Bonding with your baby

A lot is said about the importance of bonding straight after the birth, and it is wonderful if the new family can be given the quite and privacy they need to enjoy these first moments together. Your baby has been propelled from the dark, familier cocoon of the mother’s womb into a bright and noisy world, and is being bombarded with new sensations. In your arms is the most comforting and reassuring place to be.

The hour or so after delivery is also the ideal time to start breastfeeding. It not only encourages bonding but also stimulates digestion and ensures that the baby gets the protective benefits of the first milk (colostrum) straight away. Babies practice the sucking movement while in the womb, and if placed on the mother’s stomach may find their own way to nipple using their sense of smell.

At this time bright lights should be dimmed to create as relaxing and unobtrusive an environment as possible. Any weighing or non- urgent checks should wait, so that mother and baby can get to know each other. The room should be warm so that the baby can be placed naked on the mother’s bare skin. If the father is there, he shouldn’t feel that he has to immediately rush off to telephone relatives with the news. It is far more important that he stays to share the first few minutes of his baby’s life. Everything else can wait.

When bonding is delayed.

In the past, mothers and babies in hospital were separated soon after the birth to allow the mother to rest. Fathers’ visiting rights were strictly limited. Bonding is now seen as so important that midwives and hospital staff do everything they can to facilitate a new family’s need for time along together. But the safety and health of the baby and mother come first, and if the delivery has been tricky or there are concerns about either, they may have to be separated for a while.

Even if the mother is physically close to her newborn, she may not feel the rush of love that she may have expected. She may be too exhausted from the labor and delivery to be able to feel anything other than relief that it is over; she may be in pain or shock or feeling woozy from the effect of drugs, or she may feel initial disappointment if the child is, say a boy rather than a girl or has a physical defect such as a hare lip or birthmark. If she had strong ideas about the type of birth she wanted and it turned out differently, she may be distracted by disappointment and less able to appreciate the beautiful baby in front of her.

Similarly, the father may have found the birth a much more distressing experience than he imagined, especially if there were complications. He may be too worried about his partner to feel much for his child. He may be disturbed to find that the blood – streaked , blotchy newborn that he sees before him does not match the image of the angelic – looking baby he expected. And the realization that he is now responsible for this tiny being may feel overwhelming rather than exciting.

Some parents feel guilty if they do not feel instant love for their baby, and being separated from the child early on can be devastating. But it is a mistake to think that any delay in the bonding process will have a permanent effect on your relationship.

Bonding often starts slowly and grows over time. There is nothing special that you need to do to help this process along. It will unfold naturally as you get to know your baby, as you learn about his or her likes and dislikes, and – especially- as you tend to the baby’s needs: changing, cleaning, bathing comforting, rocking and feeding. Your baby will not not remember those first hours of life, but over the months and years that follow will gradually become aware of being encompassed by your love and care.