There are a handful of reasons — all supported by science — why you want to keep your baby close. Those reasons range from promoting early parent-baby bonding to helping lessen a baby’s pain. After having a baby, you also quickly realize you want to hold and keep your baby close because you love them and you want to show them that. There’s also the fact that you can’t ever seem to get enough of that new baby smell or stop kissing those irresistibly squishy baby cheeks!
Bonding vs. Attachment Parenting
Bonding and attachment are often used interchangeably when discussing the parent-child relationship. While bonding and attachment both pertain to how relationships are formed, they focus on different sides of the early relationship between a parent and a baby.
According to an article from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Attachment theory describes essentially how the child builds up a relationship with its primary caregiver and bonding theory describes the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of the parent towards the baby.”
The two also differ in their time frame and proximity. Bonding involves a specific period of time, typically the first hours, days or weeks after birth. Attachment unfolds over the first year of a baby’s life, and sometimes beyond that. Bonding focuses on physical proximity, while attachment is more about a spatial concept and the parent’s response to a proximity-seeking baby.
Attachment theory also claims that a baby looks for closeness to a secure attachment figure(s), i.e., a parent. When a baby finds this attachment, they learn to trust and thrive in life because their basic needs are consistently met by their attachment figure(s). On the other hand, a baby who doesn’t experience a secure attachment with a caregiver can suffer from a lack of empathy and from insecurity. They can also have trouble learning or never learn to form healthy attachments later in life.
Should you care more about one over the other? Both matter. Bonding and attachment are both important because they focus on creating and building a close, nurturing connection between a parent and a child. Bonding and attachment help your baby grow mentally and physically, and help lay the foundation for your child’s wellbeing. They can affect your child’s social and cognitive development and cultivate positive self-esteem. Bonding and attachment are also what get you up for middle-of-the-night diaper changes and make you want to give your child an endless amount of love, affection and protection.
How can you bond and attach to your baby? It may happen immediately, or it may take some time. Either way, you can start to bond and attach to your baby by keeping them close to you during their first year of life.
Ways to Keep Your Baby Close
Skin-to-skin care, also called kangaroo care and birth bonding, is a period of time right after birth when a mom holds her diapered newborn belly-down on her bare chest. In most hospital births, a baby is dried off, given a hat, laid on the mother’s chest, and then both are covered with a warm blanket.
Many medical experts recommend skin-to-skin contact during that first hour right after birth. If for some reason your baby needs to be seen by the pediatrician or if you have a C-section, you can still do skin-to-skin as soon as you’re able to or you can have your partner do it first.
Skin-to-skin has become a common practice around the world since the 1970s when in Columbia, there weren’t enough incubators to keep premature babies warm. As a result, doctors placed the newborns on their mother’s bare chests with a wrap or blanket. These doctors and many since then have found numerous short-term and long-term physical, emotional and physiological benefits of skin-to-skin contact for premature and full-term babies, including:
- Improved blood flow to the brain
- Improved cardiac function
- More stable breathing
- Better body temperature regulation
- Healthier blood sugar levels
- Less crying
- Increased success of breastfeeding right after birth
- Improved weight gain
- Better immune systems
- Enhanced brain development and function
- Stronger parental attachment.
Skin-to-skin is also beneficial for both partners! Observation and research have found that parents who do skin-to-skin develop a closer relationship with their babies. Moms can have a more positive experience breastfeeding, improved breastmilk production, are more aware of when to feed their babies, experience reduced blood pressure and have a reduced risk and symptoms of postpartum depression as well as physiological stress.
Not only is it recommended to do skin-to-skin right after birth, but some medical experts also recommend that you continue doing skin-to-skin contact for several months after the baby is born. You can do skin-to-skin while breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, before or after feeding time, right when your baby wakes up in the morning, during or after a bath and while babywearing.
I can’t say enough good things about babywearing, and if you ask around, I guarantee you’ll find that neither can many other moms, dads and medical experts out there. From aiding in a baby’s physical, emotional and early language development to helping alleviate postpartum depression, there are several benefits to babywearing for both babies and parents.
But perhaps one of the most important things babywearing does is strengthen the bond between parents and babies. Before birth, moms carry their babies all day and night. Babies are warm and comfortable in the womb. They feel safe being held up against their mom and hearing her soothing sounds. Babywearing provides that same comfort and closeness after birth. Parents who wear their babies are more likely to talk and interact with them, are better able to recognize and respond to their babies’ cues, can easily reconnect with their baby throughout the day and often feel more confident as a parent.
Many parents love wearing their babies, and with all these benefits, it’s easy to see why. Many babies, too, love being worn in a baby carrier. You may start out wearing your baby for all the hands-free benefits, but there’s a good chance you’ll continue doing it through toddlerhood simply because you love your baby. You love having them close. You love connecting with them during the day. You love talking to them and being right there as they see and experience the outside world. Whether you use a baby wrap, sling, soft-structured baby carrier or hip seat, love truly carries on with babywearing.
3. Holding Your Baby
One of the simplest and best ways to show love to your baby is by holding them. Who doesn’t love holding a baby? There may be some 3 a.m. feedings when you wish you were back in bed sleeping, but if you have to be up, there’s nothing better to be doing than holding your sweet baby in your arms.
Did you know there is more than one safe, supportive and loving way to hold a baby? There are actually eight ways to hold a baby:
- Shoulder hold
- Cradle hold
- Face-to-face hold
- Lap hold
- Belly hold
- Football hold
- Chair hold
- Hip hold.
Another way to hold your baby is in a baby carrier. A carrier lets you hold your baby hands-free. It’s a real life-saver when you finally get the energy and motivation to clean, go on a walk or when you just want to get yourself something to eat!
Breastfeeding is more than providing your baby with the nutrients and energy that will promote their growth and development. Breastfeeding provides close physical contact with your baby that lends to a close physical connection with them. Each time your baby snuggles up next to you to eat, they smell your familiar scent and hear your heartbeat. They feel and know they are loved each time you breastfeed. This is especially beneficial for newborns as this closeness during breastfeeding reminds them of the closeness of the womb, which can help them more easily transition to the outside world.
There are numerous infant and maternal benefits of breastfeeding, but that doesn’t mean you should feel bad if you can’t breastfeed or if you choose not to. You can still hold and snuggle up with your baby while bottle-feeding them, and they will have that same closeness and know you love them just as much as a mother who chooses to breastfeed. One way you can better bond with your baby while bottle-feeding is by keeping eye contact with them during this time.
Co-sleeping is a very controversial baby topic. Some people hear co-sleeping and they think of parents sharing a bed with their baby. But, that is actually the definition of bed-sharing. Co-sleeping is when babies or young children sleep in close proximity to one or both parents, usually in the same room, but they sleep on separate surfaces. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room-sharing for the first 6 months to 1 year of a baby’s life to decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related deaths.
When you co-sleep or room-share, you’re close enough to quickly soothe your baby, whether it’s by feeding them, giving them their pacifier, holding them, rocking them back to sleep or changing their diaper. Your baby needs to know that you’re there for them, especially in their first few months of life. Quickly responding to and soothing your baby helps build trust between the two of you, and lets your baby know you love them and will always be there for them. Some people may tell you that you’re spoiling your baby – but don’t listen to them. In my humble opinion, you can never spoil a baby.
6. Don’t Stress the Mess
It has taken me a few years and a few kids to finally learn that it’s OK to leave the mess. Yes, you read that right. Would you rather snuggle a baby or clean the house? It seems like an easy choice, but in reality, it can be a hard choice for many moms to make. Of course, we moms want to snuggle our babies, but we also want a clean house. Take my simple advice: the dishes and laundry will still be there tomorrow. Cuddle time is the best way to show your baby love during this season of life.