The adoption is complete: Your baby is home, and you're thrilled! But your post-adoption joy might be tempered by anxiety about bonding, particularly if this is your first child and your road to parenthood included infertility struggles, dashed hopes and financial strain. These feelings are all normal.
Some parents feel an instant bond when they first meet and hold their infant. For most new adoptive parents, however, bonding is a gradual process, taking weeks or even months. More than 50 percent of adoptive parents, when asked to recall those first weeks, reported feeling more numb and scared than connected and competent.
Know that all infants need time to adjust and connect with a new environment and family. You might not even notice adjustment with a newborn. However, an older infant may appear depressed and irritable for a few days or weeks, refusing a bottle, avoiding eye contact and sleeping excessively or very little. This is not about your skills: There's no cause for concern unless the baby is refusing most bottles and has fewer than six wet diapers a day. This rare occurrence signals dehydration and requires medical attention. Above all, try to relax and give your baby time to acclimate.
Use these ideas to help with the adjustment:
- Appeal to your baby's senses
Hold off washing her homecoming outfit, and keep it near her in the crib. Newborns are very sensitive to smell and are comforted by a familiar aroma.
- Snuggle up
Hold your infant as much as possible to facilitate bonding. Consider a baby sling or front carrier — your child will benefit from such close contact.
- Limit visitors
As much as you want to show off your baby, advice from well-meaning friends or family can be overwhelming. Limit outside distractions, and use the first few weeks to get acquainted at your own rhythm.
- Make things cozy — not fancy
Infants don't need an elaborate nursery. All they need is to be warm, safe and loved. Be sure your baby's crib meets the highest safety standards. To limit the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, always put your child to bed on her back.
It's important to take care of you too, so make sure to pace yourself. Many new adoptive moms think they should have more energy than a birthmother. This is untrue. You need recovery time as well.
- Get some sleep.
Fatigue can make those first few weeks even more difficult. Grab sleep when you can, preferably whenever your baby naps.
- Get moving.
Even a 15-minute walk around the block or 20 minutes of yoga can help you relax and clear your mind.
- Lower your standards.
The baby doesn't care if the clothes are ironed. Consider paper plates and cups, and free yourself of as many household tasks as possible.
Remember to relax. Putting a diaper on backwards, fumbling with bottles and nipples — these are common struggles. You will make many mistakes throughout your child's life. She will grow and thrive and love you in spite of them.
By Marybeth Lambe, MD, a family physician and writer in Washington state.