Bonding With Your Adopted Baby

Bonding With Your Adopted Baby

Adopting a Newborn: Journey and Attachment Challenges

The process of adoption is often long and emotional. By the time the exhausted new parents have been united with their baby, it is time to begin the journey of becoming a family. The joy and excitement of this new beginning, however, can sometimes conceal a very real challenge: how to form a strong attachment with this unfamiliar baby?

Understanding Attachment Difficulties When Adopting a Newborn

According to Dr. Walter D. Buenning, Ph.D. and expert in treating Reactive Attachment Disorder, 10-30% of infants adopted at birth may have trouble attaching to their adoptive parents. While there is little research to determine the exact cause of an infant’s difficulty in attaching, this behavior is usually associated with early trauma: neglect, abuse, abandonment, or multiple placements. 

Effective Strategies to Encourage Attachment

Lacking a specific “cure for difficult attachment, experts agree on a few behaviors that parents can implement to encourage contact, bonding, and connection.

  • Carrying and Inclusion: Carry your baby as much as possible. Invest in a comfortable baby carrier or sling and include the baby in your daily activities.
  • Prompt Response to Needs: Meet your baby’s needs as soon as possible. While earning your baby’s trust, it is important to respond quickly to her cries.
  • Encourage Eye Contact: Critical to the attachment process, eye contact stimulates infants and conveys trust. Smile often to demonstrate positive body language.
  • Flexible Expectations: Keep your expectations flexible. Even if your child is not a newborn, he is “newly born” to your family.
  • Shared Laughter: Laugh and have fun. Dance, jump, play, and be silly with your baby. Shared laughter is an incredibly powerful baby bonding tool.
  • Limiting Visitors: Limit visitors for the first few weeks. Your new baby needs to know who his parents are, and have a chance to become familiar with you.

According to Dr. Jane Aronson, specialist in adopted babies and a parent of an adopted baby herself, most orphaned infants face extreme neglect. Lying soiled in cribs, drinking from propped bottles, deprived of human touch and nurture, these children grow up unaware of their “physical place in the world . These children face major challenges in developing intimacy and closeness.

Aronson says, “They do not experience the normal intimacy of a primary caretaker who would be holding, touching, talking to them, and creating a model of reciprocal communication. In nurturing situations, the adult looks endearingly at the baby; the baby looks back transfixed and connected. The adult speaks in high pitched musical tones, and the baby mimics almost immediately. This is repeated over and over again, consolidating the millions of stimuli in the baby’s brain. The baby experiences sensations: I feel good. I feel bad. I am hungry. I am tired. And these feelings are then greeted with the best guesses of the parent or caretaker. Those simple pathways are at the heart of attachment and intimacy. And they are missing for orphans, a deficit that can lead them down a path to poor self-regulation, language delays, and attachment issues. These deficits can be reversed with time, patience, and consistent loving care.”

Navigating the Path to Attachment

While every baby and family situation is different, the above basic guidelines should enable parents to begin the process of bonding with a newborn. The process of becoming truly attached, is establishing trust, and ultimately, love. Baby bonding will vary widely from one family to the next. Understand your own child and her unique history, utilize the support and resources available to you, and treat your baby and yourself with kindness and patience. The journey of creating a family is the ultimate challenge, and can be filled with hope, triumph, and love.

Avatar photo

Hannah Sullivan was a contributor and co-editor for ERGOparent. She is a devoted mother of three, an avid enthusiast of babywearing, running, and vegetarian cooking. She is a working mom and lives on Maui with her husband and her children; ages 8, 5, and 2. Hannah looks forward to sharing her insights with other busy Moms.

September 1, 2010
October 6, 2010