One of my most vivid new-mom memories is frantically scrolling through Dr. Sears’ website to find the answers to my most paranoid parenting questions as I tried to get my newborn son to latch at two in the morning. I know we’ve all been there. Considering that Dr. Sears has been hailed as a top parenting guru and pediatrician, there’s no doubt his resources and books have helped many a new parent make it through a rough patch in the middle of the night.
So, I kind of feel like Dr. Sears and I are friends, given the amount of time I’ve spent reading his website. While I don’t ascribe to all of Dr. Sears’ attachment-parenting-slanted philosophies, after having the pleasure of interviewing him, I can confidently say this man knows what he is talking about and truly cares about the frazzled new parent.
Dr. Sears is ready to break it down for us. In partnership with Huggies, this father, grandfather and author of more than 40 pediatric books, including The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two, answers the burning questions on every new parent’s mind: What am I supposed to do with my baby? What if I’m doing everything wrong? How do I know if my baby loves me?
SK: Why is bonding with a new baby so important?
“Bonding, which simply means getting to know and enjoy your baby more, is the fun part of parenting. It actually begins before birth and continues throughout the life of your child as a series of fun interactions.”
SK: What can a new parent do to improve bonding before birth?
“Here are my top two bonding tips before birth: First, talk to your pre-born baby. Babies hear the second half of pregnancy, so get them used to your voice. Second, feel your pre-born baby. Put your hands on what we call the ‘baby bump’ and feel those adorable little baby kicks.”
SK: What can a new parent do to improve bonding after birth?
“Well, one thing you can do is to bond during diaper-changing time. You’re going to spend a lot of time changing diapers, probably one thousand times, so you might as well enjoy it! And here’s how to enjoy diaper-changing time — reserve novel bonding interactions for diaper changing. I would walk my hands up and down Baby’s arms, legs and abdomen during-diaper changing time. And what that does, it programs the baby that when diaper changing comes, fun is soon to follow.”
SK: Speaking of programming, how does a routine make bonding with your baby easier?
“I’m glad you mentioned the magic word ‘programming’ because that’s what bonding does: It programs babies that fun is soon to follow. For example, what we would often do was a daily infant massage — therapeutic touch. Around 4 o’clock every afternoon is ‘happy hour,’ when babies are often fussy. So when you give Baby a massage, Baby looks forward to the massage every afternoon instead of fussy time.”
SK: What common mistakes do new parents make that can affect baby bonding?
“One common mistake is listening to others instead of Mother’s own instinct. Remember the term ‘mommy brain?’ When mothers give birth to a baby, they grow a special center in their brain, like a radar system. You just follow that. You imagine, ‘If I were my little baby, what would I want my mother to do?’, and you do it. Those special little touches, the infant massage, the songs you sing to Baby, the facial gestures, the ups and downs of the voice — mothers naturally exaggerate their speech during playful interactions with Baby.”
SK: Is there a way for a parent to know they have successfully bonded with their baby?
“You watch your baby. When in doubt, look at Baby. You want a smiling baby. If a baby gives you eye contact and says to you, like they would talk, ‘Mom, thank you. I just love being with you. Let’s continue having fun together. I just love hearing your voice.’ That’s what your baby’s facial expression will give you.”
The biggest takeaway I had from speaking with Dr. Sears is that we crazy, worried and sleep-deprived parents are not alone. From that first positive pregnancy test, we are all scrambling to figure out exactly how to connect with our child. Every time we encounter a new hurdle with our new baby, and inevitably screw it all up, we worry that we’ve ruined our kid forever.
Take comfort in the fact that this is just how parenting is going to be. You may never feel like you’re doing it right, but you can take the advice of a doctor who knows a few things about babies: Trust your gut. As confusing as it all is, you know your baby best. And you’re doing a much better job than you think you are.