Bonding with Baby

“When a child walks in the room, your child or anybody else’s child, do your eyes light up? That’s what they’re looking for.” Toni Morrison

Not long after my husband and I brought our newborn son home from the hospital, I was breastfeeding on the couch watching an “Oprah Winfrey Show” segment on the Nobel Prize-winning poetic genius Toni Morrison.  She mentioned the importance of loving connections between parents and children by uttering this quote and parenting challenge. 

Jonathan Fitch,

It was easy for me to gaze upon my newborn boy with loving, lit up eyes in those early days and months.  I was, at the time, blissfully unaware of the complicated hormonal soup we were all swimming in together. Instinctively responsive as I was to my son’s face shape, button nose, and round captivating eyes, I was unaware of how our intense mutual gazes were actually causing endorphin levels to rise in us both.  Endorphin release produces feelings of joy, love, and euphoria associated with ensuring healthy development.  My son’s eyes rewarded me biochemically and my visual and nurturing motor responses quickly conditioned to his proximity seeking cues (particularly at around eight weeks when visual acuity improves and a critical period of visual cortex development occurs).  By three months, my son’s gazes and smiles showed me his interest in play, his cries and disengagement of attention his disinterest. 

Bonding with my baby seemed intuitive, if not an overwhelming responsibility to do the whole thing “right.”   I was not only led by the zeitgeist at the time “attachment parenting,” but sometimes succumbed to the guilt-inducing messages of some of its followers.  I stressed about the family bed, how long to breastfeed, and the impact of my frustration with the fact that my son didn’t sleep through the night until he was three!  Still, I’m grateful I trusted my gut, imitated what I knew to be true about a healthy mother-infant bond, and followed the attachment parenting advice that fit.  It wasn’t easy, but nothing as worthwhile and important as bonding ever is. 

I learned by trial-and-error that though there are seven identified ways to bond successfully with a baby, love’s resilience forges pathways in the brain and between human beings that we are only just beginning to fully understand.   Most of all, I highly underestimated how powerful those loving, awe-inspiring gazes between us all actually promote and sustain our connection as a family for years to come. 
In my practice as a child/family therapist and parenting coach I continue to learn more about the importance and benefits associated with healthy bonding between parent and child.  I also have the benefit of witnessing the exceptional variety of bonding experiences possible between a primary attachment figure and a child, and the resiliency associated with those bonds promoted through eye contact, touch, smile, movement, feeding, heart connection, and offering comfort during distress.  As a parenting coach I pay close attention to the way parents speak about their first days and months with their newborn.  Not to mention the first experiences as an adoptive parent meeting his/her child, the first family visits as a new step-parent, or the first days as a foster parent. Most importantly, we focus on the quality of the relationship today and how to promote positive communication, trust, mutual respect, and care for one another. 

I witness the benefits everyday with my childrenas our love for them provides the “secure base”  (Bowlby, 1988) from which they confidently and courageously venture out to discover the world…excitedly returning with reports of their discoveries! Parental love also provides the “safe haven”  of comfort and support to weather less successful voyages of discovery, and a place to celebrate curiosity with joy and acceptance (Johnson, 2002). 

These days, bonding in our family looks more like watching our kids do their various extracurricular activities, watching movies together, or spotting them as we climb an indoor rock wall together.  I still frequently hear “Watch me, Mom!”  as I now sit on the sidelines of their lives.  I also do my best to stop what I’m doing when they storm through the door at the end of their day, lift my gaze to meet theirs, and listen as they eagerly share the news of their day.

We all bond in unique ways…the important thing is that we bond!  In upcoming posts you will have the opportunity to read about other parent-child bonding stories.  Please continue to post your comments about how you bond, promote courage, and continue to connect with your child/ren! 

I’ll leave it to Dr. William Sears and his wife, Martha, authors of The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two (1992, 2003), to summarize the seven basics (or B’s) of attachment parenting which I subscribed to as a new parent (though I’m glad to see they’ve added “Balance” to the list!):

1. Birth bonding
The way baby and parents get started with one another helps the early attachment unfold. The days and weeks after birth are a sensitive period in which mothers and babies are uniquely primed to want to be close to one another. A close attachment after birth and beyond allows the natural, biological attachment-promoting behaviors of the infant and the intuitive, biological, caregiving qualities of the mother to come together. Both members of this biological pair get off to the right start at a time when the infant is most needy and the mother is most ready to nurture.
“What if something happens to prevent our immediate bonding?”
Sometimes medical complications keep you and your baby apart for a while, but then catch-up bonding is what happens, starting as soon as possible. When the concept of bonding was first delivered onto the parenting scene twenty years ago, some people got it out of balance. The concept of human bonding being an absolute “critical period” or a “now-or-never” relationship was never intended. Birth bonding is not like instant glue that cements the mother-child relationship together forever. Bonding is a series of steps in your lifelong growing together with your child. Immediate bonding simply gives the parent- infant relationship a headstart.
        Johnson, S. (2003). Introduction to attachment: A therapist’s guide to primary relationships and their renewal.
                 In Johnson, S. & Whiffen, V. (Eds.)., Attachment Processes in Couple and Family Therapy. NY:
                 The Guilford Press. (pp. 5-17).

        Schore, A. (2001). Effects of a secure attachment relationship on right brain development, affect regulation, 
                 and infant mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal, 22, (1-2),   

One thought on “Bonding with Baby

  1. ThaiHoa

    You know I had beent old several times that if nothing else works do the "crying it out" method!Well, my husband constantly faught me against it and I admit I hated every moment of it.I though my child should be caressed and loved not left alone to cry no matter how exhausetd I was.I could never pull it through.It was so hard for me and from this experience I will not recommend it for my next child.I think consoling your baby is one of the best parts of bonding.That touch and nurturing and knowing they can trust you to take care of their needs.Breastfeeding was one of my favorite things to do.I actually miss it although I hear lots of moms talk about how much they couldn't wait for it to stop.

  2. Alysa

    As a doula, I am particularly interested in how the hospital setting for birth often times gets in the way of the normal mother/baby and father/baby bonding that is important in those early hours and days. Eye ointment immediately after birth when babies are alert, initiating breastfeeding, and imprinting mom's face. Babies that are not rooming in with mom and dad. Tight swaddling can inhibit feeding cues. Particularly for babies who need to be in a NICU. NICU babies who are held skin to skin actually get well soon, grow faster, maintain their temperature sooner etc…We are carry mammals. Somehow we have forgotten that. Can you imagine what a mother monkey would do if you took her new baby and put it in another room behind glass to be cared for by another monkey? She would freak!

    As a postpartum doula I speak to parents a lot about how it is OK to hold your baby A LOT. Many parents are concerned about spoiling their child. That by holding them a lot, or allowing the baby to sleep in their room that this will somehow make them weak or result in them wanting to sleep with them forever. 90% of the families I work with have these concerns. We are carry mammals! We could learn a lot about bonding and raising confident and healthy children by watching monkeys!

  3. Lisa Dungate

    Thanks ThaiHoa for your heartfelt comment.We also tried, on a few particularly sleep-deprived occassions, to have our son cry himself to sleep with heartbreaking results.Though we had to slowly teach him to self-soothe, separate, and fall asleep on his own, and it took much longer than we hoped by not using the Ferber method (which Ferber himself has now confirmed was meant to be used with more sleep-disordered children), it was well worth the effort in the long run.My daughter was a totally different story, gratefully she slept hours on end and was easy to soothe, especially as we now had a bigger family bed! Every family needs to make the best decision for themselves and their lifestyle, beliefs, and hopes for their children.Most of all, to have confidence in those decisions based on your love, positive intentions, and hopes for your child.

  4. Lisa Dungate

    Thank you Alysa for the inspired and important work you are doing with babes and their parents to promote their bonding! You are going to love some of the research I've discovered recently, which I'll be sharing in my upcoming post "The Way We Hold Our Babes", scheduled for 3/31. The research is clear, the more securely attached a child, the more confident he/she is to venture out into the world courageously! Blessings to you in all you do to support parents and their babes!


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