Bonding with Your Baby
Many new parents, upon arriving home with their babies, are in awe of the responsibility of parenthood and — to be perfectly honest — terrified by it. If you know many couples who have had children, chances are you've heard at least a few of them admit to looking at each other after their homecoming and saying, "Now what?"
Getting in touch
A hospital is not always an ideal setting for beginning the bonding process with your newborn. Even if you had zero opportunity to bond with your baby in the hospital, you can start doing so as soon as you get home, and touch — including massage — is the ideal way to begin.
All you really need to do to begin bonding is to touch your baby a lot. Hold him, rock him, wear him in a sling, or sway with him every chance you get. Bonding can occur during feeding, changing, and sleeping, as well as during times when you're massaging your little one. Young babies aren't frequently alert and attentive, but luckily you don't have to wait for these times to promote bonding. Your intention, and how much energy you are willing to direct toward your baby, are the key factors.
Bonding with your baby creates a secure and healthy attachment between you two. Your baby internalizes this feeling of safety, which leads to him being easier to comfort and more affectionate.
Releasing a bonding hormone
The bonding benefits of touch and massage aren't strictly emotional. There is a physical basis for the connection that develops between mothers and babies during massage.
Massage stimulates the release of oxytocin in a mother's body. Oxytocin is a hormone that serves some key functions during and after pregnancy. For example:
- Oxytocin stimulates the mother's uterus to contract during labor.
- Oxytocin promotes the let-down reflex during breastfeeding — the reflex that moves milk into the breast so the baby gets food when he sucks.
- Oxytocin is continually released whenever a mother nurses, and it helps to relax the mother and nurture the bond between mother and baby during breastfeeding.
When a mother massages her baby, she stimulates the release of oxytocin in her own body, which facilitates attachment and bonding. Through physical touch, she promotes a deeper emotional connection with her infant.
Babies need a lot of touch and holding. The best advice for new parents is to approach each day of parenting with a clear understanding of how important touch is — especially in the first six weeks to two months of life, when many babies need constant holding or touch during their awake time.
With that said, you want to also realize that touch and holding are only part of the picture — the physical part. If you touch your baby frequently but do so without paying any attention to what you're doing, you (and your baby) aren't reaping the full benefits of the contact. You must also be attuned to your baby. By attuned we mean being as present as possible whenever you hold, touch, and carry her. Doing so will satisfy her need for comfort and safety more fully than touch alone.
Through her earliest interactions with you, your infant discovers what it means to count on other people — to trust. Babies who are massaged tend to develop strong feelings of trust for their caregivers, and as a result they also tend to have experiences with other people that are warm, nurturing, and loving. Your first experiences in touching your baby are essential in creating a trusting relationship between the two of you. These early moments truly lay the foundation for your relationship.
As everyone knows, communication can take many forms; we pick up messages in a variety of ways, not all of them verbal. When you massage your baby, you and your baby have many opportunities to express yourselves nonverbally.
Here are just two examples of nonverbal communication that can be expressed during a massage:
- Babies learn to see themselves through their caregivers' eyes. Providing eye contact during a massage gives your baby the opportunity to feel loved and to have his sweetness and vulnerability mirrored back to him through your eyes.
- When you massage your fussy baby, you model relaxation with your relaxed and soothing touch.
During massage, your baby picks up cues from you. Don't underestimate how much information your baby absorbs through observation. Babies are like sponges, absorbing everything within reach.