Bonding with your baby might sound like getting Krazy Glued together, but it’s actually more like a dance. You learn to read and respond to your infant’s nonverbal cues -- her body language, cries and giggles -- and she comes to trust that you are reliable and that she can find ways to connect, communicate her needs, and find comfort. Mutual attachment grows between you. A baby who develops a secure attachment is off to a healthy start. Her strong connection with you helps her grow more independent. In the years to come she will be eager to learn, able to handle stress, and be ready for intimate relationships.
Sometimes bonding starts out with an intense experience of falling in love with your baby. But it can also develop gradually in the course of daily caregiving. Through skin-to-skin contact, feeding, giggling, playful “conversations,” diaper changes and cuddling, you and your baby gain a deep sense of belonging to each other.
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Instead of amusing her with electronic toys, or talking on your cell phone because she isn’t ready to communicate in words, realize that you are your infant’s favorite entertainment. She loves your voice and facial expressions and tries to imitate these. She enjoys hearing you talk about the chores you’re doing, the places you’re visiting, and how you feel about her. Eye contact, nuzzling, and playful belly kisses are all fun ways to play together. Put the baby on your lap. Let her play with your hair or face. A toy or book can help you connect, but often a funny face or silly sound is all you need.
If you and your partner are both involved in daily care, your baby will come to recognize and enjoy your different voices, touches, and smells.
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Playfulness, caregiving and skin-to-skin contact are the ingredients of bonding, but there’s no standard recipe, no “right” way to do it. Let it happen spontaneously as you pay attention to your baby’s signals, learning to recognize when she wants you to be close or playful and when she wants to rest. Over time you will learn to distinguish the cry that means “I’m hungry” from the one that says “I’m tired.” You will start to recognize when your baby is telling you she is over stimulated, gassy, startled by a loud noise, afraid of strangers, or colicky. Although you won’t always be able to soothe her, she will sense that you’re trying.
Babies have different temperaments and different bonding styles. Some enjoy rocking or being walked back and forth or bounced. Others like soft music and gentle stroking or firm holding. And all babies reach a point when they’ve had enough. When they’re overtired they may begin to move frenetically. It might take some time before you recognize that this is not an invitation to play, and learning when to let her rest is part of bonding, too.