Bonding is the cornerstone of parenthood. As parents, we are thinking nearly constantly about creating and fostering a strong bond with our children. Sometimes, this worry about bonding grows into an obsession. And it’s no wonder! With the hundreds of parent groups on social media touting their style of parenting as “the best way to bond with your baby”, and articles every other week about psychological development in newborns and toddlers creating heated debates about how to raise your child, we are inundated with reminders that our babies rely on us in this period for EV-ER-Y-THING. That’s human nature. But there’s a lot of misunderstanding about creating appropriate and healthy bonding with your baby, as well.
The parenting philosophy now referred to as “attachment parenting” (a term coined by Dr. Sears) has been around, if not in name, then in practice, for a long time. While for most of human history immediate skin-to-skin after birth, babywearing, extended breastfeeding, and bedsharing were pretty much the only possible options, these practices are now increasingly hailed in some communities as the best and even only way to truly bond with your baby.
It’s no surprise that this belief causes new parents so much anxiety; after all, we all want our babies to love and trust us! We want to do everything we can to be perfect for our children, and it’s easy to be afraid we’re going to completely ruin them or… something. But for those of you parents who either aren’t sure or aren’t so into the idea of attachment parenting, here are some things you need to know.
Love comes from your heart, not from your breastmilk.
While many parents have fulfilling and positive exclusive breastfeeding experiences, others may struggle. It can feel like a tremendous amount of pressure to be the sole provider of your baby’s nutrition, and the need to be almost constantly present to feed can be overwhelming for mothers who need more personal space for their mental health. Plus, there are tons of reasons not to want to breastfeed at all – and those choices are every bit as valid!
The choice to supplement or switch entirely to bottles is by no means a sign of a lack of attachment or commitment to your child. It’s a necessary step to reclaiming your emotional state and being available to provide love and care to your baby in the ways they need the most.
You don’t need to be wearing your child at all times for them to be reassured of your presence and love for them.
Eye contact and speech are just as important forms of connection as physical contact. Looking at your baby as you feed them, change them, and comfort them strengthens your bond to each other. Your shared gaze is one of the deepest connections you can form. Likewise, your voice has been a source of comfort to them since they were in your womb hearing you speak before they were even born.
Sometimes, babywearing or holding your child isn’t practical, or you’re just plain touched out. It’s okay to put them down in a safe space nearby, like a swing or a Pack n Play, and instead chat with them as you go about your tasks. Your familiar voice can be a source of comfort as much as your arms.
Your mental health is the greatest determining factor in bonding with your baby.
Attachment parenting is a great practice when it is beneficial and satisfying for both the child and their parent/s.
But if you find yourself trying to force through the motions of a parenting philosophy only because you have had the ideology imprinted upon you that it is the only way to be a “good” parent, it may be necessary to stop and consider the human factor.
Bonding is a two way street, and if you’re overwhelmed, tired of being touched, feeling like you’ve lost your identity, and resenting motherhood or your child, bonding can not properly occur. Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders can be exacerbated by the pressure to perform in a way that does not meet the needs that you, as an individual and valuable person, have.
What your baby needs above all is responsive, emotionally connected, healthy parents.
Maybe that means his father gives him a bottle at night, and they have that opportunity to bond together in a special way. Maybe that means instead of sleeping beside you, your baby sleeps in a crib in her own space and goes to sleep every night after a bedtime routine of snuggles and stories, and wakes up to a rested and smiling parent who is thrilled to see her. Maybe that means grandma or a cousin takes them for an evening and they have a new experience while you go out and take a few hours to care for yourself or your relationship!
What your child will really take with them into childhood and adulthood isn’t whether you wore them in a sling or set them in a playpen while you cooked dinner, or whether you breastfed them or fed them from a bottle. They will really benefit from the example you set when you prioritize your mental health and happiness, and when you teach them the importance of being flexible until you find what works.
Love is a powerful thing and your baby will recognize it no matter what form it takes in your relationship.
Attachment isn’t one parenting style; it is made up of all of the intentional ways you create regular, loving connections with your baby.
Tags: attachment parenting, bonding, bottle feeding, breastfeeding, love, parenting styles