Why is attachment parenting being increasingly talked about? Because building a bond with your baby is an important way to start them off on the right track.
They may be tiny, but this first human bond may affect the way they see the world, feel and behave in the future.
But that doesn’t mean as parents or caregivers, we can’t take a break from the constant childcare. In fact, true attachment theory is as much about building your child’s independence as it is about providing physical and emotional support.
Bonding with your child can be hard, especially if you are tired, busy or suffering from post-natal depression. But there are lots of ways in which you can help the bonding process along.
Many of us are aware of the benefits of skin-to-skin contact directly after birth. The contact is great for parents of either sex – encouraging the release of feel-good hormones – and also provides reassurance to your new-born, helping to regulate both their breathing and heartrate.
But did you know, there are many benefits from carrying on with skin-to-skin contact in the weeks and even months after your baby’s birth?
“Bonding with your baby is important,” explains Psychotherapist Dr Sharie Coombes of Foundations Therapy. “Understanding that there’s someone there to protect them helps your baby to develop a sense of security; this, in turn, helps babies to regulate their emotions and understand that they can be soothed.”
“Having skin-to-skin contact, being able to smell the parent and having a sense through their own skin of another’s skin adds to this sense of bonding and regulation.”
2Respond to their needs
As your baby develops and begins to understand her environment, it’s important that you continue to respond to her needs. Knowing that she can rely on you to help when she has a dirty nappy, is hungry or is in physical distress is an important part of her learning to trust another human.
However, it’s important to remember that none of us is perfect, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re in the car and can’t respond immediately to a soiled nappy.
“Research has shown that even the most nurturing parents get it wrong about 70% of the time,” agrees Coombes. “Despite our best intentions, it’s not always possible to meet all of your child’s needs straightaway.”
“In the extreme, the downside of anticipating all baby’s needs or meeting them instantly is a kind of “learnt helplessness,” so it doesn’t hurt if occasionally you fall short of the mark. Your child needs to learn that you soothe them, you comfort them, but that they can also soothe themselves.”
3Make a connection
Babies enjoy looking into their caregiver’s eyes, and making eye-contact with each other can be an important part of developing a close bond. Chatting with and smiling at your baby is also important – they may not be able to engage in a meaningful conversation, but babies are good at picking up signs. If you show that you are enjoying time with him, this will help him to feel secure.
“Seeing yourself lovingly reflected in your caregiver’s eyes is one of the most important parts of childhood,” explains Coombes. “You learn that your reflection brings joy and makes people happy. Hearing soothing words in an upbeat, happy voice can also help. Seeing others respond to them positively will help your baby to develop a sense of worth.”
4Respond to prompts
Taking the time to get to know your baby as she grows is an important part of helping her to communicate with you and learn some degree of independence. After a while you will be able to ‘read’ when your baby is tired, or when she wants to interact, and respond appropriately.
As baby grows, as well as thinking up games and activities to do together – make sure you also join in when she starts to show interest in a certain toy or activity – such as shaking a rattle or bang the table with a plastic spoon. Your responsiveness to her impulses will help her to grow in confidence.
OK, so we’re not saying that you should get your six-month old to look for a job, but as your baby grows and gets to know more situations and people, having a break can benefit you both. And having your child constantly with you may not always be the best thing for him.
“Over time, it’s important for your baby to learn that whilst you might not always be physically present, that doesn’t mean you’re not coming back,” explains Coombes. “You will see your child learning this when he engages in games such as peek-a-boo or throwing his toys for you to pick up!”
“It’s important for your child to understand that loss isn’t necessarily permanent. Being left with another appropriate caregiver can build resilience for a healthily-attached baby and is important for life-learning and developing emotional regulation.”