feel in their relationship with you as their caregiver. This informs their psychological development as they grow into an adult.
British psychologist John Bowlby was the first attachment theorist, and from his research, he defined attachment as the “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.”
Later, research from psychologist Mary Ainsworth theorized that there are four main attachment styles for children and that these attachment styles are formed in the first year of life.
These attachment styles are:
- Secure - This kind of attachment sees a child become upset when separated from their parents but joyful when they return. They seek comfort from their caregiver when distressed and know they will be comforted when they express discomfort. Research suggests about 55% of the population have this attachment style.
- Avoidant - With this attachment style, children have learnt that their discomfort will not be soothed, and their needs won’t be met when they cry. Their behaviour becomes insular, and they are detached from their caregiver. Around 23% of people have this attachment style.
- Resistant/ambivalent - Children with this attachment style typically have a parent who is inconsistent with their displays of affection and catering to needs. The child learns to adopt clinging behaviours, expresses frustration at the rejection, and adopts a push-pull relationship. A smaller percentage of the population have this attachment style (8%).
- Disorganized - With this attachment style, the child’s primary source of stress and discomfort comes from their primary caregiver. As a result, these children are unable to regulate their emotions and relate to others. 15% of people show this kind of attachment pattern.
Why is bonding important?
The way you bond with your child will impact how they develop socially, emotionally, and physiologically.
As seen above, bonding greatly influences the kind of attachment style your child will develop and take with them into adulthood. Parents who are attentive to their child’s needs and in tune with their emotions encourage their child to relate in a more healthy way to themselves and others. According to Professor David Howe, quality bonding with your child and creating a secure attachment will help them develop emotional intelligence, social skills and good mental health.
Discussing the importance of mothers bonding with their babies, Dr Claire Plumbly says: "A close bond helps them to feel safe: they learn that you are there for them and that their needs will be met. When your baby hears your voice, smells you or has a cuddle their brain releases oxytocin, the hormone that calms the nervous system. The more of this they receive, the more easily they learn to cope with stress, and this can help them in the future too.”
A 2019 study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences supports this and found that a mothers' behaviour and bonding with her child can substantially impact the development of her child’s oxytocin systems. This research indicated that children with higher oxytocin receptors were less temperamental and more well balanced emotionally and socially.
Essentially, focussing on creating a secure attachment for your child through quality bonding sets them up for life. Alan Sroufe, a developmental psychologist at the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota, for example, ran a 35-year longitudinal study and found that those with secure attachments had:
- Better self-esteem;
- More positive romantic relationships as an adult;
- More leadership qualities; and
- Healthier coping mechanisms for stress
Our baby-bonding top tips
So, what exactly can you do as a mother to ensure that you are bonding with your baby in the best way possible? We’ve put together some top tips to help you.
Breastfeed your child
While breastfeeding is important for your baby’s health and growth, it’s also a great way to bond with your child. Skin-to-skin contact for your baby is reassuring and comforting and allows your baby to access quality time with you.
If you are unable to breastfeed, don’t worry; feeding your baby by bottle can be bonding time too. Holding your baby close and maintaining eye contact can be a great way to connect.
At Hiccups & Buttercups, we have a beautiful range of nursing covers that you can use when you want to breastfeed when you’re out and about. So, wherever you are, you can provide your baby with the closeness and comfort they need.
Respond to your baby’s cries
By listening and responding to your baby and their needs, they will learn they can trust you and feel confident that you are a source of comfort. This is an important part of your child developing a secure attachment.
Talk to your baby and smile
Smiling at your baby and chatting with them is a really effective way of bonding. While they may not understand what you are saying, this will help their language and communication development. This will also build the connection between you and your baby. Equally, singing to your baby and making faces will have the same kind of impact.
Hold, hug and kiss your baby
The physical closeness of holding and hugging your baby and the affection communicated through a kiss are really important for bonding.
Massaging your baby is a brilliant way to communicate and connect with them through touch. According to NCT, baby massage can help new mums recognise their baby’s needs, improve their positive interaction with them, and enhance their sense of well-being and mental health.
Take time for yourself
Dr Claire Plumbly says that it’s equally as important to make sure you have alone time, too. “Getting time to yourself so you can have a rest and be more available to your baby when you are together is key,” she says.
So, while it can be daunting stepping into motherhood, and you may have concerns around bonding with your baby, it’s important to remember that it takes a different length of time for every mother.
Listening to your child’s needs, communicating with them, and showing them affection is a great place to start. The rest will fall into place.
If you’d like to reach out to Dr Claire Plumbly directly, you reach her website : https://www.drclaireplumbly.com; or on her Instagram.