Welcoming a new baby into your life is an exciting and joyful experience, and it can also come with challenges.
Every baby is unique, and learning how to connect with your little one can sometimes feel a little daunting. Especially when you’re trying to adjust to changes in your own identity and routine. It might feel like a guessing game at first, but it's a gradual learning process for both you and your child.
Here are some simple tips to help build your bond and lay the foundations for a strong connection in the years to come.
Calmly and consistently responding to baby cues
When you’re a new parent, you'll likely spend a lot of time in the first few weeks and months learning how to respond to your baby's basic needs. You may have questions like "When should my baby sleep?" or "How do I know when my baby is hungry?" or “Why is my baby crying?” Sometimes, babies cry or become unsettled simply because they want to know you're close by.
By responding calmly and consistently to their needs, you'll begin to build a loving, trusting bond with them. They'll feel comforted by your presence and look to you for security, comfort and safety. This boosts their development and wellbeing, and can help them (and you) to feel more and more connected over time.
This is a skill that can be developed, and it’s not something that always comes naturally. While it's important to be responsive, try to remember it's okay to get things wrong.
Every baby is unique, and it can take time and patience to learn how to read their cues and signals. You and your baby are learning together, and with practice, you'll find what works best.
Eye contact with baby
Making eye contact with your baby is a powerful way to feel closer while boosting their development, learning and emotional wellbeing.
When you find yourself in a relaxed moment, like feeding, cuddling or bath time, take a moment to gently gaze into their eyes and give them a warm smile. This simple act can help them develop a strong emotional bond with you, and you with them.
Moreover, it can help them start to learn to recognise, interpret and respond to facial expressions. This can help them make sense of the world around them and lay foundations for their emotional and social development.
How do babies like to be held?
Holding, cuddling, stroking, soothing, rocking and carrying can bring a huge amount of comfort to babies. Every baby is different and, as you get to know them, you’ll discover what they like best.
This close physical contact not only enhances their wellbeing and provides a sense of security and comfort, it also benefits you. It helps you become more in tune with their cues and signals, and provides opportunities for meaningful interactions like eye contact, gentle touch and soothing words, which can further strengthen your bond.
Plus, when you hold your baby close, it can even release oxytocin – the “love hormone” – which can make your connection stronger.
Talking, reading and singing
Babies have a special relationship with the sound of their parents' voices, even before they’re born. In fact, recent research1 found midwives encourage mothers and partners to talk to babies before birth.
Once they’re born, babies have a remarkable ability to engage in meaningful interactions. Through babbling, facial expressions and gestures, they naturally reach out to relate with the adults around them. By responding, you create a reciprocal exchange that can boost your bond and help their brain to develop.
Talking, reading or singing to babies helps them learn and absorb new information about the world around them, while also strengthening your relationship. These interactions promote language skills, emotional regulation and cognitive abilities. They also create a positive and nurturing environment that supports their healthy development.
Singing a lullaby or a favourite song at bedtime can help your baby feel calm and secure. Chatting to them as you go about your daily activities is a great way to bond and help them develop early language skills.
Reading to your baby is another wonderful way to help them learn while building your connection, and can even be part of their bedtime routine.
Even though they can't read yet, the act of reading to them while they're snuggled in your arms, seeing pictures, hearing your voice and feeling the textures of some books can help them feel safe, secure and loved – and it can help you to feel closer, too. Just remember to keep reading sessions short and sweet for now.
Looking after yourself
Life with a baby can be a significant change for parents and carers. It might no longer be possible for you to relax and recharge the same way you did before. In this phase, it’s normal to feel consumed by your baby’s needs, which can sometimes cause you to overlook your own.
Taking some time for yourself to relax and recharge isn't selfish – it helps you feel calmer and more positive. This, in turn, can help you feel less overwhelmed and more connected to your baby.
What if I’m not connecting with my baby?
When you look around at what’s portrayed in movies, TV shows or greeting cards, you might think the moment a baby is born, every parent feels an instant, almost overwhelming connection. For many parents, the reality can be very different.
Maybe you’re worried that you’re not bonding with your baby. Or you’re wondering how long it takes to build a real connection with your baby. You’re not alone. This is a common concern, with almost half of new parents2 reporting experiencing some difficulty bonding with their baby. Try to remember it can take time and is an ongoing process.
If you don't feel a connection immediately or there are times when you struggle to feel it, that’s okay. This does not mean you love your baby any less. Try to be kind to yourself and let it gradually unfold and develop in its own time.
If you’re struggling…
If you're a new parent or expecting a baby and you're feeling sad, anxious or guilty and feel you may need some extra support, get in touch with your doctor, health professional or a support group. Guidance and reassurance are available.
1 Peacock, A. (2018). What the health: Can babies hear and recognise voices in the womb? The University of Queensland. https://habs.uq.edu.au/article/2018/12/what-health-can-babies-hear-and-recognise-voices-womb
2 De Cock, et al. (2016). Continuous Feelings of Love? The Parental Bond From Pregnancy to Toddlerhood. Journal of Family Psychology, 30(1), 125–134.