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Getting to know your newborn

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Real mum's tip


"I found it hard to bond with my second son, Ollie, when I had to stop breastfeeding because of mastitis. But once we got used to the bottle, I spent time just stroking his face while his big brother was in bed. Now it's hard to believe bonding was an issue."

Louise Hall

Some parents feel intense love for their child the minute they first hold him. For others bonding takes time, as they get to know him. Here are some top tips on how to get to know each other.

Personality

Some babies are active and alert, some seem very relaxed. Others are hard to reassure, sensitive to changes in routine and restless if you're uneasy. Of course, the baby who could win first prize for being laid back is no more 'good' than an easily upset baby, it's really just the way they are.

Bonding

Feeding, cuddling, talking, singing, massage, bathing together or even just looking at each other all help parents and babies to bond. Your baby will tell you if he's ready to interact: when he's looking at and reaching out to you, he wants you to talk to him.

Baby talk

Young babies are reassured by voices they know, and he'll be comforted by hearing you chat to others as well as enjoying you talking directly to him. Give him plenty of time to reply with gurgles, coos and arm waving. Keep what you say simple, or copy your baby's sound. This is often called 'motherese', but all the family can do this.

Spatial awareness

Newborns like to feel physical boundaries - after all, their life up till now was spent in an increasingly tight space! - and they like to be held close. Some pedal their legs in happiness when their clothes are removed, while others fling up their arms in panic and cry until they feels a soft cloth over them. At bathtime many babies stiffen anxiously unless you hold their feet against the end of the bath, so again just do what feels right for your child.

Co-ordination

A very young baby is still curled up and it's not until about six weeks that you'll see him open his little fist and play with his hands. He'll soon be able to hold his head up too, if you keep his body steady, and his ability to control his body then develops steadily from the top down. Nearing the three-month milestone he'll be busy finding his hands and feet. His movements may begin to look more deliberate but he is still trying to get his eyes and hands to work together.

Fun and games

Your newborn needs simple play resources and a companion - if it's an older sibling, show them how to be gentle. He hasn't yet learned how to grip objects, so try these ideas:

  • Hold a book steady, so he can scrabble with his fingers.
  • Show him a smooth wooden spoon so he can look, feel and try to grasp it. 
  • Shake a simple sound-maker such as a bell in a cloth cube. Tie it securely to a ribbon, and let him try to swat it.
  • Buy toys with a range of textures and colours, especially red, black and white.*

Finding it tough?

There are many reasons why bonding may not happen immediately, including you having to spend time with older kids, lack of sleep (on both your parts!) and colic. Talk to your health visitor or GP if you are concerned.

*Source: Dr Robert Steele, St John's Clinic Paediatrics, Missouri, USA