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Suitable for 0-3 months. Bonding and attachment: newborns

Original Post Raising Children Network (Australia)

Key points

  • Bonding and attachment are vital to development.

  • Bonding and attachment happen when you consistently respond to newborns with love, warmth and care.

  • Newborns use body language to show when they want to connect with you.

  • You can bond with newborns through smiling, eye contact, singing, reading and cuddling.

On this page:

Bonding and attachment with newborns

Bonding and attachment are about responding to your newborn baby’s needs with love, warmth and care. When you do this consistently, you become a special, trusted person in your baby’s life.

Bonding with newborns: why it’s important

Bonding between you and your newborn baby is a vital part of development.

When your baby gets what they need from you, like a smile, a touch or a cuddle, they feel the world is a safe place to play, learn and explore. This lays the foundation for development and wellbeing throughout childhood.

Bonding also helps your baby grow mentally and physically. For example, repeated human contact, like touching, cuddling, talking, singing and gazing into each other’s eyes, makes your baby’s brain release hormones. These hormones help your baby’s brain to grow. And as your baby’s brain grows, your baby starts to develop memory, thought and language.

Plenty of cuddle time and skin-to-skin contact not only helps with bonding. It also reduces stress and crying and helps babies sleep better.

Understanding newborn bonding behaviour

Your newborn baby uses body language to show you when they want to connect with you and strengthen the bond between you. For example, your baby might:

  • smile at you or make eye contact

  • make little noises, like coos or laughs

  • look relaxed and interested.

When you notice and respond to your baby’s cues and body language in warm and loving ways, your baby feels secure. This also helps your baby learn about communication, social behaviour and emotions, and encourages your baby to keep communicating. It all helps to build your relationship.

How to bond with newborns

Warm, gentle affection makes your newborn baby feel safe and builds your bond. You can also build your bond through your interactions with your baby – for example, when you give your baby things to look at, listen to and feel. This gets your baby’s brain working and helps it to develop.

Here are ideas to get you started:

  • Regularly touch and cuddle your baby. From birth, your baby can feel even the gentlest touch. Try stroking your baby gently when you change a nappy or at bath time.

  • Respond to crying. You might not always be able to tell why your baby is crying. But by responding, you let your baby know that you’re always there.

  • Hold your baby. Try rocking or holding your baby against you, skin on skin. Or carry your baby in a carrier or baby sling.

  • Make your baby feel physically safe. Provide good head and neck support when you’re holding them. Or try wrapping your baby, which recreates the secure feeling of being in the womb.

  • Talk to your baby as often as you can in soothing, reassuring tones. You could talk about what you’re doing or tell stories. This helps your baby learn to recognise the sound of your voice. It will also help your baby learn language later.

  • Sing songs. Your baby will probably like the up and down sounds of songs and music, as well as rhythm. Soothing music might help both of you feel calmer too. Your baby won’t mind if you’ve forgotten the words or the tune.

  • Look into your baby’s eyes while you talk, sing and make facial expressions. This helps your baby learn the connection between words and feelings.

When bonding and attachment take time

You might have bonded with your newborn baby the first time you saw them. But attachment can sometimes take time. It might take weeks or months of getting to know and understand your baby.

Here are suggestions to help your bond develop:

  • Take time to enjoy being with your baby. Caring for a newborn baby can be busy, but it’s good to spend time just being together. For example, try cuddling and singing or reading aloud.

  • See the world from your baby’s perspective. Imagine what your baby is looking at, feeling or trying to do. Discover what your baby really likes and dislikes. For example, is your baby a social baby who doesn’t mind being passed around the family? Or does your baby prefer to watch what’s going on from the safety of your arms?

  • Be flexible and responsive. Most newborns don’t have definite day and night sleep patterns. It’s best to respond when your baby wants to feed, sleep or play, especially in the first 3 months.

In this video, parents share their experiences of bonding with newborns. Some parents describe the joy of bonding at birth. Others say that they didn’t feel an instant attachment to their baby. These parents talk about how they formed that bond later.

You’re the most important part of your newborn baby’s life. If you’re worried about your relationship with your baby, ask for help. Getting help when your baby is young can make a big difference to both of you. If you need it, get support. If you’re physically and emotionally well, you’ll be better able to provide the love and comfort your baby needs.

Bonding with more than one carer

Babies form their main attachments to the people who care for them most – especially their parents. Your newborn baby can also form attachments to other people who regularly and lovingly care for them and make them feel safe. These people might include your baby’s grandparents, paid carers and older children.

Bonding to more than one person helps your baby learn about trust and closeness to people.

If your baby bonds with other people, it can also make it easier for you to do other things, like paid work, grocery shopping and household chores. It can also just give you a break.

In many cultures, many members of the family and community are involved in raising children, and babies form attachments with many people.

Bigelow, A.E., & Rankin Williams, L. (2020). To have and to hold: Effects of physical contact on infants and their caregivers. Infant Behavior and Development, 61, Article 101494.

Bornstein, M.H. (2019). Parenting infants. In M.H. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of parenting: Vol. 1. Children and parenting (3rd edn, pp. 3-43). Routledge.

Keller, H. (2016). Attachment: A pancultural need but a cultural construct. Current Opinion in Psychology, 8, 59-63.

Sethna, V., Pote, I., Wang, S., Gudbrandsen, M., Blasi, A., McCusker, C., Daly, E., Perry, E., Adams, K.P.H., Kuklisova-Murgasova, M., Busuulwa, P., Lloyd-Fox, S., Murray, L., Johnson, M.H., Williams, S.C.R., Murphy, D.G.M., Craig, M.C., & McAlonan, G.M. (2017). Mother–infant interactions and regional brain volumes in infancy: An MRI study. Brain Structure and Function222, 2379-2388.

Winston, R., & Chicot, R. (2016). The importance of early bonding on the long-term mental health and resilience of children. London Journal of Primary Care 8,(1), 12-14.

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