10 Ways to Build Attachment With Your Baby

Father kissing baby on head
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Sometimes parents get mixed signals when it comes to attachment. You might hear that you are spoiling your baby or a friend might tell you that it seems like your child is “attached at the hip” in a negative tone. Rest assured that if you practice the following with love and make sure to balance your own needs for rest, adult contact and intellectual stimulation, then your child will grow to be independent and secure. The first years of life are when this groundwork is laid, and a strong, healthy attachment is the key.

Wear Your Baby

Let’s face it. You’re a parent or other caregiver and you’ve got a lot of things to accomplish in a day. There’s laundry to be done, meals to be cooked, and if you have other children their needs must be attended to as well. At the end of a day, it might seem like you haven’t had time to even brush your teeth. A sling is not a magical cure for the time crunch of parenting, but it can help. The greatest benefit of all goes to your baby, however. While it helps free your hands for jobs around the house or the market, it also gives your baby close contact to your body. For very young babies, the motion is soothing and similar to the womb. It can often help calm babies with colic, as well.

Read and Talk to Your Baby

Reading and talking to your baby is especially important if it’s just you and your baby together for the majority of the time. Since you are the primary caregiver, it’s important that your baby learns to understand and trust you. Much of this understanding comes from verbal cues. Good early books to read with infants are picture books with one-word descriptions of everyday objects on each page or books with short rhyming patterns.

Don’t be under the impression, though, that you must provide a non-stop flow of chatter for your baby all day long. This can cause your baby to become overstimulated and tune you out. As your baby grows, he’ll learn that there are times for talking, laughing, and reading and times for quiet as well. If you use language carefully now and make reading times routine, your child will be able to discern later when it’s important to listen.

Play Lap Games With Your Baby

Games like peek-a-boo and patty-cake help children develop skills like fine motor skills and object permanence, but more importantly, they provide times of closeness for you and your child. It also provides a good example—your child might see you working all day on household chores or other tasks, so make sure he sees you take time out for play too.

Massage Your Baby

Infant massage has been getting a lot of press in the last decade as an important way to build attachment and soothe fussiness. It’s especially useful for babies that get worked up quickly and have a hard time calming down, and for babies who aren’t able to self-soothe. If you’ve ever seen a baby form an attachment to a pacifier, you know how quickly they can calm down when it goes in their mouth. For babies who are given frequent massages early in life, it has the same effect. In later months, it takes just a moment of touch to help them relax and regain control. But don’t wait until he’s fussy to give a massage. Set aside time before or after a bath or during diaper changes, too.

Look at Your Baby While You Are Feeding Him

Looking at your baby promotes attachment, of course, but it also helps him develop his own sense of identity. When you gaze into his eyes during a feeding, there is prolonged, intimate contact coupled with the warmth of being nestled in your arms, and skin-to-skin contact if you are nursing. When you change sides you offer him a different view of you and help him develop both sides of his brain and body.

Kiss Your Baby

Kissing is an intimate activity and a sign of affection that can help promote attachment. The kiss of most parents is even known to “cure” a whole host of ailments and boo-boos.

Talk to Your Baby When You Are Out of Sight

Soon enough, your baby may lose that “out of sight, out of mind” mindset. Many babies become frightened when they realize a parent or caregiver has left the room, and this can be frustrating every time you need to answer the phone or use the bathroom. If you start early, you can help alleviate this fear. As you are leaving the room, talk to your baby about what you are doing or where you are going. You don’t need to speak loudly or keep your voice going the entire time, but just hearing your voice is a reassuring reminder that you aren’t far away. In time, your baby will gain the sense that all is still well when you leave the room and there’s no need to fear.

Be There When Your Baby Wakes Up

You don’t have to set an alarm or stand over your sleeping child just waiting for the moment he rises. If you know your child always wakes from a nap at a certain time, though, make it a habit to occasionally be nearby when he wakes up, ready with a hug. This is especially true if you have a child who always wakes up crying or seems afraid upon waking. Knowing you are nearby can help alleviate this.

Bathe With Your Baby

Again, the skin-to-skin contact here is elemental toward developing attachment and it’s a routine that provides stability and builds trust between you and your baby. It’s not necessary to bathe with him each and every time, but it’s a fun time for you and your baby to share together.

Learn Your Baby's Cues and Respond to Them Quickly

Each baby has his own set of cues, but many are universal. Babies will begin rooting, mouthing their hands or making sucking sounds when hungry and will eventually cry, for example. In time you will learn what all your child’s signals are if you pay close attention to what’s going on before the diaper change, feeding, nap or bedtime.

When you know your baby and respond to his cues, you build trust and a sense of security that all his needs are going to be met. That helps lessen and often eliminate anxiety.

When you have an attachment to someone, it is because you are close to them and you know them. You know when your best friend is feeling down and you know how to make her feel better. You know what your significant other’s favorite food is and you probably know just when to cook it to make him or her feel comforted.

The same holds true with your baby. You don’t have to run at break-neck speed the instant your baby starts to make hungry sucking noises, but that’s a good time to respond verbally and let him know that food is coming. That response lets him know you are aware of his needs and that “help is on the way.” It also gives you time to gather a glass of water or a snack before nursing or allows you to prepare a bottle before his cue turns into a desperate demand.

And one last tip—ignore anyone who says you are spoiling your baby. You’ll be able to prove them wrong when your child is secure enough in your love to venture out on his own to explore the world.

By Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown is a parenting writer with experience in the Head Start program and in NAEYC accredited child care centers.