Bonding is the process of forming a deep and loving relationship between babies and their parents.
Why is bonding important?
Human babies are incredibly vulnerable compared to most other mammal babies and need their parents to love and look after them. For this reason all babies need to form what psychologists call a ‘secure attachment’ with their primary caregivers, usually this is their Mum and Dad.
It can feel pretty overwhelming to be responsible for the care and love of such a tiny baby, but your baby is ready and willing to bond with you. He will already recognise you and your partner’s voice from in the womb and so bonding begins before he is born.
Bonding and hormones
After the birth both the mother’s hormones and father’s hormones kick in to promote bonding. During the birth and during breastfeeding mums will produce a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin promotes contractions and gets milk production going. It is produced by all mammals when they have young. It is sometimes called the ‘love hormone’ or the ‘bonding hormone’.
Mums will begin to produce oxytocin during pregnancy but this increases in the later stages of pregnancy and peaks during the birth. It promotes bonding and calmness and reduces fear. It helps us to form a deep and lasting bond with our babies.
We are so primed to love and bond with babies that adoptive parents will produce oxytocin in the run-up to adopting their child and when they are first united with their new baby or child and will fall in love and bond in the same way.
How quickly will I bond with my baby?
Bonding with your baby is a process, not a one-off event. Some parents feel a strong bond and loving anticipation early on in pregnancy. Some parents have a thunderclap moment at the birth and feel that have fallen immediately in love with their baby. Some parents slowly get to know their baby and feel a bond developing each hour and each day. Some parents have a tough time around the birth and afterwards and then worry that they are not bonding. The good news is that with support from family and healthcare professionals, all new parents can be helped to form a loving bond with their babies.
Every parent is different and their experiences of pregnancy, birth and the early days with their baby are all different. Try to relax and just enjoy being with your baby and getting to know him and that bond will develop.
What will help me to bond with my baby?
There are a few simple things you can do to help you bond with your baby. As soon as you are ready after the birth, let him lie skin-to-skin on your chest. As he feels your heart beating, listens to your voice and smells your skin he will feel safe, warm and calm.
If his birth has been straightforward he may well be very alert and try to feed. This will provide your baby with nutritious colostrum and feeding your baby will help you to produce lots of oxytocin and promote bonding.
Skin-to-skin contact is great for babies and dads too! If dads unbutton their shirt your baby will love lying safe on their chest. Like mums, new dads will also produce oxytocin when then cuddle their baby, which helps them to bond, feel calm and be a great dad.