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Bonding with your baby as a non-genetic parent

“Does they like me?” Meeting your new baby can be far more nerve-wracking than any blind date – especially since your baby isn’t great at talking about their feelings yet. New parents who aren’t genetically related to their new babies can feel even more nervous about making sure to properly bond with the newest member of the family. But you and Baby have plenty of time to bond – these first few weeks are just the first steps in a process that will continue on through the rest of your lives as a family.

The ideas in this article specifically address families where one parent is genetically related to their new child and the other is not, but the process of bonding with a baby who isn’t genetically related to either parent follows the same steps of care and building trust, so parents who have adopted may find the second set of tips helpful as well.

Setting the stage

All you really need to bond with Baby is, well, you and them, but there are a few things you can do to set the scene, so that you know you’re making it a little easier for the two of you to get acquainted.

  • Take some time: Especially in couples where one partner has just given birth, it’s more likely for one parent to take more time off for parental leave, since someone who has just given birth needs time to recover from labor and delivery, as well as time to adjust to caring for a newborn. In the earliest days of Baby’s life, though, being a hands-on part of their feeding, sleeping, and bathing routines as much as possible is one of the biggest ways to bond with them. So if it’s possible for both parents to take some time off or to both go back to work part-time, this can allow for primary caregiving to be shared as much as possible in the earliest parts of Baby’s life, which can help to prevent one parent from feeling less bonded to them than the other.
  • Talk it out: You and your partner have probably discussed any insecurities you have about the details of your relationships with Baby starting a long time before they came along, but it’s only natural that both of your perspectives might shift a little bit as you’re starting to get to know Baby for real. Even if it feels repetitive or uncomfortable to tell your partner you feel differently about something than you did before Baby was born, having some of the same conversations over again – about things like sharing baby care, parental titles, or the way you talk about how your family was formed in public – can be very helpful. If you have the chance, talking to other couples who conceived babies in the same way you did can also be a really great way to get perspective and advice.
  • Keep perspective: If, for example, one parent is breastfeeding Baby or only one parent knows the trick of how to soothe them when they're colicky, early bonding can feel unequal, and there isn’t always an easy way to remedy this, besides trying to get in some extra quality time. If something like this comes up, it’s important to keep in mind the fact that Baby is growing every day. Breastfeeding, for example, doesn’t last forever. Neither does colic, or sleepless nights, or any sense you might have that Baby knows who they are or is not genetically related to. In fact, it’ll be years before they have any idea what genes are, and by that time, you’ll have years of first words and loose teeth, stomach bugs and summer vacations bonding you together.

When Baby is in your arms

In terms of practical bonding tips, Baby isn’t much of a talker yet, so you’ll have to mostly rely on body language, but spending some time skin-to-skin so they get to smell your skin and feel your heartbeat is a great place to start. And making sure that you get the chance to feed them regularly, if possible, will also give Baby a head-start on forming meaningful positive associations with you. Eye contact can speed up bonding, too, as can talking and singing to them, which will help familiarize them with your voice – until eventually they are even soothed by it – and also stimulate their brain.

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