It’s true that babies bond with their Mothers or in the case of a surrogate, their carriers) in the womb. They share physical space with her and hear her voice. To strengthen this bond, mothers-to-be are encouraged to read or sing to their unborn children while in utero, choose a natural birth if possible, offer kangaroo care immediately after delivery, and breastfeeding for at least the first year.
When these things are able to happen – fantastic. But the truth is, of course, that many things don’t go as planned. Sometimes it’s not possible to get pregnant and/or carry, so a surrogate carries a baby or parents adopt. Sometimes parents who prep for a natural birth require a C-section or other intervention that means their baby is not with them in the hours following birth. Not everyone who wants to is able to breastfeed, despite the great efforts made by La Leche League and similar breastfeeding advocacy groups. The issue of bonding is an incredible cause for worry for many parents, but it doesn’t have to be.
Babies are not hard-wired to bond to only a single person, and bonding takes on may different forms and presentations, occurring over a significant period of time and in myriad ways. With love, care, attention, and contact, a baby can just as easily bond with a Mother who didn’t physically carry it during gestation, while being bottle-fed, following a C-section, and with a stay-at-home dad, adoptive parents, or a grandparent.
Research proves that adoptive, surrogate-using, step, relative, or other non-birth parents bond equally as successful as do more “traditional’ birth parents, but that fact alone doesn’t always quell concerns, especially for first-time moms or dad. If you’re nervous about bonding, you’re probably already the type of person who is going to bond strongly with their baby – by feeling that anxiety, you’ve already proving to be someone who’s concerned for their child’s safety, comfort, and well-being.
Some tips to increase bonding with baby during those first months of care include the following:
Snuggle baby. Most babies love to be swaddled, cradled, and rocked in a way that simulates the environment of the womb. There is no such thing as holding a baby “too much,” and it’s impossible to “spoil” an infant by picking them up often.
Feed baby in a distraction-free environment, cradling them against your chest as you hold them in your arms.
Talk to baby as frequently as you can, even if this means simply narrating what you’re doing as you engage in your daily activities. Read stories and sing songs to baby so he or she easily recognizes your voice. These activities work especially well as part of a sleep-time ritual.
Give baby a previously slept-in-T-shirt or a stuffed animal you’ve slept with for several nights so that baby is comfortable by your sent. (*Note that these items are indented to be used with supervision only; no blankets, excess clothing, or stuffed animals should be in their crib or sleep-space of a child under one year to help prevent against SIDS.)
Use a baby carrier, such as an Ergobaby or Moby Wrap, to encourage additional body contact throughout the day.
Be patient. Like most everything, bonding can take time for birth parents or non-birth parents. Continue to engage in loving actions and over time your relationship with baby will continue to flourish.
If you’re still agonizing over the bonding process, there are many wonderful community support groups nationwide for adoptive or parents via surrogacy. Utilize them as a resource to learn about the experiences of other parents and to feel less alone.Return to Blog