Hopeful adoptive parents are often worried about bonding with their newborn adopted child. “Will I bond as easily with this baby as I would with a biological child?” “What if he or she doesn’t want me?” “What if I don’t feel the love and special connection right away?”
Adoptive families will assure worried parents-to-be that this isn’t something to fret over. It’ll happen! Additionally, even biological parent-baby bonds require time, consistency and effort, and aren’t inherently stronger just because of the biological connection. All relationships require love and work!
However, learning some tips for bonding with your (adopted) baby may do more to soothe your anxiety than reassurances from experts or experienced adoptive families. These 12 tips are applicable for bonding with any newborn, not just an adopted child:
1. Try Baby-Wearing
There are plenty of wraps and carriers on the market that you can try. Even just wearing your baby as you do some light cleaning around the house, running an errand down the street or on a walk around the block can be an easy way to stay close.
2. Consider Cocooning
In adoption, “cocooning” is a buzzword that has gained a lot of attention. What it boils down to is spending time with your baby in the first few weeks after you bring your new child home. But, it would just be you, your spouse (if applicable) and immediate family members like your other children. No grandparents, extended family or friends, just yet.
Some families like this alone-time together, primarily for settling into a routine and focusing on adjusting to one another.
3. Make Eye Contact
Eye contact is a simple but effective way that humans bond. Newborn babies can’t see very far, so gently holding (never forcing) loving eye contact while feeding your baby is an easy and special way to feel more in touch with one another. This also helps your baby recognize your face.
4. Read Together
Turn story time into a daily habit. Reading to your baby:
- Familiarizes your voice
- Is a prime opportunity to cuddle your child as you read
- Helps them to relax before naps and bedtime
- Has been shown to have cognitive and emotional benefits, even for infants
- Can be a good opportunity to start telling their adoption story through children’s books
5. Cuddle Often
Physical closeness is one of the primary ways that humans bond. Never force cuddles or physical affection upon your child. If he or she fusses and doesn’t want to remain sitting in your lap or be picked up, give them some space.
However, find as many opportunities as you can to be physically close with your baby. Hold them during feeding times, relax in a rocking chair together before bed and give as many kisses and hugs as they seem comfortable with.
6. Make Time for Play
Never underestimate the power of play and the bonds it can create! As your baby grows, make plenty of time for regular games of peek-a-boo, make silly faces and noises, give gentle tickles and just enjoy making your baby laugh.
7. Keep Talking
From the moment you bring your child home, start speaking to them softly. Talk about anything: Tell them their adoption story, go through your grocery list and tell them how much you love them.
This is especially important after 9 months of hearing his or her birth mother’s voice through her body. This loss can be confusing and upsetting to infants. So, hearing your voice (and feeling the vibrations through your body) help your baby to recognize your voice and associate it with you.
8. Be Responsive
When your baby cries, immediately go and pick them up. If he or she smiles at you, smile back. Quickly and consistently responding to your baby’s physical and emotional cues will assure them that you will always be there, and that they can count on you.
9. Take Advantage of Parental Leave
If your employer offers parental leave, always take advantage of it. If both parents can take leave, all the better.
Particularly in the weeks after placement, you and your spouse will want to spend as much time with your baby as possible — for bonding purposes as well as simply taking time to adjust to parenthood and finding a routine.
10. Spend One-on-One Time
It can be hard to find alone time with your baby if you’re also raising older children. Try having one spouse spend time with your older children while you spend time alone with your baby, and then switch.
This is only a temporary practice as you focus on one-on-one parental bonding with your new baby. Soon, you’ll want to encourage time spent together as an entire family.
11. Sing to Your Baby
Just like talking, singing lullabies, nursery rhymes or even just along with the radio helps your baby attune to your voice. Even if you’re not the world’s best singer, a quiet round of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” can be enormously meaningful and relaxing to your baby.
12. Create Routines and Rituals
Not only do routines help newborns fall into a healthy biological rhythm for sleeping, waking, feeding and playing, it’ll give your child a sense of security. Routines are especially important for adopted children (yes, even infants) as they experienced a major disruption in the first days of their life.
Knowing that you will always be there to read them a book after bathtime, or to give them a goodnight song, will be an important source of comfort and stability as they grow.
Again, we’ll remind you that bonding with an adopted newborn is typically fast, natural and easy.
If, however, you do find that you’re having a harder time bonding with your new child, working with an adoption-competent family counselor may help. Needing a little extra help bonding with your baby doesn’t make you a bad parent!
Good parents put in the patience, love, time and repetition that any strong parent-child bond requires, regardless of whether or not you’re biologically related.