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Whether you've started to settle at home with your adopted child or you're adopting an older baby, the 4th to 7th months are crucial for the bonding process. Gone are the days when your babe slept away the afternoon, awaking only to eat and check out her surroundings. Instead, you're getting to know your baby's bright personality through her waking hours and learning some stuff about yourself in the process.
If you're nervous about the bonding phenomenon, you're not alone. In fact, a study published in a 2012 issue of William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law points out that although adopted children only make up about 2 percent of the child population, they're responsible for as much as 15 percent of the mental health settings population. The study places the blame squarely on the shoulder of bonding, citing the fact that much of parent-child bonding actually happens in utero, and then transitions into a more solid bond during the first year.
Still, that doesn't mean you're doomed. While there are reports of parents who don't completely bond with their adopted children, most families have favorable outcomes. The trick is to create a solid bond during the first year so that the next few years are filled with learning and growing together. Here are some of our best tips to keep your attachment strong.
- Prolong co-sleeping. If you've chosen to co-sleep with your adopted child, there's really no rush to get her into her own crib and her own room. The truth is that she needs you to fulfill all of her needs, and depending on her background, help soothe feelings and fears of abandonment. Sleeping the same room gives you precious time together that you'll never be able to reclaim again. If friends and family members balk at the idea of keeping your baby in your room, keep in mind that adopted children often function differently than biological children—don't compare apples to oranges.
- Respond quickly. When your little one starts fussing or crying, be there lickety-split. Babies who are institutionalized or in foster care may not have received the same level as care as a biological child might in a loving family. That means she could be used to being ignored, as heartbreaking as that can seem. By showing her that you're there to take care of all of her wants and needs, she'll begin to attach to you more firmly as her main caregiver. By the same token, you can lose yourself in the basic care, feeding and comfort of your baby, helping you to connect to her in return.
- Offer plenty of touch. One of the best ways to bond with your little one is through tactile stimulation (a fancy term for touch) and plenty of eye contact. Allow your undressed babe to lie directly against your bare skin for crucial skin-to-skin contact. Instead of popping your baby in a swing or bouncer, get down on the floor and play with her, making sure she can see you at all times. This helps her learn to trust that you're a constant in her life—plus it's the perfect position for all of those adorable baby photos!
- Stay on top of basic care. Now that your baby's a little older—if you adopted her as a newborn—it's fine to start letting friends and family members hold and form relationships with her. However, if you adopted an older baby at this stage, you really need to be in charge of all of her basic care so she bonds to you instead of other people in your home. Always make sure you have a few visitor-free weeks before you invite anyone over to "ooh and aah" over your newest addition. "It is important that the child trusts you to meet all of his or her needs," says Brooke Randolph, licensed mental health counselor and the Director of Adoption Preparation & Support Services for MLJ Adoptions, Inc. "Friends and family members want to help with the baby, but they will be most helpful in supporting the parents. Some of my favorite suggestions are telling people that they are welcome to mow your lawn or do your laundry or clean your house."
- Reduce stress. Sure, you're going to have some stressful moments as you get to know your new little one and grow together. But it's actually her stress level that you need to worry about. "It is essential that parents work to manage their children's stress which will in turn promote bonding," says Randolph. Watch for signs that your baby seems stressed out; fussiness, refusing to eat and trouble sleeping, to name a few. You might need to dial down the noise level, make time for soothing sing-alongs, practice baby massage and work harder on your bonding skills to keep things as stress-free as possible in your home.
Some parents definitely have an uphill battle when it comes to bonding with an older baby. If you adopted your babe at birth, you'll be building on a foundation of three previous months of attachment. If you just met your 4 to 7-month old, you'll need to put in the effort necessary to make sure that you're attached to your baby and she's just as attached to you. Luckily, those sweet baby cheeks and adorable smiles make it all worthwhile.