Much is made of bonding right after delivery, but the process begins even before birth, says Joanne Baum, PhD, author of Got the Baby: Where's the Manual?!? (Small Press Bookwatch). "You're already establishing a relationship as the baby becomes familiar with your voice," she adds. Getting an ultrasound can help strengthen the prenatal bond by making the baby seem more real to you.
And yes, ideally, it's best to get to know each other as soon as possible after birth. "Moms and babies are primed hormonally to need each other at that moment; it's the basis for survival, the start of the mothering instinct," says Jeannette Crenshaw, RN, a clinical education specialist at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. Studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact actually helps moms release endorphins -- narcotic-like hormones that help them feel calm and responsive to their babies. Melia Wilkinson, of Phoenix, Maryland, remembers an overwhelming surge of feelings when she saw her daughter Casey for the first time. "It was immediate for me," she says. "Everything got all warm and fuzzy around the edges, and I knew I was in love."
For Robin Nolan, of Raleigh, North Carolina, the bond didn't feel real until she left the hospital with her newborn son, Jamie. "I had to protect him from the rain when we were getting into the car," she says. "Right then, I realized he was mine and I had to shelter him -- that was the defining moment for me."