Bonding From the Beginning Use Baby's Senses to Create That Special Connection
When each of my three children was born, I couldn't get over how perfect they were. I wanted to kiss their tiny hands and feet, stroke their wrinkled little backs, bury my nose deep into their damp littlenecks, and inhale that incomparable baby smell. I soon learned that what pleased me didn't necessarily please my babies.
It has been noted that babies are often very alert right after birth, then sleep quite a bit for a couple of days. After that, it seems as if sensory overload kicks in, and Baby begins to communicate in the only way he or she can: by crying. This can be a difficult time for a parent, particularly a mother already exhausted by childbirth, but there are ways to "read" your baby's signals and learn to comfort her or encourage her development without overwhelming her.
Bonding With All Six Senses
Often, initial bonding information focuses on touch and sight, but babies actually use all of their senses to learn about you.
Newborns have poor vision, but what vision they do have is perfectly suited to the most important need in their new little worlds: feeding. When you feed your baby, whether, by breast or bottle, his face is naturally about 10 inches from your own, which is the distance a newborn's eyes can focus although just for a few minutes. Gradually, that time and distance lengthen, and Baby will soon begin to reach for you and try to touch your familiar face. Allow him or her to explore your face, being careful to keep sharp little fingernails trimmed.
Touch is very important, because, according to A. Christine Harris, Ph.D., of Sacramento, Calif., a newborn's sense of smell and touch are as important to bonding as sight. Harris, a professor of psychology at Consumnes River College and author of Baby's First Year Journal: A Day-to-Day Guide to Your Baby's Development During the First Twelve Months (Chronicle Books, 1999), says getting to know your new baby and building an attachment to him is the most important goal of the first few weeks.
"What babies do in those first few days is study the parts of the face with the most contrast, like the hairline and jawline," says Harris. "Cuddling your baby, making eye contact during feedings and skin-to-skin contact will allow the two of you to learn about each other together."
Coo softly to your baby, saying his or her name over and over. Emphasize certain words, "Such a good baby." Studies have shown that women tend to speak in a higher-pitched voice to a newborn baby. Women with multiple children will talk at a different tone to each of their children higher in descending order of age. Women with quite a few children positively squeak by the time they get to their youngest!
Baby strongly identifies with your smell. Again, studies have shown that both newborns and mothers can identify each other by a sense of smell. This familiar smell soothes Baby and helps him feed well.
Be careful not to overwhelm your baby. Watch for clues that he or she is done with sensory stimulation. Cues include breaking eye contact, eye rubbing, frowning, yawning, or even a slight change of mood. Babies can't handle sensory stimulation for more than a few minutes when they're very young.
5. Not Peas in A Pod
Ricki Wieselthier of Orlando, Fla., knows each baby is different. Her triplets, Zachary, Lindsey, and Hannah, have always had distinct personalities. She says she noticed it even during the first few weeks of their lives when they were still in the neonatal intensive care unit. "Zachary is still a charmer, Lindsey is still very independent and Hannah is still such a sweet, quiet child," she says.
Believe it or not, this tiny, helpless, seemingly clueless little person will give you many clues as to what he likes and dislikes. Most babies love to be swaddled, but if yours keeps kicking off the swaddling, give it up.
The same rules apply to playing. Some babies are naturally more social than others, and some are more quiet and self-contained. It's important to put aside any preconceived notions you may have and allow your baby's personality to grow in its own way.
"Newborns seem so similar that it's easy to assume you already know them," says Harris. "Be open to the fact that you don't know each other, and whether this is your first child or your sixth, this child is very different from any other."
6. Physical Development
If you're following the current recommendation of putting your baby on his or her back to sleep, then you need to begin to balance that in the third week of life by offering some tummy time.
Tummy time is merely a catchphrase for putting Baby on his stomach for a period of time to even out his development. It's important because babies who are always on their backs can develop a condition known as "occipital plagiocephaly of positional origin," which means that the Baby's head is flatter on one side than the other from always lying in the same position.
Because they spend much of their first few weeks on their backs, babies will often fuss or cry when placed on their stomachs. It's important not to give up, though, because besides preventing a misshapen head, tummy time is important for your baby's overall physical development. As Baby pushes herself up on her arms and lifts her head, she strengthens her arm, neck, and back muscles.
The best way to encourage Baby to stay on her stomach is to get down on yours. Rub her back, talk to her, show her how to push up on her arms, it may firm you up as well! As Baby gets older and more secure on his or her stomach, offer brightly-colored toys for him to look at and reach for. This will help motivate Baby to creep and crawl, which is the next important step in physical development. Tips for Playing With Your Newborn
Newborns are amazingly intelligent and able to "play" by imitation. Try some of these games starting at about 3 weeks of age:
When you are holding your baby, but he is not feeding, slowly stick your tongue out of your mouth and then slide it back in. Smile at Baby. Wait a minute and repeat. Baby will copy you after a few repetitions.
Hold Baby up to the mirror, your faces side by side, and look at him and talk to him. He will recognize you and try to make sense of the "other" baby. He may even wiggle and flail his arms in response to the two faces.
On a piece of white paper, draw a very basic, black-outlined face: Eyes, nose, mouth, ears. Allow Baby to study it. Babies love contrast and recognize the basic features of a face. Dangle a brightly-colored object in front of his eyes and watch him track its movements. Watch for the following signals that Baby is done playing:
- Turning away;
- Breaking eye contact;
- Frowning or grimacing;
- Arching the back;