New baby: Too late to bond?

My baby is three weeks old. I gave birth by cesarean and I'm not sure I bonded with my baby. Isn't this something that should have happened by now? Is it too late to bond?

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Bonding is not a single magic event in the relationship between parent and child. It is the growing feeling that happens as two people fall in love and deepen their relationship over time. The ways babies come into the world, and the ways their parents greet them, are so varied that there is not one singular moment in which bonding takes place. Some people take one look at their baby and are overcome with emotion. Others look at their little wrinkled stranger and aren’t sure what to think. Some people are worried if they don’t instantly feel the same kind of love for a second child that they have developed over time for their first.

Although we advocate birthing institutions and birth support people who provide maximum contact between babies and parents as early as possible, it is also important to understand that bonding can happen in many different ways, at many different times.

Here are seven easy ways you can begin to deepen your bond with your new baby.

  1. Minimize your other activities. A new baby brings a flurry of activity to parents' already busy lives. There can be lots of visitors and routine daily activities to tend to. These first few weeks and months offer rich opportunities for parents and new babies to get to know each other and to strengthen their bond. Work to cut down activities that aren’t essential. Most will wait for you.
  2. Snuggle with your baby. Babies crave and need touch. It is as important to them as food and oxygen. Let your baby sleep naked on your bare chest. Hold your baby close as your nurse or feed him. Let your baby spend as much time as possible with you, skin-to-skin. Smell your baby and let your baby smell you. This is the way nature intended for us to bond.
  3. Get on baby time and focus on your baby’s cues and signals. Babies move on their own rhythm. Everything is new to them. It takes them time to figure things out. Slowing down so that you can be receptive to your baby’s cues and so that you can teach baby your cues can help build your unique communication system. Figuring out what your baby wants and needs means that you not only pay close attention to her verbal signals, but her non-verbal ones as well.
  4. Observe your baby. As you sit back and watch your baby, you will begin to perceive things about her that don’t necessarily notice in the daily hustle bustle. Watch how she moves, listen to her sounds, notice how she changes from one day to the next. You will begin to see the world from her perspective, which will help your feelings for her and your understanding of her deepen.
  5. Read about babies, talk with other new parents and/or attend a parenting class. If you are inexperienced with babies, or even if you know a lot about babies, it can be helpful to learn about infant development from books, other parents and teachers. Parenting classes or groups can also offer support, companionship and the company of a roomful of other parents who are as obsessed with your baby's every move as you are. And when you're feeling fearful, worried or exhausted, other parents' stories will let you know that you are not alone.
  6. Take time for yourself. All of the time, attention, work and focus required to care for a new baby are exhausting. So is recovering from a cesarean. Most new parents lose themselves in their baby. This can be an important part of the attachment process, but you also need time to rejuvenate yourself. It may be hard to leave your baby even for a short period of time, but if you can get just 30 minutes to yourself regularly, you can recharge your batteries so that you can go back and be ready to enjoy your baby. You might want to take a relaxing bath, write in your journal, organize pictures, read a short story, go on a walk, talk with a friend or get a short massage. If your baby is an unpredictable napper, it can help to have your partner, a relative, a friend or a childcare professional regularly stay with your baby so that you can get a little time away. (As your baby gets older, it will be easier to take a little longer periods away.)
  7. Enjoy the preciousness of these days. Babies are new for such a fleeting period of time. Sometimes when new parents are overwhelmed by the intensity of the learning curve with a new baby, they wish their babies were a little more grown up. But if you talk to anyone with older children, they'll tell you how precious and important these early days are. As best you can, savor them.
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