When Mary Sadlier was pregnant with her daughter, Caitlyn, her husband, Stephen Rosa, regularly read entire books to the baby including the classic Green Eggs and Ham.
Right after Caitlyn was born by Cesarean section, Rosa went over to the baby and started reciting lines from the book.
“I’m lying there on the table and I can hear him saying ‘Sam I am,'” says Sadlier, a resident of Rumfort, R.I. “She was so soothed by the familiar refrains that she immediately stopped crying.”
Though he may not have realized it, Rosa was already bonding with his newborn child, beginning a lifelong process that experts say will have amazing benefits for them both.
The benefits of bonding time
For most parents, bonding with their baby is not something they do consciously. It’s in the tone of their voice, the gentle stroke on the skin and the soft melody they hum.
But aware or not, bonding is one of the most important things parents can do for their children.
According to Roni Leiderman, executive director and associate dean of the Family Center at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., babies are born with billions of brain cells that are not yet connected or networked.
“Connection occurs according to the experiences you provide your child,” she says.
By repeating quality experiences like reading or singing, parents can help these events become a permanent part of their newborn’s brain, allowing them to develop both mental and emotional intelligence.
Leiderman says that EQ, or emotional intelligence, is just as important as IQ, as EQ helps children develop empathy, trust, self-esteem and relationship skills.
Bonding time not only benefits the baby, but also helps the mom and dad. Making that special connection with their baby helps parents regulate their emotions, learn and respond better to the baby’s cues and get through the difficulties of being new parents.
“Bonding is that wonderful connection that happens between parent and child, that wonderful dance that Mother and Father and Baby develop with each other,” says Leiderman. “Bonding sets the stage for future interaction between the parents and the baby and for that wonderful unconditional love that develops.”
Timing it right
Many new moms, however, may not feel like bonding right away and nurse practitioner Sandra Samberg of New York City says that’s normal.
“Some bond immediately after birth and with others it definitely takes time,” she says. “Don’t feel guilty. It’s okay, because your hormones are all over the place after birth.”
But if the feeling lasts for a significant period of time, cautions Leiderman, parents should seek help.
Samberg, the mother of two and creator of The BABY-C Starter Kit, recommends a few techniques to help parents relax into their new role.
She suggests that parents learn as much about infant care as they can and try to get hands-on experience to get a feel of what it’s “really” like.
She also advises accepting support from family members, friends and hired help to give parents more time to spend with the baby. Finally, she says it’s important that parents take care of themselves, trying to sleep when the baby sleeps, taking breaks, etc.
“The more you take care of yourself, the better you’re going to mentally and physically feel and the better the bond can be,” she says.
Bonding ideally begins right after birth.
According to Leiderman, studies show that babies who spend the first hour after delivery with their moms cry less, nurse better and laugh more.
Many parents, however, don’t get the opportunity to spend that first hour with their baby due to adoption, medical issues or other reasons, but experts say that while that first hour gives parents a head start, there are many more opportunities to start the process.
Baby bonding techniques
Bonding with a baby can take many forms, but the most basic method is to simply meet the baby’s needs.
“You need to understand and read your baby’s cues,” says Leiderman.
When a parent responds to the baby’s needs, the baby learns to trust and gains the confidence needed to explore the outside world.
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a 39-year-old mother from Jacksonville, Fla., felt it was very important to listen and respond to her son Aaron’s cues.
“Believing that a child is a full human means that, for me, taking his cues as seriously as if an adult made the request,” she says. “So when he was hungry, I nursed him. When he wanted to be cuddled, which was a lot of the time, I did. I do not know what’s best regarding when to feed him, whether he is ready for a nap, whether he needs to be held. Aaron does.”
Research shows that touching and physical contact with the baby is also very beneficial.
A study at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami showed that massaging babies enhanced their ability to learn, and according to pediatrician Dr. William Sears, babies who are frequently carried in a sling cry less, learn more, organize their internal systems better and are smarter.
Sadlier frequently held her daughter in a carrier and experienced these benefits firsthand. “Once she was home, I often carried her in a Snugli while I did housework,” she says. “She snoozed peacefully, listening to my heartbeat, and I accomplished things around the house.”
Reading Builds Baby’s Brain
Every day we are learning more about how to help babies thrive. Most parents know what it takes to ensure baby is developing physically – good nutrition, a safe environment, and appropriate exercise and activities.
However, when it comes to ensuring that a baby’s brain is developing to its full potential, many parents are less sure that they are doing all they can. reading is one very important activity parents can use to encourage baby’s developing brain. It may sound simple, but reading with baby is very important.
Reading aloud provides visual and sound stimulation, fosters vocabulary and abstract thinking skills, a longer attention span, listening skills, and better social development. And, of course, reading skills are critical to children’s success in school.
Baby’s Reading Timeline
Babies can hear all the nuances of language. Let your baby enjoy the rhythm of your voice as you read together. There is evidence that babies’ vision and hearing are drawn to patterns. The time you spend is also building a context of how to have quiet time together. You are building wonderful emotional connections. By 2-6 months, babies are ready for board books with bold colors.
Babies have organized their auditory world and have memory recognition, especially for “parentese” the special voice we naturally use with babies. The melody of reading is enticing. Books that have bold pictures are great at this age. Talk about the pictures as baby focuses and you will notice baby start to babble. At this age, your baby will sit with support and will hold a book which is great for banging, tossing, and waving. Baby’s interest in visual information has increased and the physical qualities of books matter more than content.
9-12 Months A baby has a “map” of sounds
Baby will babble in her native language. You can encourage the connection of feelings and objects to words by talking with her. Baby will still crush, rip and chew pages, so be sure the books are indestructible. Your baby may start to point to objects and try to turn pages. He may sit for 10 minutes to read.
He will pay increasing attention to visual details. He will laugh and smile at pictures; imitate sounds, gestures, and expressions; vocalize while pointing to pictures; and relate objects or actions to the real world (example, when seeing snow in a book, he will look outside). Your baby may select books with significance to his world (example, picks a book about trucks after playing with trucks). At this age, the content of books matters more than physical characteristics.
Babies have excellent comprehensive language and expressive language soon follows. You can encourage development by asking “Where’s the…?” which starts baby connecting names to objects. At this age, babies love to make animal noises, sing, and “babble” read. They will also rip paper less frequently and turn pages better. Your baby will imitate activities seen in books and will have a strong preference for favorite books, asking you to read the same one over and over.
Babies have true conversations. They will fill in the next word and will catch and correct if you skip ahead while reading. Your baby will begin reading to stuffed animals, reciting stories, and asking to read stories to adults. By this age, babies have very good comprehension and have empathy for a book’s situations and characters. Parents should talk about the stories, leading the conversation and encouraging the child to contribute thoughts and feelings. Ask the child questions, wait for responses, and give feedback. This is the framework for language development. The more you seek the child’s input, the more you encourage participation and comprehension.
Important things to remember:
- Read together for 15 minutes every day
- Learn to be a better read-aloud reader
- Be the story teller
- Read everywhere you go
Developing a relationship with dad
Bonding may also be different for moms than it is for dads. Samberg says dads may have a more difficult time because they often feel left out, but she suggests that they start bonding right at birth by cutting the umbilical cord or holding the baby, particularly if the mom is unable to.
Samberg also recommends that each parent choose different activities to do with the baby, so the baby begins to associate one activity with a particular parent.
“Each parent will find their own things that really work for them,” she says.
Whether it’s reading Green Eggs and Ham, giving the baby a nightly massage or creating a special tradition to share, it’s the quality of the experience that matters most. With a simple touch, word or shared gaze, parents can set their babies on the path toward a promising future.