Ever notice how your baby’s beautiful face – those chubby cheeks and sparkly eyes and that mischievous smile – is somehow more fascinating to watch than even the Oscar-winningest blockbuster? That’s no coincidence. The two of you are hardwired to thoroughly enjoy each other’s company. And if you follow your instincts and develop a great rapport now, you could set her up a lifetime of stellar relationships.
In one study, babies who were securely attached to their mother at 12 months (they turned to her for comfort when exploring an unfamiliar place) were more likely in their early 20s to come out of an argument still feeling connected to their partner. “The results of this research suggest that our ability to love, trust, and resolve conflict stems in part from how we’re treated as infants,” explains study author Jeff Simpson, Ph.D., adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota.
Loving your little one may also help safeguard her health. Research in Psychological Science suggests that attentive mothers buffer kids against chronic stress, which can cause sleep disorders, digestive problems, memory impairment, depression, and obesity.
Bonding with your sweetie is intuitive – and a joy. “Attachment isn’t about acting the ‘correct’ way,” says Daniel Messinger, Ph.D., a child-psychology professor at the University of Miami. “It’s really about watching her and responding sensitively.” So if you’re both having fun, you’re doing it right! Need a few pointers? Read on for 30 ways to bond with your baby.
1. Breastfeed your baby. It's not just about nutrition—when your little one snuggles up against you to nurse, he hears your heartbeat, smells your scent, is reassured by skin-to-skin contact.
2. Look into baby's eyes during bottle time. You want to get credit for all those feedings, right?! Keeping eye contact will help your baby remember who you are and what you mean to her.
3. Give her a massage. The benefits for baby are staggering, and you'll feel like a superhero as she giggles and coos in delight.
4. Put your phone away. Right now, your family, friends, and co-workers will understand if it takes you a few hours to respond to a text. Take advantage by giving all that extra time to your little one.
5. Look in the mirror together. He doesn't yet understand the concept of a reflection, but that's OK. Babies love looking at human faces and this is a great way to get him up close and personal with his own.
6. Listen to her heartbeat. Remember how excited you got to hear that sweet sound during sonograms? It can now be music to your ears whenever you want.
7. Sleep when he sleeps. Do not—we repeat, do not—feel guilty for hitting the sack at 7 p.m. A well-rested mommy is a happy mommy, and your baby will benefit most from that.
8. Do something sweet for your partner. Whether you realize it or not, your baby is picking up on the bond his parents share. Strengthen it by making a special dinner or taking the time to watch a movie together...just like old times!
9. Don't stress the milestones. It's tempting to scour the internet for info on when certain things will happen, but all babies develop at their own pace. If you keep looking ahead to the future, you'll miss out on the now, mama!
10. Go skin-to-skin. You carried her in your belly for nine months, and chances are you're both missing that constant physical connection. Kangaroo care is a sweet—and practical—activity since it helps regulate baby's breathing and heart rate.
11. Respond to her cries. Especially for the first three months of her life, your baby needs to know you're there for her—and picking her up when she cries helps build that trust. No, you won't be spoiling her!
12. Become a superstar at swaddling. Proper swaddling can equal better sleep for baby. Need we say more? Follow this guide.
13. Take in his smell. Sadly, no one has yet figured out a way to bottle baby smell, so since you've got the good stuff right under your nose, sniff away. You'll find that your little one's scent is even more intoxicating than any other baby's. Ever. In the history of the world.
14. Spend extra time in the glider. So she just fell asleep and you're feeling pretty confident that you can use your ninja moves to transfer her to the bassinet without waking her. Before putting her down, rock back and forth together in the quiet, dark room. These are the moments you'll miss, so soak them in.
15. Play dress-up. Let's face it, your heart melts a little every time you see your baby in a new outfit, right? No one will judge you if you put on a baby fashion show for your eyes only!
16. Keep a journal. Your baby's first year will whiz by in a blur, so record all the sweet memories you're making together. Feel free to unearth the diary in 16 years when he brings his first date over the house!
17. Have a stuffed animal meet and greet. You'll have a blast watching your baby touch, smell, and even taste his little furry friends. Take notice as he picks a favorite—you'll want to have that one on hand at bedtime.
18. Make an appointment with Dr. Seuss. It's never too early to tap into her inner bookworm! Bonus points if you can put on a different voice for each character.
19. Breathe through a crying fit. That impossibly-put-together mom at Pilates is a liar...ALL babies cry. But when you tense up and get frustrated, your baby will wail even more.
20. Set a schedule. Babies are creatures of habit, so if you stick to a program your little one will feel more at ease. It'll also help her realize that you're the one making all the magic happen as you anticipate her feeding needs.
21. Go on a mommy-and-me date. Feeling adventurous? Hit up the zoo! Not so adventurous? The coffee shop around the corner works. Getting out with baby will remind you that the world is still spinning outside your little cocoon.
22. Come up with a pet name for him. You're his mom, so you can call him anything you want. Plus, the nickname you give him will be like a little secret only you two share.
23. Make a playlist and channel your inner Beyonce. Pick five of your favorite tunes, play them for baby regularly, and sing along. You'll get a kick out of it when she starts to bop along eventually, and it's always good for her to hear your voice.
24. Whip out your old baby photos. Maybe she has your eyes, your smile, or your ringlets. Whatever resemblance you find will make you feel instantly connected to her.
25. Relish feeding time. When it's time to start solids (around 6 months), don't worry about the mess. Instead, focus on your baby's sweet enjoyment and exploration of the new tastes, textures, and smells she's being exposed to.
26. Get your silly on. Have a blast wiggling your eyebrows and sticking out your tongue, and prepare for your heart to explode when you finally get baby to smile.
27. Leave the mess. Every day you'll have a choice: Tidy the house or cuddle with baby on the couch. We say cuddle time is more important than a clean house!
28. Feeling stressed? Talk to her. Those early days of motherhood can be isolating, so feel free to talk it all out with your new little BFF. She'll love hearing the sound of your voice, and you'll feel like a weight was lifted. Can you say win/win?
29. Take pleasure in the poop. Yeah, we said it. The diaper change gets a bad rap, but you can make it fun by singing a happy song while you wipe, marveling at how cute your baby's bottom is, or coming up with a million different words for poop.
30. Kiss him, kiss him, kiss him. In a few years he's going to wipe off your smooches and give you "that look." But right now? He's adorably helpless, so pucker up!
You look at this red-faced, wrinkled little stranger – who is bawling at the top of his lungs, to boot – and you don’t feel overcome with love? Don’t panic, says Nancy Mork, associate director at the Erikson Institute Fussy Baby Network in Chicago. That reaction is completely normal. “So many parents have this expectation that they will instantly fall in love with their baby,” she says. “If that doesn’t happen, they feel they’ve failed.”
But countless moms and dads feel emotionally underwhelmed in the early newborn days. “Many parents struggle to build a relationship with a newborn who can barely make eye contact, let alone communicate in a way to build a close relationship,” says Chuck Schaeffer, Ph.D., a New York City–based reproductive psychologist and fatherhood expert.
Rest assured: There is no one right way to bond with your baby. “As long as you’re having fun and feeling happy around your kid, he’ll feel happy and safe, and bonding will naturally occur.”