Pearls of Wisdom: Emotional Bonding- Part 1: Birth to 12 Months

We hear the term “bonding” so often in modern culture that it’s easy to minimize its importance and impact. But the bond between parents and children is so critical that immediately after delivering a baby, barring complications, a mother will be given some time to spend holding, stroking and looking at her baby. During this sensitive period when the newborn is very alert and responsive, the very first exchanges of touch, eye contact and sounds between a mother will occur; these first interactions are all part of the bonding process.

Many of the basic core emotions you feel for your child will begin during the period right after birth. Watching your baby look back at you, mirroring your facial expressions and following your movements, you will feel a wonderful surge of awe, protectiveness, and limitless love. This initiates what is called the attachment process. Moms who are sedated or who have babies requiring immediate medical attention may not be able to spend this time but should not worry. This will have no long-term repercussions on their relationship since bonding has no time limit. Once your baby is stable and you have recovered from the stress of labor, you will have this opportunity and achieve the same heightened connection.

shutterstock_78150679Parents have an active role in the infant’s state regulation, by alternately offering stimulation or soothing to lengthen the social interaction. Likewise, the parents are regulated by the baby’s signals, responding, for instance with a bottle or breast to answer cries of hunger. These interactions comprise a system directed toward developing the infant’s normal physiologic homeostasis and physical growth. This also forms the foundation for the budding relationship between parent and child. Your baby learns that you as the primary caregiver can alleviate her stress or tension by feeding and shows this preference by calming down quicker for the mom or dad than for a stranger. In turn, this gives Mom a sense of validation and strong connection with her infant. Breastfeeding is a wonderful means by which mothers feel fulfillment and joy from the physical and emotional connection they experience while nursing. These warm feelings are augmented by the release of the hormone prolactin, producing relaxation and the hormone oxytocin, which promotes the sense of love and attachment between mother and infant.

Babies learn basic trust when they realize that their urgent needs are met. The presence of an adult who provides consistency creates the scenario for a secure attachment. Studies show that infants who are consistently picked up and held in response to distress cry less at 1 year and show less aggressive behavior at 2 years.

shutterstock_130586048By the age of 2 months, infants have their first voluntary social smiles and their amount of eye contact increases, marking a change in the parent-child bonding and also giving the parents a sense of being loved back. The baby interacts with increasing sophistication and range, expressing varied emotions of joy, anger, fear, interest and surprise by different facial expressions. When interacting with a trusted adult, the infant and the caregiver have matching expressions about 30% of the time; the eye-widening, laughing and lip-puckering rises and falls together. If the parent turns away, the baby leans forward and reaches out to get the adult involved again. Infants of depressed parents have a different pattern and spend noticeably less time in coordinated movement with their parents, and make less effort to re-engage. They show sadness, apathy and a loss of energy when the parents are not available. This face- to- face behavior demonstrates a baby’s ability to share emotion and expectation from the relationships, which is the initial step in communication.

Babies 6-12 months old show advances in cognitive understanding and communication ability, with new tensions around themes of attachment and separation. Babies look back and forth between a stranger and a parent, as if to contrast a familiar versus an unfamiliar, and may cling or cry. At the same time, there is an emergence of asserting independence; hence, they attempt self-feeding and refuse to take the spoon from the caregiver. This is when temper tantrums arise as the desire for autonomy comes into conflict with parental control.

The unique emotional relationship that forms between you and your baby is key to him feeling safe, and also influences your child’s social, emotional, intellectual and physical development. A secure bond ensures that your baby will have a firm foundation for life, which includes a healthy sense of self-awareness, eagerness to explore and learn, and trust and respect for others. When babies develop a secure attachment bond, they are better able to enjoy interacting with others, develop confidence, handle disappointment, loss or stress, form mature intimate relationships and maintain emotional balance.

How do you bond with your children? Share your stories in the comments or on our Facebook page!

All information contained in this blog and on our web site(s) should be independently verified by you by a medical professional of your own choosing and you should always conduct your own research and due diligence before making any decision related to the subject matter of this blog or our web site. 


Dr. Pearl


Dr. Pearl Cenon

A pediatrician in private practice in New Jersey for over 15 years, Dr. Cenon (we like to call her Dr. Pearl) also has two children of her own. Dr. Pearl’s husband, Kevin McDonough is also a pediatrician and they work together. She writes basic posts about topics that interest many parents, from skin care and nutrition to seasonal issues, such as allergies and colds. Her kind, approachable tone in each blog post will have you looking forward to the next one.

Transitioning to Toddler Bed

We are expecting baby number 2 and decided that it is time to convert our daughter’s bed to a toddler bed (mainly because my growing  stomach is making it harder to get her in and out of the crib).  We wanted the transition to be as easy as possible for us and for her.  We decided to keep her crib and transition it. She was used to the crib and we were worried that a new bed would make the process harder. Her crib was able to be transitioned to a toddler bed by removing the front panel and adding a bed rail. The bed rail was placed in the middle of the mattress so she could not climb in and out of the bed. We also decided for the first few weeks we would still put her in the bed and get her out as if the bed was still a crib. We hoped this way she did not know she could get in or out by herself. We thought that would make the transition easier and she wouldn’t be trying to play when it was bedtime.

On the first night of the toddler bed we read her a book, put her to bed and kissed her goodnight (just like we always did). She noticed the railing was different, but never tried to climb out. We thought it was too easy and expected her to be climbing over the rail soon! We watched on the video monitor and before we knew it she was asleep! The next morning we went into her room and she was still in her bed! We had one successful night in a toddler bed! Whoo-hoo! We continued the same routine every night for about 2 months and never once did she get out of her bed.

Recently, we let her discover that she could get in and out of the bed by herself and she still has not gotten out in the middle of the night. In fact, she LOVES bedtime now because she can crawl into the bed and cover herself up like a big girl! We put a stool by the bed and moved the rail closer to the head of the bed so she could get in and out easier. We don’t let her play in the bed during the day and the only time she gets in the bed is naptime or bedtime—in hopes of preventing her getting up in the middle of the night and playing. The transition was easy and very successful and I believe it was because we slowly changed her routine to get her used to it.

(Here is a picture of her bed the first night we converted it–actually it was the morning after converting it! 

How did you transition your child to a toddler bed? Was it an easy or difficult transition? What were some of the things that you did to make the transition easier?

About the blogger:

My name is Stephanie.  My husband and I have bern married 3 years.  We have a two year old daughter, McKenna, and a little boy due in January.

Breastfeeding — How hard can it be?

That is what I thought after an expectant friend said she was worried about breastfeeding. “It’s how we were designed, what’s to worry about,” I thought. With that (vastly incorrect) outlook, I entered motherhood without considering breastfeeding except that it was “best,” “natural,” and I would do it. Oh, what I have learned!

  • Babies do not always “latch on” and eat – in fact, some, like my son, refuse to latch on but instead scream or, when they finally do latch on, fall asleep.
  • Babies don’t always wake to eat. After my son did not wake to eat his first night at home and into the morning, I called the nurse, who advised bringing him in. Not only had he developed jaundice in the 17 hours since we left the hospital, he had not eaten. Thus, based on the advice of the lactation consultant, I pumped milk, supplemented with formula, and worked on nursing will also finger-feeding him (use a thin tube attached to a feeding syringe filled with formula or breast milk and tape that tube to the finger, which the baby then sucks on to remove milk from the syringe).
  • Finger-feeding to avoid nipple confusion is not a guaranteed success. For the first few weeks, we woke our son every two hours to eat, requiring that we finger-feed him because he would not nurse or wake to eat and we were told giving him a bottle would cause nipple confusion. We now joke that instead of nipple confusion, he got “finger confusion.” For the first couple months, he wanted to suck on someone’s finger instead of a pacifier or bottle – fingers were more comforting/familiar to him.
  • Pumping milk for a baby who won’t nurse is not always possible because the pump does not always stimulate enough milk production.
  • Working with a lactation consultant is helpful and can work, but doesn’t always. The lactation consult gave us great advice, but it just did not work for our son.
  • Sometimes breastfeeding does not work, not for lack of trying or desire – some babies just will not breastfeed and some moms are just unable to do so and that is OKAY.
  • Not nursing when you so badly want to is a tough decision and can cause guilt. I was disappointed, felt guilty for giving up and being unprepared, and often wished I had tried longer. But, after a few weeks of waking my son every two hours, spending twenty minutes unsuccessfully trying to get him to nurse, then finger feeding him, then pumping what (very little) milk I could get so that I could feed him that, with formula, at the next feeding, then starting all over again thirty-forty minutes later plus fitting in trips to the lactation consultant and doctor, I reached my breaking point and, sobbingly, told my husband I could not do this anymore and wanted to just formula feed. He was supportive and we still had to wake our son regularly to eat for a short time, but he had a bottle and life was easier for all of us.
  • Just because one baby won’t nurse, does not mean others won’t. I talked to other moms who had a child who would not nurse and then had other children who nursed just fine. So, when I was pregnant with Baby #2, I decided I wanted to try nursing again after. I prepared myself better this time, but didn’t need to – she latched on twenty minutes after birth, nursed great, and is still nursing twice a day at twenty months. I was also able to return to work and pump three times a day while away from her until she was one, providing her with plenty of milk despite having been unable to pump more than a ½ ounce at a time with my son. Friends, colleagues and even family eye me suspiciously when I say she is still nursing or ask, “When are you going to wean her?” But, I am in no hurry to wean her yet. She seems to nurse less and less each day though and will, I think, wean herself before long.
  • Overall, breastfeeding is a wonderful experience and I would encourage anyone who wants to do so and can to breastfeed – but, it is not always easy and it does not always work and that is okay.

On a side note: our son, who would not wake to eat and when awake, often refused to eat, is now five and still does not like to eat – never has. Meals are always a battle and he would choose to go all day without eating if we let him. He is healthy and in the 75th percentile on the charts, he just does not like food (except fruit snacks and suckers). I maintain that this was the problem from day one – it wasn’t that he couldn’t nurse – he just didn’t like to eat.


Shawna’s beautiful daughter and son!


About the Blogger:

Hi! I’m Shawna. I am a married, working mom of two — one boy, one girl, who I love more than I could have every imagined. Parenting has not always been easy for me and my children throw plenty of unexpected surprises, but I wouldn’t trade that for anything.