Bonding is the feeling of love and tenderness you feel for your baby. This can sometimes start in pregnancy.
Attachment is the relationship that you and your baby build over time. It begins in pregnancy and develops as your child grows.
Attachment happens through interactions with your baby in everyday moments.
Developing positive attachment
Babies are usually born ready to form an attachment with you.
They have instinctive behaviours like crying that are designed to keep you close.
During everyday moments like feeding and comforting your baby, they learn from you.
They are learning about you from your touch, voice and smell. Through you, they are learning about the world and relationships.
Your baby will have a main attachment with you. They can have several attachments with other caregivers.
You can build a secure attachment in the early months by responding to your baby's needs.
This is known as responsive parenting.
Responsive parenting means you are:
- responding sensitively to your baby in a consistent way
- accepting their needs and signals
Responsive parenting in practice
Your baby will let you know in their own way what they need, such as being hungry, tired or lonely. It takes time to learn what your baby is trying to tell you.
For example, your baby may love it when you sing to them but could turn away or rub their eyes when they are tired. These cues or signals mean they need a break. You can respond by talking to your baby. Tell them how you noticed their cue for tiredness and then support them to fall asleep.
Learning to understand your baby’s cues can help you and your baby establish a routine over time.
You can do responsive parenting by:
- spending lots of time with your baby in the early months
- comforting your baby when they need it
- smiling and hold them close
- giving plenty of cuddles
- making sure they’re safe, warm and fed
- responding when your baby smiles, coos or cries
- talking, telling stories and singing to your baby
- letting your baby look at your face and watch you when you talk - move pram or cot toys so they can see you
- letting your baby hear and see you around the home
- using any other languages you speak often
Respond to your baby’s needs in a consistent way. This means doing things the same way again and again over time. Respond in the same sensitive way each time they try to communicate with you. Comfort them when they are unhappy or in pain.
This builds the foundation of secure attachment. It helps your baby to feel safe. They learn that they are important and that they matter.
Benefits of responsive parenting
Responding to what your baby needs will not ‘spoil’ them, but it will:
- help your baby to build healthy brain connections
- build a secure attachment between you
- help them to feel safe
- teach them that they’re important
Playing with your baby
Playing with your baby helps to strengthen the attachment between you. It also helps them to learn and develop.
Newborn babies learn from their parents. They will soon respond to your touch and the tone of your voice.
The best way to play with your baby is to use your face and voice. Smile, talk, sing, touch and cuddle your baby. They will love to listen to you and watch you. It will help them to feel safe.
Try not to place your baby in front of a TV or another screen. They will learn a lot more from being with you.
How fathers, partners and non-birth parents can bond
Spending time with your baby in the early months is important in forming a secure attachment. Your baby will enjoy getting to know you. They also enjoy getting to know the differences between you and the parent who gave birth to them. For example, how you sound, feel and smell.
As well as responsive parenting, you can:
- try to spend as much quality time as possible with your baby
- reduce your screen time (mobile phone, laptop, tablet and TV) when you are with your baby
- do as many everyday activities as possible, such as bathing your baby
- have skin-to-skin contact with your baby - lie down with your baby on your chest, but don’t fall asleep like this
- rock your baby to sleep
- read your baby a bedtime story
- play with your baby
- take your baby for a walk
- comfort your baby
- respond to their cues
- keep them safe, warm and fed
- give them time to look at your face and watch you talk
- make eye contact
This helps your baby build an attachment. It makes them feel safe and important when they are with you.
Worries about bonding with your baby
You may have started bonding with your baby during pregnancy or the first time you saw them. But not all parents experience bonding the same way. Try not to worry, these feelings don’t always come immediately.
- spending time with your baby
- getting to know what they like and dislike
- learning about their personality
- noticing the way they communicate with you
Spending time with your baby will help you develop the first steps of attachment. Time with your baby will help you to get to know your baby. You will learn about their likes, dislikes, their personality and how they communicate.