Physical Contact: The Key Ingredient
With babies, especially newborns, bonding happens mainly through physical communication—the senses of touch and smell. Let your baby get to know you by:
- Giving baths and baby massages
- Burping the baby
- Reading aloud or singing. Even though your baby can't understand your words, he or she can recognize and be comforted by your voice.
- Including the baby in your daily relaxation. For example, an infant can find Dad's reading fascinating—whether it be Sports Illustrated or Newsweek. He or she will enjoy evening or morning walks together, too.
Besides these practical tasks, I've found a bonding technique that keeps me engaged: nuzzling. Holding my daughter as she drinks her morning bottle or burping my son after he feeds, I gently draw my lips, nose, and cheeks across the top of her or his head. There's nothing like the skin texture and smell of babies (two ways they trick us to attach to them), and nuzzling soothes the child at the same time. When I think of what bonding looks like, I see myself sitting on a sofa an hour or two before dawn, eyes closed, nuzzling my son back to sleep. This image also helps explain what bonding feels like: a contented, peaceful exhaustion, at the center of which is the warmth between you and your child. You let yourself feel that physical warmth and it spreads to your insides, and then everyone and everything else in life recedes for five or ten precious minutes.
Of course, nuzzling isn't the only way to bond. Newborns also can respond favorably to the sound of voices. Maintaining a dialogue—even a rambling, repetitive one—is something my wife has encouraged me to do with Alexis. Her rationale is to facilitate Alexis's language development, but the practice has also been good for my parental development. When I'm especially preoccupied with a work project, talking to Alexis helps me stay attuned to her needs—and aware of any potential dangers in what she's doing.