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Adoption Bonding: Birth to 3 Months

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Updated on Mar 29, 2012

It was a shocking tale that played out through The New York Times and The TODAY Show: A woman adopted a South American child in his infancy, only to put him up back up for adoption at 18 months old. The problem? She claims she never "bonded" with the child in the same way she did her five biological children.

While it's one of the most extreme examples available, it's clear that bonding's a major issue when it comes adoptive children. Since bonding is a term that describes a caregiver's attachment level to a child, it's really the adoptive parent that needs to bond with a new baby—not the other way around. This is especially true when you adopt a newborn, as opposed to an older baby or toddler. When you're adopting a child who is 0-3 months old, she'll naturally become attached to you through your daily parenting and living activities. That means you'll need to work on your bond toward her using certain techniques and activities that strengthen your relationship together. We talked to some adoption experts to see how you can help fortify that bond with your little one from the beginning.

  • Use skin-to-skin therapy. Physical interaction is huge for forging a connection. Kangaroo care, otherwise known as skin-to-skin therapy, is often used to promote bonding when babies are secluded in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The same principles can be applied when you bring your adopted child home. Try "wearing" your infant in a sling to maximize skin-to-skin contact, and allow her to explore touching your face and maximize after-bath snuggle time for added contact.
  • Create rituals. Baby massage with warmed lotion makes for a perfect pre-bed ritual, soothing your little one and strengthening your bond. Rocking and singing to your baby is another way to offer physical closeness and share a favorite lullabye, since we often associate songs with memories. By creating these rituals and traditions with your new baby, you create positive memories together to help create a stronger attachment.
  • Restrict visitors. You probably have friends, neighbors and family members who are dying to meet your newest addition, but it's a good idea to wait before inviting over the welcoming party. While the actual amount of time varies from child to child, check your feelings toward your baby to dictate how you feel about having visitors—you should feel completely comfortable, peaceful, and protective when it comes to your little one. Inviting people over too soon could disrupt the fragile connection that you've created over the first few days of bringing your new baby home—a phenomenon known as indiscriminate attachment. If your family's intent on helping, have them help wash dishes, make bottles, do laundry or make dinner as you work on building a relationship with your baby.
  • Consider co-sleeping. While the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against sleeping with your baby in your bed (citing a SIDS risk), you can definitely use a co-sleeping bed attachment to sleep with your little on in your room. Sleeping in the same room with your adopted infant can help you become more attune to her wants and needs, offering her quick comfort and reassurance that you're there for her and helping to reinforce the parenting instincts that usually come naturally to biological parents.
  • Offer face time. Your baby's naturally interested in human faces, so make sure your new baby has plenty of time to gaze into your eyes. Sit in a comfortable chair with your knees bent and prop your little one up against your thighs so you can spend time face-to-face. Stimulate her by making silly faces, smiling and talking in a soothing voice so she gets used to you, your sound and your smell. All the while, you're taking in all of her sounds, faces and smells too—seriously, is there anything better than new-baby smell?
  • Take care of yourself. You might have heard about postpartum depression and imagined that you're off the handle. But another mental issue, postadoption depression, can affect you in similar ways. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that about 15 percent of mothers experienced depression in the first six weeks after adopting a baby, which could result in negative feelings that prohibit proper attachment. Brooke Randolph, licensed mental health counselor and the Director of Adoption Preparation & Support Services for MLJ Adoptions, Inc, urges that you seek help ASAP. "If sleep-deprivation or post adoption depression or something else is straining a parent, it is essential to seek out support so that you can respond as quickly and compassionately as possible to [your child] at all times."

Luckily, the odds are in your favor. A study published in a 2009 issue of Children and Youth Services Review found that babies who are adopted before going into institutionalized care generally attach better than those who aren't adopted at birth. Since your baby hasn't had the chance to bond with another adult yet, you've got first dibs on her affections. Just remember to take your time, don't force the relationship and enjoy the ride as you develop a relationship with your new baby.

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