Everything I talk about on this blog (and I mean everything) aims at, is founded in, and relies on developing and maintaining a powerful bond with our children. The bond is the link that connects our minds, hearts and bodies to our children’s. It is what makes parenting.
A healthy, flexible bond is what guides us in understanding the needs of our infants. It’s what moves our intuition, and helps us to know what the right choices are for our children in any given moment. It keys us in to tiny changes in their demeanors that may be indicative of potential issues, and spurs us to react before full blown problems arise. And later on, it is this powerful link that guides our children to identify with us, and to follow our lead. Our bonds with our children are conduits of communication, chords of identification, and girders of trust — I don’t think it’s possible to parent successfully without them.
A fledgling newborn bond is much like a newborn baby — it requires tender nurturing. It begins like the infant in mom’s belly — a tiny flittering feeling of the vast potential for unconditional connection. And from the moment mom becomes aware that she is growing her unborn child inside her, that bond begins to grow as well. As the baby develops, so we ought to be developing the connection we share. To aid this process, we can talk to our in-utero babies, and rub mom’s belly, and play music to her womb. We can plan for a gentle, natural birth, that invites the baby into a safe, secure, nurturing world. We can ensure that baby and mother have an unimpeded opportunity to meet each other face to face and connect in the moments after birth, with immediate skin to skin contact, and little or no separation in the hours following.
In the days immediately after birth, we can make sure that mom and baby continue to have unimpeded time together. We can also make sure that, if mom needs time to shower, or eat, or rest, that baby is swaddled, and held by some other, or snuggled up for sleep. We can play the same music we played to the womb (to add body-memory comfort), keep light levels low, and keep baby in quiet environs for those first days and weeks. As much as we are able, we can continue to offer baby lots of skin to skin contact, putting him naked on mom’s (and dad’s) chest, and bathing with him. And (this one is important) whenever possible, we would do well to carry our newborns in our arms, or in a sling, or other “on-body” carrier, rather than in an infant car seat carrier or stroller.
The main idea in all of the above is to help the newborn ease into life outside the womb. It’s a monumental transition for her, and offering her as many points of similarity between inside and outside the belly will make it less traumatic. She can recognize mom’s face and smell immediately following birth, and will continue to identify with mom’s heartbeat, voice, and energy in the weeks and months that follow. And she will be looking for such touchstones to help her feel safe as she moves into the world. If it helps to remind you of how tender the newborn is, and what kind of conditions are most suitable for her, think of her as needing three months after birth to continue gestating — that is she needs three more months of “external womb” time — a fourth trimester, as it is coming to be more commonly called.
As the newborn spreads his wings and unfolds to the world, we can continue to aid him in making a smooth transition by keeping him close. Carrying our babies is one of the best choices for this. There are tons of great carrying devices to suit the parents’ needs — slings, baby bjorns, Ergobabys, wraps, Peruvian blankets. Even though it is a colossal endeavor for parents to endure, we should have our babies on us as much as humanly possible. If you have to set him down, assuming he is ok with it, then find ways to help him feel soothed and entertained during that time. Sheep skin is a fantastic thing on which to lay him — it stimulates his skin, but feels warm and snuggly. When laying him down temporarily, we can give baby things to chew on, play with, hold, track, and find. And anytime he cries, we ought to respond as immediately as possible, thus ensuring that he gets the clear message that he is safe, and attended to at all times.
Another great way to foster and maintain healthy bonding with the growing infant is to talk to her. Even better if the talking is accompanied by sign language. Our voices will continue to be soothing to the baby for quite sometime, and combined with active communication, can become a force for deeper, more enduring bonding. The “active communication” part can include responding in like manner to baby babbling (our little friend Olive likes to growl so we growl right back), it can include simple “non-baby-talk” discussion with her about what is happening at any given moment (“Ok, I’m going to take off this wet diaper now…”), and to really have impact, it ought to include signing. About 10 years ago, there was a sizable fad of using sign language with babies. I thought this was a stellar idea, and learned ASL, and taught it to all three of my children in varying degrees (the elder ones made sure the younger ones got more of it…). The research seems fairly clear that signing is not only good for bonding (it offers very active communication, closer connection through communication, and avoidance of toddler frustration when she wants to say something but can’t yet talk, etc.), but also fantastic for language acquisition, fine motor skill development, and overall brain development. Plus, if you use sign language (if you’re American, that’s ASL) while you’re saying the words, then your baby is given the opportunity to develop a “bilingual mind”, automatically better equipped for later additional language learning.
Other choices that strengthen bonding include sleeping with baby (either in the same bed, or adjoining), using elimination communication, playing with him, nursing him, continuing to carry him everywhere possible, avoiding punishments, regularly employing empathy with him, and one you might not think of immediately but is extremely important — assuming the best about him. This is less complicated than it seems, and just means, thinking of him as being essentially good and innocent. That may sound trivial, but you and he will connect better, both in the short and long run, if you tend to think of him as just a growing, exploring, if temporarily ignorant, angel. He may make mistakes and crash into your favorite vase, but he isn’t doing anything to try and upset you. So assume the best of him — he will more likely live up to that expectation, and you’ll be closer in any case.
Again, everything above is designed to help you connect with your baby. The connection that you are forming and nurturing is not only what will make you a better, more successful parent, but it also makes it easier for you to parent. A well bonded child is more likely to be calmer, more self-assured, braver, more independent, and more trusting of her parents. As she is growing, she is also more likely to follow your modeling, be more attentive to your subtle cues, more responsive to your requests, and much, much more adept at acquiring new skills and learning. In fact, nurturing our bonds with our babies, is the single most important thing we can do for our children’s health, happiness, and success in life. Sounds good doesn’t it?
You can find more on attachment (or connection) parenting online at Attachment Parenting International.