Your child’s development is shaped by how they bond with you when they are a baby.
Having a nurturing relationship with your baby and responding to their needs provides a foundation for learning and helps them develop good relationships as they grow.
How do babies form bonds?
A bond between a baby and their caregiver is a strong emotional and physical connection. Bonding with your baby is important.
It helps to make hormones and chemicals in the brain that help the baby’s brain to grow. Bonding also helps make connections between brain cells in your baby’s brain. These help your baby:
- develop their sense of identity
- manage their emotions
Newborns don't know what they need. They have to be helped by a caregiver, who should:
- calmly respond to their physical needs
- give them plenty of love
Who do babies get attached to?
Babies usually attach to their main caregiver. They can also bond with other people.
It's usual for a baby to attach to the person who gave birth to them. From about week 31 in the womb, a baby can recognise and be soothed by your voice. By the time they're born, newborns can even recognise some sounds of your native language.
- you are finding it hard to form a bond with your baby
- you have a mental or physical illness such as postnatal depression
- there is a reason that you can't pay full attention to your baby
If your baby bonds with other important people, they will not be less attached to you. Making bonds helps your baby to learn about being close to people.
How do I bond with my baby?
When you respond to your newborn's needs, you will probably start seeing behaviour or signals that show that they are attached to you. These will depend on their age and level of development. Some signs could include:
- making eye contact with you
- smiling, cooing, laughing or making other noises directed at you
- holding out their arms to you
- crawling after you
- copying you
- crying for what they need while looking at you
- looking interested in something you're doing
Responding to your baby
You can't spoil a baby by giving them too much attention. They need you to help them with the things they can't do for themselves. These things include:
- changing their nappy
- helping get rid of their pain or hunger
- providing warmth
- giving them plenty of affection and play
Responding to what they want and need will help them feel confident to seek support from you.
If you gave birth to your child, your body will react when they cry. You may feel anxious if you can't respond to your baby straight away. If you can see that your baby has everything they need and are safe, don’t worry. When you're with your baby again, calmly soothe and comfort them.
Ways to bond with your baby
Here are some bonding techniques you can try:
- Learn to read your baby's cues and signals to you and let your baby know you understand.
- Copy your baby's noises, then wait for your baby to respond before continuing.
- Once you have learned what your baby likes, do it regularly.
- Start new activities gently, rather than abruptly, and talk calmly about what you're doing.
- Hold your baby on the left side of your chest, so they can hear your heartbeat.
- Smile and laugh while looking into your baby's eyes.
- Talk, sing, read books and play simple games together.
Physical contact with your baby is important for bonding, such as:
- soothing and cuddling your baby when they're upset
- providing skin-to-skin contact , such as while breastfeeding
- massaging your baby
- bathing your baby before bed
What if I'm not bonding with my baby?
A bond can feel like a huge feeling of love and protectiveness. Some parents feel an instant connection to their baby, within the first 24 hours after birth. But some parents don’t.
Don't worry if you don't feel a bond straight away. Relationships take time to grow. Don't put extra pressure on yourself. You may find that it takes you days, weeks, or even months to bond with your baby.
Talking regularly with family members and friends can help. Not having a strong, initial bond does not mean you're not a 'natural' parent.
Resources and support
For more information and advice about bonding with your baby, you can:
- talk to your doctor, child health nurse, or midwife
- visit the Centre of Perinatal Excellence website
- call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: May 2023