In my experience over my years as a Breastfeeding Counsellor and supporting new parents, one question that has come up time and time again is whether it is important to share feeds with other people so that they can bond with their baby. I’m not always sure whether this comes from a place of anxiety of potentially becoming the main source of comfort for a baby, or whether I’m being asked to dismiss the suggestion so the parent loses the pressure to share the feeds, because someone else has told them they should.
I think it’s important to acknowledge that there is often a desire to not necessarily be the sole source of comfort for your baby, and that we can do this without undermining breastfeeding or the value of keeping feeds to the parents alone if bottle feeding (as stated by the UNICEF guidelines). Understanding how babies form relationships with others, and how it works for feeding, can allow us to transfer this knowledge across to other scenarios. This enables you to feel confident with how your baby can build on their relationship with yourself as well as your other loved ones around you.
Babies love familiarity. This is why breastfeeding is often so comforting: The sound of their parent’s heartbeat & voice, the smell of amniotic fluid secreted by the Montgomery glands at the breast, the warmth of their parent’s chest. Not only this, but the touch given through feeding gives a boost of oxytocin to support a calm and relaxed environment. They’re close to their parent, and babies are hardwired to spot the patterns of faces, so by keeping within the distance that they can see a face, they build recognition of that which creates increasing reassurance over time.
It’s all about time, proximity and repetition. Part of the reason why feeding is such an incredible way to build a relationship with your baby is because they remain close to you, over and over again over a prolonged period of time, so the important thing to remember is that spending that time is the crucial part of building the relationship, and I’ve come up with some ideas how you can do this, without necessarily sharing feeds…
Babies have an innate ability to copy your expressions, so get up close and personal so they can see you and poke out those tongues! (Better yet, mimick their face shapes and sounds to support their language development.)
Gentle massage with your baby can be a nice way to wind down. Get yourself into their line of view during a time when they’re happy to play, and boost those oxytocin levels with some communication through touch.
Not only does singing support your baby’s development, it’s also a great tool to use for building up a relationship with them – your already familiar voice will provide a reassuring experience for them.
Tummy time cuddles
Lay baby on their tummy on yours and they’ll be lifting their head to find the face to that familiar voice when you talk together, building up important core strength needed for gross motor skills.
Bath time is a great way to experience a sensory environment together with the temperature, sounds, texture of the water. By jumping in the bath together it’s also a good opportunity for some skin to skin for that always amazing oxytocin to provide reassurance and comfort if they’re unsure.
Using a sling is a great way to keep your baby in your view line for long periods. Some babies also love the sensation of being carried not just for the movement, but also for a womb like cuddle. You can get your baby involved in your everyday life, and maintain a hands free connection to build your relationship with them!
Sensory play is a good way to interact with your baby and to stimulate their senses and enhance their development. Think about different ways to offer stimulation through sounds, textures, temperature, visuals and smells.
Create a routine
Not in any strict or timed sense, but offering cues before an activity can create continuity and reassurance for your baby. These associations naturally occur with feeding, so adding them in other aspects of your life (such as rubbing your hands together for your baby to see before massage, or reading a book at a similar time each day) can enable them to transfer them to other relationships over time.
Skin to skin
Having time in skin to skin with your baby will be comforting for them, so incorporating it into Sunday morning snuggles, or evening sofa time will provide a long term closeness with your baby as they grow.
Getting within your baby’s eye line while changing their nappies, using these (many) opportunities to chat, play peekaboo, and have some touch time with your baby, will help to establish a loving environment.
Family cuddles whilst feeding
Using breastfeeding as a tool can be really helpful for building relationships. Having partners or loved ones sat in close proximity to the breastfeeding parent, chatting together, will help your baby to recognise familiar voices. Being within their eye line will draw their attention to your face – a good way to learn about the nuances of your baby together!
The main thing about all of these is providing opportunities for your baby to become familiar and engaged with the important people in your lives, providing you with tools to communicate with them over time and offering a more dynamic support network.