Since the rise and rise of attachment parenting, beginning in the 70s, many parents have been led to feel anxious and worried about bonding with their baby. You don’t need to feel anxious or worried.
The latest research on oxytocin suggests that attachment parenting is simply hardwiring your baby’s brain in its early years to have a strong oxytocin response for the rest of its life. This is called hormonal imprinting. As you know by now, worry and anxiety inhibit oxytocin. If your oxytocin is flowing, then you will naturally parent in a way that facilitates a strong oxytocin response in your baby. Love is all you need.
If any stress, rational thinking, fear, birth trauma or even lack of sleep has inhibited your oxytocin system, then you may not be feeling the love. Boosting your own oxytocin is like putting on your oxygen mask first, and when you are happy and relaxed your baby will naturally and automatically benefit.
If you feel like you would enjoy tuning in with your baby, I’d like to invite you to try the attachment dance. The attachment dance is an idea taken from the book called The Chemistry of Connection by Susan Kuchinskas. It’s called a dance because it is a back-and-forth interaction between a mother and her baby, in which both are playing a role and benefiting from the experience.
Set aside 5-10 minutes without any distractions, at a time when your baby is happy and well fed. This means turning off your phone, computer, television, radio and focusing 100% on your baby. Choose a time of day when your baby is happy and not tired or hungry. Get comfy with your baby, or come back to this later at a better time.
Here’s how it goes:
Sit your baby in your lap facing you. Think about how you feel. Are you comfortable? Bored? Worried? Happy? Any emotion is fine. Just try to identify it and then move on.
Concentrate on your baby’s face. Where is your baby looking? What facial expressions, gestures or sounds is your baby making?
Wait for your baby to look at you.
If your baby is not ready to make eye contact, come back to this activity at a better time.
When your baby looks at you, calmly look back. How does this interaction make you feel?
Now that you have established eye contact, increase your interaction by doing things to please and arouse your baby. Smile and talk to your baby.
Tickle or stroke your baby.
Identify what your baby enjoys and do more of it. You’re trying to increase your baby’s awareness of your contact.
Eventually your baby will turn to look away from you. Use this time to stop and think about how that makes you feel. Has the interaction brought you joy and relaxation, or do you feel anxious now that your baby has turned away from you? Remind yourself that your baby is learning how to interact with people, and engagement and detachment are both equally important parts of the social cycle.
Prepare for when your baby returns his or her attention to your face so that you can start the facial and physical interaction again.
Wait for your baby to look at you, and then calmly look back.
Smile and talk. Tickle and stroke.
Stop when your baby looks away.
Go through this cycle of engagement and detachment several times. Noticing your feelings as you go.
You can enjoy this attachment dance any time you feel like you and your baby would enjoy connecting. And, if you want to learn more about oxytocin, I recommend the book The Chemistry of Connection by Susan Kuchinskas.