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How To Connect With, Understand and Calm Your Baby

young mother holding tiny newborn infant in living room

Did you feel a burst of love and tenderness when you first set eyes on your baby? That feeling is called bonding.

Some parents bond with their newborn the minute they first see them, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes it may take a little time to form that deep connection with your newborn, says UH Rainbow pediatrician Ganga Srinivas, MD.

“Rest assured, as you take care of your baby’s needs over time, you and your baby will form an attachment,” Dr. Srinivas says. “This sets the stage for your lifetime relationship with your child.”

Your New Baby Has Skills

Babies can communicate, Dr. Srinivas says. For example, a hungry baby will say a few short, sharp ‘aah’ sounds before they start crying. In addition, a baby’s hunger cry differs from simple fussing.

Lying on their stomachs, babies can lift and turn their heads when they are awake. As they get hungrier, they will push up on their elbows and peck with their mouths open, trying to find mom’s breast.

“New babies already have personalities,” Dr. Srinivas says. “By being observant, new moms and dads can pick up their child’s unique characteristics and quirks. Some babies are calm and patient, while others may often wake up crying.”

Your Baby Knows Who You Are

A new baby knows their parents’ voices, Dr. Srinivas says. “Your baby has heard your voice while in the womb, and now your baby can hear your voice very well, especially in a quiet space without TV or loud music.”

Babies like to see faces. “They can see your face clearly when you hold them,” Dr. Srinivas says. You will notice that your newborn reacts differently when picked up by someone unfamiliar to them.

Your baby also has a very keen sense of smell and quickly learns your scent. For this reason, and also to avoid skin reactions as you place your baby skin-to-skin with you, it is good for parents to use fragrance-free products

Your baby can pick up on your emotions. “Babies calm down when you touch and cuddle with them – they have spent nine months hugged in a womb, and need Mom’s comforting hold to manage their feelings,” she says.

Connecting with Your Baby

Here are some tips from Dr. Srinivas to help new moms and dads connect with their infants.

Engage -- Engage with your baby when he or she is calm and interested and when feeding. Engage when your baby’s eyes are wide open and looking at you, and when your baby waves his or her arms gently with hands half-open.

Hold – Hold your baby in your arms and talk to him or her. Your baby will focus on your mouth and eyes. Soon, your baby will also start moving his or her mouth as if trying to talk. Use a soft ‘baby’ voice, because your baby will tune in to that. It doesn’t matter what you talk about, but use kind words.

Talk -- Talking to your baby all the time helps your baby learn your voice and learn language. You can say the same thing over and over again. You can describe step-by-step whatever activity you are doing (changing a diaper, getting a glass of water, etc.). You can also make silly baby noises. Your baby frequently hearing your voice is what matters.

Read -- Reading is another way to connect. Until your baby is four to six months old, hold your baby so he or she can see you and the book you’re reading.

Sing -- Singing is another great way to engage with your baby and can be calming for both of you. Don’t use electronics. Babies will focus on the flashy lights and sound (who doesn’t?), but TV and cell phones are not good for a baby’s development.

Calming Your Baby

As your get to know your baby, you will need ways to help your child manage his or her emotions, Dr. Srinivas says.

“Moms can watch for cues that their baby is tired,” she says. Your baby will yawn, avoid your face and look away. They may arch their body away, and their arms and legs may move in a jerky manner. They may begin to fuss.

“This is the time when they may simply need to be held and rocked,” she says. You can also quietly sing to them.

When baby is crying and frantic, you should be the calm at the center of the storm, Dr. Srinivas says. Stop and take a few deep breaths. Lower your voice and use a soft tone with baby. Figure out if your infant needs to eat by looking for feeding cues or needs a diaper change, or simply needs a cuddle.

If your child just need to be held, Dr. Srinivas says to try the Five S’s:

  • SWADDLE your baby snuggly across the arms; allow hip movement
  • SHUSH your baby in a low, rhythmic tone
  • SWAY side to side with your baby in your arms. Some babies like to be held like a football or face-down over your forearm with their face near your elbow.
  • SUCK – Sucking soothes infants: Mom or Dad or another adult can give the baby a (washed with trimmed nails) finger to suck on. Or you can try a pacifier.
  • SWING – Baby swings or rocking in a rocking chair are suitable for short periods of time if you need rest. Babies should NEVER sleep in a swing.

Understanding Your Baby

Parents shouldn’t worry about spoiling their baby, Dr. Srinivas says. Instead, comforting your child has these bond-strengthening benefits:

  • You are responding to needs your helpless baby is expressing.
  • You are teaching them how to manage themselves.
  • You are getting to understand them as a person, and they are getting to understand you.

“Talking, singing and cuddling are part of forming a strong bond and relationship with your little one,” she says.

Building a Lifetime Relationship

All of these things are part of forming a secure attachment between you and your baby, Dr. Srinivas says.

As your child grows older and starts to express him or herself as a toddler and later as an adolescent and a teenager, this secure attachment will help to keep communication channels open.

Dr. Srinivas adds that it’s important to seek help from your doctors if you or your partner have symptoms of depression.

“Depression can interfere with the bond you are working to create with your baby, and can affect their emotional development as well,” she says. There are many options to help you manage depression and other mental health issues.

Related Links

University Hospitals is a trusted resource for many expectant parents in communities across Northeast Ohio. Our experienced team uses the latest evidence-based childbirth practices, providing personalized, family-centered delivery services tailored to your unique needs. Learn more about the pregnancy and childbirth specialists at University Hospitals.