Bringing a new baby home can be an exciting but overwhelming time in your life. Now that you have a tiny human in your life, what do you do next?

It’s completely normal to be at a loss at this point — or even when you’re still preparing to bring your new addition home. There are a couple things you’ll need to make sure you do, but one of the biggest is bonding with your newborn — from the very minute they are born.

Bonding with your child is a critical part of being a parent. Many parents have an automatic, unconditional love for their child, but just as many others do not. This does not mean you are a bad parent; it just means you’ll need to take some extra steps to confirm that parenting is right for you and to create a welcoming, supportive home for your newborn baby.

Below, find a few tips for proper baby bonding time — and exactly what options are available if you are not bonding with your baby the way you expected to.

The Importance of Bonding with Your Baby

A parent’s bonding with a newborn is perhaps the most critical thing that can happen after a child is born. It creates an attachment between parents and children that is essential to survival and the well-being of both parties.

Parent-infant bonding is, in many ways, an instinctual process. A strong attachment is necessary to the survival of a child who cannot fend for him or herself. It’s this bond that allows parents to get up in the middle of the night to feed their child and pay attention to their baby’s every cry.

Bonding and attachment with babies also offers an emotional benefit. An infant bonding with a father and mother provides the first model for a child’s intimate life relationships and fosters a sense of security and positive self-esteem. Successfully bonding with a newborn baby often sets the stage for the family members’ parent-child relationships moving forward.

How to Bond with Your Baby

While bonding with your child is often a natural occurrence, it does not come instinctually for all parents. And, even for those for whom it does, taking important steps for bonding with your newborn after birth is critical.

So, what are the ways to bond with your newborn?

There are many methods for how to bond with your baby, and it’s important that you choose the ones that are best for your family. Whether you are a current or expectant mother or father, consider these baby-bonding activities to set the right tone for the rest of your parenting experience:

  1. Utilize touch and skin-to-skin contact.

Obviously, a baby cannot communicate the same way that older children and adults can. For them, skin-to-skin contact is the best method of communication and reassurance. Babies quickly learn to respond to skin-to-skin contact. Touch doesn’t just improve bonding after birth; it is also essentially to healthy growth and development for your baby.

  1. Don’t forget about eye contact.

Similarly, eye contact is an important way of communicating with your child at close range. Just like eye contact with older children and adults does, eye contact with your baby creates a deeper bond during this crucial developmental period.

  1. If possible, take advantage of the benefits of breastfeeding bonding.

Not all parents can or want to breastfeed their child, and that’s completely normal. However, for those who can, breastfeeding not only provides strong bonding through the necessary skin-to-skin contact, it also offers great opportunities for eye contact and the beginnings of intimate mother-infant bonding.

  1. If you are co-parenting, take equal turns bonding with your newborn.

Babies can quickly learn to differentiate between parents’ touches. Therefore, it’s important that both mother-infant and father-infant bonding occur (or mother-infant and mother-infant and other combinations for LGBT parents) soon after the baby’s birth. Setting expectations and a positive base for parent-child relationships early on will be in the best interest of all parties.

  1. Mirror your baby’s movement and mimic their vocalizations.

You may find that your newborn baby tries to mimic your movements and words. This is part of their bonding and an attempt to communicate in your fashion. Make sure to return this favor and communicate in their way, too — and you often get instant responses.

  1. Feed your baby, keeping in mind other important bonding tips.

If breastfeeding is not possible in your situation, that doesn’t mean your bonding and attachment with babies will suffer. Anytime you feed an infant, you will bond with him or her. Even if you are bottle-feeding, make sure to incorporate skin-to-skin and eye contact to strengthen the bond you are creating.

  1. Make bath time fun and interactive.

Bathing a baby serves more of a purpose than simply keeping your baby clean. It’s an opportunity for parents to have a fun time with their child and emphasize their growing bond — because it incorporates many other important steps of how to bond with a baby.

Having Trouble Bonding with Your Baby?

Mother-infant bonding after birth can happen at a stressful time in a new parent’s life — especially if she is a first-time mother and/or had an unplanned pregnancy. If you are not bonding with your newborn in the way you hoped to, know that you are not alone. Many women have felt how you do, and you have several options moving forward.

If you are having trouble bonding with your baby, it’s important that you take a deep breath and evaluate your current situation. Are you simply overwhelmed with the new responsibilities of parenthood? Do you still have a desire to be a parent, or are you regretting your decision? Are you struggling with post-partum depression, or are your emotions a sign of something more permanent?

Many first-time mothers, especially single mothers, find themselves overworked and stressed upon the arrival of their new baby. Their trouble bonding with their newborn stems from not having the support system they need to truly work on this growing relationship. If this is your situation, reach out to friends and family members for help, or consider finding local parenting resources and support groups.

However, if you think your trouble bonding with your baby may be a sign that you are not ready to be a parent, know that you have options. If you truly believe that you cannot be the parent your baby deserves, you can always choose adoption to give your child an amazing life with people who desperately wish to be parents. It is never too late to choose adoption, and you are not a bad parent for choosing this path.

If you are having problems bonding with your baby because of these greater issues, consider reaching out to an adoption specialist for non-obligatory options counseling. They can help you decide which path may be best for you moving forward.