Bonding and attachment: babies

Bonding and attachment: babies

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About bonding and attachment with babies

Your bond with and your attachment to your baby is about the things you do together, and the way you make your baby feel. These things are vital for your baby's development.

For example, bonding is about things like:

  • responding to your baby's needs for food, sleep, clean nappies and so on
  • showing him warmth and love
  • playing with him
  • talking, reading or singing to him
  • smiling, touching or cuddling him.

When you do things like this with your baby, it builds connections in your baby's brain. It also helps your baby learn that her world is safe and secure and that she's loved. When your baby feels safe, secure and loved, she's more confident to explore her world. And this is how she learns and develops communication, behaviour, social, physical and other skills.

Through the first year of baby development, some of your baby's needs will change, but he still wants to connect with you. He might also find new ways to tell you when and how he wants to connect. But no matter how old your baby is, your bond strengthens when you respond to his needs for connection and new experiences that stimulate his brain.

Bonding at 3-6 months: what it looks like and how to respond

Your baby learns about the world and forms relationships by watching parents, siblings and the people around her. She watches the way your face reacts when she does something - for example, when she smiles at you, you smile back. And she learns that some actions get a response from you - for example, when she yells louder than the television.

Your baby will communicate with you in new ways. He'll still cry to tell you he needs something, but by about five months he might also grunt or squeal. He'll also start to laugh, coo or say words like 'ah-goo' to get your attention.

Your baby is also getting more control over her movements, and she starts grabbing and reaching for things that catch her attention.

Here are some things you can do to respond to your baby and bond with him at this age:

  • Look back gently into baby's eyes when she tries to catch your eye.
  • Show you're listening when your baby makes noises. Try smiling, nodding, widening your eyes, and lifting your eyebrows. You can also say things like, 'What did you say?' or 'Aren't you talking well!' This all encourages your baby to keep communicating.
  • Help your baby to calm down after being upset or excited. You can do this by stroking him, saying gentle words and playing soothing music. This helps your baby learn to soothe himself, which is a first step towards self-regulation.
  • Give your baby chances to succeed and make good things happen. For example, you could hold a rattle close to her so she can hit it to make a noise.
  • Read with your baby. You can read with your baby from birth. And if you hold your baby close so he can see your face and the book, it can be a great time for bonding.
It's never too early to start talking to your baby. Talking with your baby can help her language, communication and brain development. And by communicating back and forth with your baby in a warm and gentle way, you're strengthening your relationship with her too.

Bonding at 6-9 months: what it looks like and how to respond

As your baby's motor skills improve, he might show he needs attention by crawling after you or putting his arms up when he wants you to lift him up. If he can't reach something, he might look at you to ask for help.

You might notice your baby copying your sounds and gestures. Copying is how she learns, and it's also a way of connecting with you.

And your baby is 'talking' to you more too. He'll babble and make sounds like 'ba-ba' or 'ga-ga' as he moves closer to his first word.

As your baby's memory develops, you might notice she starts forming stronger attachments to people and objects like favourite toys. She might also fear grown-ups she doesn't know very well, or cry and experience separation anxiety when you leave her with someone else. This is a natural and normal part of attachment and development.

Here are some things you can do to respond to your baby and bond with him at this age:

  • Use words when you respond to your baby's needs, and repeat words to help her understand their meanings. For example, when you're feeding your baby, you could say, 'Are you hungry?', 'You're hungry aren't you?' or 'Ohhh, I'm hungry too'.
  • Repeat your baby's sounds back to him. If he says 'ba-ba', say 'ba-ba' back and wait for him to respond. This teaches him about having a conversation.
  • Play peekaboo with your baby by hiding your face behind your hands, then popping out with a smile. This helps her understand that you still exist, even when she can't see you.
Babies who have slept well for their first six months or so might start to wake at night around this age, or they might not want to go to sleep. If this sounds like your baby, he could be experiencing separation anxiety. Learning to settle and sleep independently might help.

Bonding at 9-12 months: what it looks like and how to respond

By this age, your baby's ability to experience different emotions has developed a lot. For example, she might seem uncertain or cautious about a new toy. When you reassure her that the toy is OK to play with, it can give her confidence to keep playing and exploring her world.

At this age, your baby can entertain himself with familiar objects. But play is still all about the connection between you and your baby. Your face, touch and voice are your baby's most exciting and interesting playthings. For example, your baby might hold up toys to show you what he's playing with.

You might find that your baby is starting to want more independence. She's getting better at using her hands and fingers and might want to do more things by herself. But she'll still want to connect with you.

Here are some things you can do to respond to your baby and bond with him as he moves towards the toddler years:

  • Respond to your baby's emotional expressions. For example, you can say things like 'That jack-in-the-box gave you a fright, didn't it?' This helps your baby eventually understand and manage her own feelings.
  • Tune in to your baby's interests. For example, if he shows you his teddy, you could say 'Yes, it's Teddy. Is Teddy having a cuddle?'
  • Play games. Games that are fun but that also challenge your baby are good. For example, hide a toy under a cup while your baby is watching and let her 'find' it. Or show her how you put a lid on a container and let her have a try.