Bonding is the name for the emotional connections between parents and their newborn babies. It was the subject matter of the bestselling 1980s parenting book, "Maternal-Infant Bonding" by Dr. Marshall H. Klaus and Dr. John H. Kennell. Klaus and Kennell proposed that the "sensitive period" immediately after a birth is a crucial time for mother and baby, who are naturally wired to be in close contact, for the benefit of both. It is widely accepted that mother and child should be encouraged to bond in those early moments and days, but of course father needs to bond with his newborn, too.
For mother and baby, bonding really starts in the early stages of pregnancy. A woman experiences many physical, emotional and hormonal changes throughout her pregnancy, which are directly related to the child she is carrying. When the baby is born, the mother is finally able to see, hold and talk to the person who has been developing and moving inside her for several months. The existing bond is strengthened when the mother holds the baby in her arms and begins to feed her.
A father may have a less instinctive, immediate nurturing response than a mother, but he is capable of forming a strong bond with his baby all the same. Only in recent years has father-child bonding been given more than a passing mention in parenting publications. A close, early bond with his father can be extremely comforting and reassuring for a baby, and it brings out the father's sensitive side. It may be true that the father is often more involved in looking after the mother right after the birth, while she herself is occupied with caring for the new arrival, but many fathers can actually be just as nurturing as mothers.
An Ongoing Process
While bonding as soon as a child is born is important, it is not always possible due to medical complications or traumatic births, which result in the temporary separation of mother and child. Early, successful bonding between parent and child does not guarantee a happy lifelong relationship, and parents who are unable to bond right away due to circumstances beyond their control should not feel guilty or inadequate. During a child's formative years, many valuable bonding opportunities exist for parents to take advantage of. Some parent-child bonds are far stronger during the teenage years than they were during the toddler years. Every family is different and family bonds are influenced by several factors, including parenting styles and changing circumstances.
As soon as possible after the baby is born, she should be placed directly on her mother's chest and abdomen, advises Dr. William Sears, pediatrician and author. If the mother cannot hold her due to medical complications, she should be passed immediately to the father. The mother should attempt to breastfeed straight away to give the baby food and comfort and release important hormones. Nipple stimulation releases oxytocin, which reduces postpartum bleeding, while the hormone prolactin helps that mothering instant kick in. Both mother and father should spend as much time as possible touching, talking to and making eye contact with their baby from the very start. However, if you have had a very traumatic, lengthy or exhausting labor, you may feel that all you want to do is rest for a while -- and that's fine. Don't feel guilty if you're too overwhelmed to feel that mothering instinct. Give the baby to her father for a couple of hours and rest. Chances are, you'll wake up feeling refreshed and able to start bonding with your child.