For more than two years now, I’ve been thinking and reading about maternal-baby bonding. Google this topic sometime if you want to do some light (or heavy!) reading. It’s wild what you can find – for one, check out this incredible video from Visual MD about the biology behind the mother-infant love bond. Mind-blowing stuff!
From my personal perspective, I’ve come to marvel over the incredibly intense bond Zoe and I share, and I often wonder what came first – our breastfeeding relationship, or our close bond? In other words, did we become breastfeeding superstars because we were super bonded, or did we become super bonded because we were putting in the time breastfeeding?
I’ve got some thoughts… but first let me try to put into words what I mean when I talk about our unusual bond. Zoe and I literally have a pseudo-Vulcan mind meld thing going on most days. I know what she’s thinking and what she’s saying even before she utters a word. I understand her almost all the time, even when she can’t get a word out quite right. We will make eye contact and even if nothing’s funny, we’ll suddenly burst out laughing simultaneously. Not only that, there have been times when we’ve actually shared dreams. I know someone reading this is probably thinking I’m crazy right now, but it’s true – one night we were lying close together, side by side. I was dreaming about something really funny, but I wasn’t laughing yet – and then just as I was about to crack up, she started laughing out loud in her sleep. It’s happened enough times, and enough other similar things like that have happened, that I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have a supernatural/otherworldly bond. But why and how?
I have always been very close with my own Mommers, but not quite to the degree of what I share with Zoe. And Zoebelle and her daddy are super close, but I am not sure even they share this amazing mental/emotional/almost psychic bond that I feel with her. So what gives? Is it the breastfeeding and all the hormones and emotions and brain cascades that happen during nursing to create a super-strong mother-baby bond? I’m sure that’s a huge part of it. But then I find myself asking, did the bond come first – is our close bond what allowed us to stick with nursing even through all the hard times, and to continue even when many nursing duos might have stopped by now?
I think the answer probably lies in how E and I have chosen to parent – a potent combination of attachment parenting, ecological breastfeeding and cosleeping/nighttime parenting. It’s not for everyone. It’s incredibly time-consuming, requires you to give up much of your life apart from baby – particularly any shred of nightlife you once had! - and has been criticized as being anti-feminist because it places so much responsibility and burden on the mother in particular. But oh, the benefits are awesome.
Now that Zoe’s a toddler and prone to the same trauma-drama as any other two-year old, I have a whole new appreciation for our special bond and what it means. It means she’s less likely to run off in a crowded public place, more likely to listen when I ask her not to start down the stairs without me, and quicker to calm and settle on the rare occasions when things have escalated to an actual tantrum or fit. I also believe she’s less likely to completely freak out, thanks in part to our bond and my ability to understand her and help cut crises off at the pass.
I am by no means supermom. I think part of it is that Zoe’s just a great kid. I also feel like E and I were fortunate to stumble upon some great solutions early on, and I’m happy to share them if they can be of help to others. A lot of the tips I gave in my baby and toddler hacks post are the same things I would recommend to anyone wanting to maximize their bond with an infant or toddler. These tips are of course meant for biological parents, but they are perhaps even more crucial and worthy in the case of adoptive parents. A few others include:
- Spend as much time together - physically together, touching, not just in the same house or room - as humanly possible. Avoid screen time and instead focus on each other, on playing together with simple (non-electronic) toys, or on books.
- Find ways to be physically close instead of separated – like baby wearing instead of using a stroller, bathing together instead of putting baby in a small tub on her own, and co-sleeping with physical proximity (not just the same room but also using a bed-attached co-sleeper or even having baby in your own bed if you can do so safely).
- Many of the things I did to make breastfeeding work in the early months - like visiting Zoe at lunch every day, and dropping down to four days a week at work – also helped cement our bond through more time together and more physical closeness.
- Particularly at the toddler stage and older, focus on active appreciation and acceptance rather than constantly trying to change or correct them. I feel like this tip in particular can help the bond between parent and child, or even between two adults!
This way of parenting may seem weird or extreme to some, and it’s certainly not the norm in Western society where there’s so much emphasis on babies and toddlers becoming “independent” and “well-behaved” as early as possible (some actually see our society as anti-child because we don’t seem to value the infant and toddler stage and all their helplessless and neediness).
But if you’re having issues with a toddler or simply wish to build a closer bond with your baby or child, then it certainly can’t hurt to try some of these high-touch, low-tech methods. They are really working for us.
What do you think – did you have a close bond with your parents or one parent in particular? Do you have a close bond with your children? What did you or they do to enhance that bonding? I’d love to hear in the comments.