Beyond Instinct: Building A Relationship With Your Baby
As parents, we love our babies instinctively. So it can surprise us when the new baby looks and feels like a stranger. Worry not. Bonding with your baby is a process rather than an event. Give it time.
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The drama of pregnancy and childbirth is over and family life can begin. You’re both back at home, the fresh new human is happy, and you can move on to things like dressing Baby in that brand new wardrobe.
There’s just one small problem. Just who is this little stranger? Why does everything feel so different? Yes, that’s early parenthood for you. Here are some helpful things that make you figure each other out.
Not only is breastfeeding good for Baby, it’s good for you. When you breastfeed it triggers the release of oxytocin, the hormone that promotes relaxation and bonding in the mother. It’s also proven to lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
Ok, what about the baby? Breastfeeding reduces the chance of infant mortality by 20%, it drastically lowers the risk of autoimmune disease, infection, cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, and even boosts intelligence in later childhood. With Baby having lodged in your womb, your breastmilk is specifically tailored to their genetic predisposition.
Breast milk is full of vitamins and minerals, but it also contains an antibody called immunoglobulin A. This guy is a rockstar, releasing colostrum that forms a protective layer of mucus in Baby’s bowels, shielding it against invading germs.
Dads should also get involved, regardless whether you’ve opted to bottle feed or breastfeed. It’s a great way for dads and little ones to bond — and it takes some pressure off mum, who can enjoy some precious sleep.
Skin to Skin Contact
If Mum is breastfeeding, Baby will get plenty of skin to skin contact with her. This is another way for Dad to get involved in the fun of bonding as well. Skin to skin contact is important for Baby for the simple reason that in these formative weeks and months, they will be curious about learning the body and the senses. This is part of the reason why the grasping reflex is such a significant milestone, not least because in the absence of verbal communication, one of the only ways for Baby to respond to you is through touch.
Touch is also a good way of soothing Baby when they cry. Rubbing their back or engaging them in what’s known as “Kangaroo Care” allows Baby to get close to you, feel your warmth and get to know your smell. “Kangaroo Care” refers to a method of nurture where Baby is placed against your bare chest.
Skin to skin contact like this is proven, like breastfeeding, to regulate blood pressure and release oxytocin, which is also good for you. Since touch is perhaps the most instinctual bodily sense, it follows that it should naturally promote closeness between you, your partner and Baby.
Play with your baby
Although your baby might not be particularly dexterous, stimulating them on a regular basis is an important part of their development. And, as with all these things, it’s good for you to have some fun too.
Activity with an infant who is only a few months (or potentially, only a few weeks) old can be tricky, but the more smiling, talking and expressing yourself you can do around Baby, the better. Propping Baby up in your arms as often as possible, so that they have a good vantage point with which to interact with you, is a good place to start.
Try placing your baby’s rocker at strategic vantage points around the room when you have household chores to complete, and make sure you are always visible. If you have to leave the room, make sure that you continue talking so that Baby can identify the sound of your voice and knows you’re still close.
Also try using visual props or interesting shapes to grab your baby’s attention. Newborns, unlike older children and adults, are only able to distinguish between black and white and doctors recommend either using black and white props or sharply contrasting colours to help with their retinal development. An interesting object being used in conjunction with a smiling parent can have a huge positive impact on a child’s emotional development. So do it as often as possible.
Pay attention to your own to your thoughts & feelings
Let’s be honest, no matter how well-intentioned you are or how close to Baby you might feel, parenthood changes your life drastically. Sometimes it can come as a major shock to the system that your own welfare isn’t being looked after as well anymore, and the lack of attention you inevitably pay to yourself can take its toll.
The first and most important thing to ensure is that you get enough rest. This means dividing difficult Baby shifts up with your partner so that you can catch up on beauty sleep while he/ she is on watch. In the initial days and weeks following birth, babies tend to sleep in average bursts of around three hours: whether as a result of needing to feed, be changed or just be comforted. This can be especially tiring for mothers who will inevitably be recovering from the physical experience of birth itself, and so rest quotients need to take this into account when Baby shifts are being divided.
Another key thing to remember is, as new parents, it can be tempting to neglect your own nutrition and settle for quick and easy takeaways or ready meals. The fact is though, with a schedule in constant flux as a result of this monumental change in your life, keeping yourself healthy – by making sure your body is receiving the right vitamins and minerals – is crucial. Then you’ll be better prepared to juggle work, household chores, Baby duties and perhaps have the energy to make a connection. Eat your greens!
It isn’t always easy, but the best advice for connecting with Baby after birth is to try not to force it. The purpose of the above tried and tested techniques is to make the transition as natural feeling as possible. All babies (and parents) have their own unique personalities, but (especially when it comes to newborns) finding the right channel for communication with someone who can only express themselves by gurgling can be tricky. Just remember to be patient, learn to read Baby’s body language, and understand it’s perfectly normal taking a little time to connect. All the best relationships are built on a foundation of understanding, and understanding takes time.