Mother with baby

Bonding with your new baby

Every parent should be able to successfully bond with their child if they have support and security throughout pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. However, it is normal to have concerns about bonding and to sometimes question whether you and your child have established the level of attachment you would like.

Although bonding is a natural process, there are plenty of things you can do to encourage bonding with your baby that are both pleasurable and easy to achieve as part of your normal routine. Read the article below for tips on bonding with your baby.

Bonding with your newborn – why it matters

Many parents will experience a bond with their child from first sight or even from the first fluttering kicks in the womb. However, it is not the same for everybody – and why should it be? After all, there is no recipe for child-rearing. Some parents may have to work at it more than others – that is fine – what matters is that they make attempts at bonding and, perhaps, try to discover why the easy bond might not be happening.

The early years are easily the most important for the development of the human brain, a vast organ that is made up of 100 billion brain cells. By the time your child is three, her brain will have grown to around almost 90% of its eventual adult size and over this period she will make around 700 to 1000 synapse connections every second. (1)

As the parent of a new baby, it is you who is the most important person in establishing successful neuro-wiring, and this is primarily assisted by two things: love and communication. Make the world a safe and stimulating place and you will be laying the foundations for your baby’s development. By interacting with your baby and providing her with love and attention, you will help her release hormones that allow her brain and body to grow and her cognition, memory and language to thrive.

Oxytocin — the bonding hormone for mothers and fathers

Oxytocin is popularly referred to as “the bonding hormone” or the “love hormone”, and with good reason. The release of this hormone during childbirth and breastfeeding is common to all mammals and plays a massive role in maternal bonding. However, it is not exclusive to mothers; fathers also experience an equivalent rise in oxytocin levels when they interact with their babies.

This is why it is important to take the time to interact with your baby, particularly if you are a father or partner and are still going out to work during the early days post-birth. Bonding cannot happen in a vacuum; you need to create the right conditions. So, if, for example, you are a father and are worried that you have not yet bonded with your baby, don’t feel guilty, ashamed or inadequate. Instead, book some bonding time with your child and create some momentum. The more time you spend with your newborn, the more you’ll bond and the better you will become at recognising her cues – for example, when she needs feeding, cuddling or changing.

Be kind to yourself

If you have had a difficult pregnancy or birth, or your baby has been born with a health complication, it may take longer to develop feelings of attachment, particularly if your baby has been placed in a neonatal unit where it is likely to be harder to achieve skin-to-skin contact. This is completely normal. The same is true if you have had a multiple birth and you are finding it difficult to focus on one particular baby. Acknowledge the difficulty of your situation, give yourself time, make efforts to consciously bond and you will get there eventually.

If you are unable to be as physically near to your baby as you would like, try looking at pictures of her and perhaps smell clothes she has worn as this will help you forge a bond and, if you are the mother, may help your milk flow. If your baby is in a neonatal unit, they might recommend skin-to-skin contact for a premature baby. So-called “kangaroo care” is good both for bonding and for your baby’s healthy development.

Encouraging the bonding process from birth

In most healthy births you will be able to have skin-to-skin contact with your newborn right from the moment she is born. Simply hold her against your breast and through touch and smell you will quickly become attuned to each other.

Breastfeeding from birth will also help to affirm this bond. The other parent should not be forgotten either so, for example, when you go to the bathroom to shower or when you eat a meal, the other parent should hold baby so that they have an early opportunity to develop a bond. Breastfeeding might not be an option but skin-to-contact really helps establish the father-baby relationship too. Skin-to-skin contact with baby is good for both parents and will help your child regulate their body temperature and heartbeat.(2)

Respond to bonding cues

Your new baby may not yet have the experience or the physical or neurological development necessary for the development of language, but this does not mean that she is incapable of communicating her bonding instinct.

Over the coming weeks and months you will begin to notice all kinds of bonding cues. These might include:

  • Little gurgles and cooing noises
  • Eye contact
  • Focusing on you and parts of your body
  • Smiles
  • Reaching for you, your fingers or objects you are holding

Every time you notice, acknowledge and respond to these and similar cues from your baby you will be affirming your bond and helping to foster a secure attachment. Stay engaged and stay attentive and both the relationship and the bond will blossom.

Tips to help you bond with your baby

Bonding will become a natural part of your relationship but there are undoubtedly things you can do to encourage the process. For example, you can:

  • Hold your newborn close to you to help her feel physically safe, and of course be sure to support her head and neck. This close, cuddled contact will give your baby a feeling that is similar to being in the womb.
  • Enjoy plenty of skin-to-skin contact as this helps to encourage the release of oxytocin, the love hormone.
  • Chat to your newborn in soothing and sing-song tones. Not only will they learn to recognise the sound of your voice, doing this regularly will also help encourage their linguistic development.
  • Sing to your child. It makes no difference to your baby whether you sound like Beyonce or an embarrassing outtake from The X-Factor, singing to your child will be a pleasure for you both.
  • Ensure plenty of touch with your newborn. Whether you are stroking or holding, a tactile relationship is essential to bonding.
  • Respond to your newborn’s cries. If your child knows that you are there and responding to her needs, it will help her feel secure.
  • Make plenty of eye contact. Looking into your child’s eyes as you interact with her will help her learn the relationship between words and feelings. It can help to make her feel more secure and will help her develop empathy.

What happens if parents don’t take time to bond with their babies?

There is a whole body of scientific evidence on this subject. For example, studies of “feral” children who have grown up with only very limited human interaction show that without love and attention, linguistic and emotional development are severely impeded.(3) Furthermore, according to studies of children raised in Romanian orphanages, the longer children are made to wait for such a nourishing relationship the greater the likelihood and the severity of adverse developmental impact.(4)

When to seek help

Having a new baby is always challenging. However, you should speak with your health visitor, midwife, GP or mental health specialist if you have concerns about your ability to develop a secure attachment with your baby. You may wish to do this if:

  • You suffer from drug abuse or alcohol problems
  • You are experiencing a mental health or emotional problem such as depression, postnatal depression, or anxiety
  • You are feeling stressed
  • You lack support
  • You experienced an abusive, neglected or uncaring childhood


Bonding with your baby is one of the most natural things in the world and yet, for some parents, it does not come naturally. There are some important activities you can do to help bonding, but if it is not happening, it is important to seek professional help. Talk to your GP, health visitor or paediatrician, and they will be able to provide support. Don’t feel ashamed or inadequate as it’s something many parents have felt at some time or another. Seeking help is the first step to starting your bonding journey.

1 Perry BD. Traumatized children: how childhood trauma influences brain development. J. California Alliance Mentally Ill. 2000;11:48–51. [Google Scholar]
3 Greenough WT, Black JE, Wallace CS. Experience and brain development. Child Dev. 1987;58:539–559. doi: 10.2307/1130197. [Google Scholar]
4 Rutter M. Resilience in the face of adversity. Protective factors and resistance to psychiatric disorder. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 1985;147:598–611. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

Important – If you or your child are unwell you should seek medical advice from a professional – contact your GP or visit an A&E department in an emergency. While My BabyManual strives to provide dependable and trusted information on pregnancy and childcare 24/7 via our website pages, we cannot provide individual answers to specific healthcare questions.