By Kendall Sonnenberg, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant
For many new parents, the task of bonding with your newborn can seem overwhelming. After all, you’ve just met, and bonds can take some time to create. But from my perspective, in those early days “bonding” with your baby is really about one key factor: building trust.
Think of it this way: when your baby was inside of you, he or she had a caregiver present all the time. He had the constant reassurance of hearing his parents’ voices, the familiar sound of mom’s breathing and the cadence of her steps. Inside this perfectly temperature-controlled environment, all your baby’s needs were met.
After they’re born, this little person still needs all the things they did before, and that’s where parent-baby bonding comes in. This process means you, as a parent, learning how to meet those needs and become confident as a care provider while establishing your baby’s trust that you will keep them fed, warm, comfortable, and safe.
As an IBCLC (International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant) I know from my experience working with babies and new parents that feeding sessions are one of the most important ways you can build this connection. After all, feeding is central to a newborn’s early development and takes up a very large chunk of the baby’s (and your) time. Below, I’ll provide some tips on how to optimize this time together to build that critical trust - and bond - between parent and baby.
1. It’s about more than just calories. Try not to approach feeding sessions as “a means to an end.” Yes, the goal is to feed a hungry baby but try not to rush through the feeding or watch the clock. You may be missing critical cues from your baby, which is part of the learning process for you as a parent. We want them to be a willing participant in this process, and by observing them, making eye contact, and learning to recognize behaviors and patterns, you will be better prepared to meet their needs.
2. Adapt feeding sessions to meet your baby’s unique needs. Every baby is unique, and every family’s feeding journey looks different, so there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to bonding during feeding. Whether you’re breastfeeding, pumping, or formula feeding, it’s important to follow your baby’s cues (see point one) and adapt your routines based on their needs and abilities. If you are breastfeeding, find the positions that work best for you and baby, and stay flexible with time by feeding on demand. Babies don’t always follow a schedule, even though we would like them to. And if you’re bottle-feeding, be sure to select the correct bottles and nipples for your baby’s age and development. The flow from the nipple should allow them to drink at a comfortable pace, control the flow, and take breaks when they need it. This also means keeping them slightly upright, which makes a supportive Nursing Pillow a great tool whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. These types of individualized approaches will contribute to greater feeding success, which is positive for everyone.
3. Avoid multitasking while feeding. Again, reading your baby’s cues is so important, and it’s difficult to tune into these signs if you’re distracted. We all lead busy lives, and especially if you have older children, it can feel difficult to stay focused during prolonged feedings. But it's important to remember that this is the time where your baby is getting to know you, getting socialized with the outside world, bonding with their family, and establishing that critical bond of parent-baby trust. Try to stay present and eliminate distractions. Create a relaxing atmosphere for you both by putting on some nice music or lowering the lights. So much about being a parent feels hectic that it’s important to try to protect these quiet moments together when you can.
4. Prioritize body positioning and comfort, for both you and your baby. When a baby is a newborn, most of the “contact time” you’ll spend with them is during feeding. That’s a lot of hours to be sitting, and if you’re not positioned well or don’t have the support you need you may be creating all kinds of pains and problems for your body. When breastfeeding, the height, position, and shape of your Nursing Pillow can play an important role in achieving and maintaining a good latch. Whether you’re feeding with breast or bottle, you should avoid hunching over to hold your baby. Instead, make sure that your shoulders are back and that you have something under your arm to support their weight. Having the baby properly positioned will also help them to relax and regulate their milk intake. By ensuring that you’re both well-positioned and comfortable, you’ll be able to better enjoy your feeding sessions together.
5. Invite the non-birthing partner to be an important part of feeding, too. I often hear from dads and non-birthing partners that they feel left out of the bonding process during feeds. But even if your baby is fully breastfed, there are many ways your partner can play an important role. I like to suggest having them take over for skin-to-skin contact after the baby has been fed. The baby will often fall asleep at this point, and since there’s nothing sweeter than a baby sleeping on your chest, this is a great way to share the bonding experience between both parents (while also giving the feeding partner a break). Your partner can also contribute to the process by making sure that your needs are met before and during feeds, such as bringing you a fresh bottle of water, a blanket, or other comfort items. If you’re bottle feeding, they can start helping with feeds right away, and whoever isn’t feeding can wash and sterilize bottles or pump equipment, since that is a very big task. Again, while the process of feeding looks different for different families, there are many ways to make this a positive bonding time for everyone.
To support your family’s feeding journey, check out bbhugme’s Nursing Collection, which includes our adjustable, versatile Nursing Pillow along with our Nursing Bras, all developed by healthcare professionals specialized in maternity and postpartum care.
About the author
Kendall is a Registered Nurse and IBCLC (International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant), and she has worked closely with mothers, babies and their families for the past 14 years. Her experiences working as an RN in high-risk pregnancy and postpartum hospital units as well as fast-paced pediatric and OB/GYN clinics has given her a unique clinical skill set. She can provide expert care for families during all stages of pregnancy, postpartum and beyond, thanks to her well rounded professional experience.