Meeting Your Baby
The first few days with your new baby will bring a cornucopia of emotions. Here's how to focus on what counts—bonding with your baby.
You've just met your baby and you're thrilled! You're also nervous, proud, frightened, exhilarated, anxious, numb—you name it. An adoptive parent's joy over a new baby is undeniable. Yet it may be tempered by anxiety, particularly if your road to parenthood included infertility struggles, dashed hopes, and financial strain. It's also possible that you're worried about bonding. I'm here to tell you that these are all normal emotions, and that you will be fine.
Some parents feel an instant bond when they first meet and hold their infant. For most, however, bonding is a gradual process, taking weeks and sometimes months. More than 50 percent of adoptive parents, when asked to recall those first days and weeks, report that they felt more numb and scared than connected and competent.
You may meet your infant in a hospital room, a hotel room, an airport, or at home, in a quiet room or amid a bustling group. Your child may snuggle into your arms or pull away and cry. Some infants become withdrawn and unresponsive, while others light up with a smile. The more you've prepared by talking with other adoptive parents about the wide range of experiences, the less likely you are to feel taken aback by your baby's reaction.
All infants, even newborns, need time to adjust and connect with a new environment and family. They may avoid eye contact, become fussy, refuse to take a bottle, sleep excessively or not at all. This has nothing to do with your parenting skills or whether or not you gave birth to this child. Only when, in a very rare occurrence, a baby refuses most bottles and has fewer than six wet diapers a day is there cause for concern and medical attention. So, try to relax and give your baby time to acclimate. These ideas can help:
- Appeal to your baby's senses. Hold off washing the outfit he came home in, and keep it near him in the crib. Newborns are very sensitive to smell and can be comforted by a familiar aroma.
- Avoid excessive eye contact. Even a newborn will let you know when it's too much—he'll look away, close his eyes, or fuss. Give him time.Speak quietly and move with gentle motion. Most infants will startle at sudden movement.
- Leave the room as little as possible. If you can, stay in the hotel room, rest, and hold your baby or rock or croon to him—these early moments of bonding are priceless. Try to avoid distracting visitors, noise, or commotion.
- Snuggle up. Hold your infant as much as possible to facilitate bonding. A baby cannot be spoiled by too much holding time. Consider a baby sling or front carrier; most infants prefer being securely swaddled. Like a baby kangaroo, your child will benefit from close contact.
- Be patient with yourself, your spouse, and your infant. Caring for a new baby in a hotel room in a strange city is exhausting. Give yourselves the gift of patience while you adjust.
- Know your doctor beforehand. You will have many questions during your first few days with your baby. So be sure, before your baby comes home, that you have a medical provider you can trust, one who will take your calls from the city where you meet your baby. (See below for how to find an adoption-sensitive doctor.)
Putting a diaper on backwards, fumbling with bottles and nipples, holding a slippery baby in bathwater—these are common struggles in the first days of parenthood. Relax. You will make many mistakes throughout your child's life. He will grow and thrive and love you in spite of them.
Marybeth Lambe, M.D., is a family physician and adoptive mother who lives with her family in Washington State.
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