As you carried your baby in your belly, you dreamed of an instant connection between you – just like the soft focused television ads. He would instantly know you are his mother, the one who will protect him and love him forever and he will love you back. You will be his special person, the one he loves more than anyone else in the whole world.
Right now, though, it doesn’t feel like that. Of course you love him and feel utterly responsible for him but it’s not like the ads – you feel like a zombie craving sleep, he seems more like a tiny poop machine who cries and squirms and feeds endlessly and all you want is some feedback that your endless hours of nurturing are truly making a difference.
Yes, your care is helping your baby thrive. It is helping love grow between you and as this bond grows, he will show you in his own special ways that you are the most important person in his world:
He knows you: Newborns recognize and prefer their mother’s smell – a study of newborns (Macfarlane 1975) found that just one day after birth, babies preferred (and turned their heads towards) a breast pad worn by their own breastfeeding mother to either an unused breast pad or one worn by another breastfeeding woman.
Your baby knows you are the expert about him and what he needs and he feels safe with you. By tuning in and getting to know your baby’s subtle body language, he will feel as though ‘she gets me’. Without being too hard on yourself – you don’t have to be perfect – check in and ask yourself: ‘what is my baby trying to tell me?’ If you aren’t quite sure, watch how your baby responds when you try to meet her needs and ask yourself questions like: ‘does my baby like being held this way?’ ‘Does she settle when I follow this routine?’ ‘How do I know what she likes?’ Soon you will know the most subtle cues that have outsiders completely baffled.
He can’t take his eyes off you: Even a newborn will gaze at your face and copy your facial expressions (try poking your tongue out and watch him copy). Soon he will be flirting – gazing, looking away, giving you tiny smiles and by the time he is a few months old, he will be looking at you endlessly and playing silly games.
This face to face gazing and playing is helping your baby grow important brain connections: Margot Sunderland, Director of Education and Training for the Centre for Child Mental Health in London explains, ” face to face conversations between you and your baby and the subsequent release of optimal hormonal levels into your child’s brain will help develop pathways in your child’s higher brain that encourage social intelligence, the ability to form relationships.” Ms Sunderland says, “the ability to ‘light you up’ is the very basis of your baby’s sense of himself as lovely and lovable.”
He smiles at you: Don’t believe all the naysayers who tell you ‘it’s just wind’. New research suggests that your baby’s early goofy grins may be his efforts at copying your facial expressions and they are possibly the beginning of him wiring his tiny brain ready for more deliberate smiles.
Somewhere between six and eight weeks your baby will begin what the experts call ‘social smiling’. He is beginning to learn the association between you and feeling good: he smiles at you, you smile back – and love deepens!
He loves to be in your arms: Is it any wonder your newborn doesn’t like sleeping when you pop him down? Consider, he has been on the inside, close to your heart-beat, he knows your smell, your voice and inside your womb, he was lulled to sleep by your body movements.
As he adapts to life on the ‘outside’ try ‘wearing’ your baby in a carrier or wrap against your moving body and your comforting heartbeat where he can breathe in your familiar smell and hear your voice as you whisper sweet nothings to him. Best of all, you will have two hands free to do a few chores, or you can go out and enjoy a walk with your little love.
You are his everything: This feels overwhelming right now but very soon your little one will be showing you how much he loves you with much less subtle signals.
When a stranger says ‘hello,’ your baby will check in with a glance at you as if to say, ‘is this person safe?’ This is what the experts call ‘social referencing’ – all the connecting you are doing right now is encouraging a strong attachment with your baby and showing him, you are his safe base.
Also, when somebody else is holding your baby, he will twist towards you and reach out for you. He may start to cry when he can’t see you. This can feel frustrating at times but it’s an important sign that you are the most important person in your baby’s world. You are his ‘rock’ and he loves you best. From this secure attachment, he will learn to love others and he will feel safe to explore further and further from you as he grows. Right now though, enjoy every sweet snuggle because this special time will pass – all too quickly. I promise.
Pinky McKay is Australia’s most recognised breastfeeding expert and gentle parenting advocate. She’s an Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), mum of five (so she has had her fair share of sleepless nights) and best-selling baby-care author of Sleeping Like a Baby, 100 Ways to Calm the Crying and Parenting by Heart (Penguin Random House). See Pinky’ s books, baby massage DVD and recordings HERE.