Feeding as an essential emotional bonding experience

“Bonding time” is an expression you hear so much, it’s almost become cliché. Every mother wants in her heart to create this close personal relationship with her child, and she is actually equipped with the instincts to do it. That’s why even if you’ve never read a single book on parenting, you’ll just know to do the things that bond you—you hold that baby close, soothe her, sing sweet songs to her, and of course, feed her.

Mealtime, in fact, is one of the best opportunities for bonding you can imagine. 

When you feed a baby you’re also lovingly touching and cradling her, you’re delivering eye-to-eye contact, you’re letting her hear the comforting sound of your voice. These are the key components of a bonding experience. Above all, you’re letting her know that if she has a need—in this case, hunger--you’ll be right there to take care of it.

Indeed breastfeeding provides a ready-made bonding experience. Aside from the outstanding benefits of the breast milk itself, the act provides tremendous physical affection and a sense of security to your baby, which are each so important, they literally help determine how well the baby is socialized and able to engage with the world as she grows up. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice by the way—up to 50% of a newborn’s waking hours are spent eating.

In other words, make sure you have a really, really (really) comfy chair for nursing.

While breastfeeding is fantastic for both you and the baby in so many ways, any kind of feeding can provide an opportunity to tighten the relationship with baby--good news for dads, grandparents and other caregivers.

Most of us no longer live in a culture where the entire extended family eats around a single bowl, passing food to one another and sharing with any passerby who knocks on the door (which could get a little strange in this day and age), but we can certainly create an environment that helps bond the family and create strong, positive associations around eating.

Make the meal the main focus of the experience. Step away from the laptop and turn off the TV. Cradle your newborn in your lap and while you feed her, talk to her and stroke her head and arms. Lean in close and make eye contact.

For an older baby, make sure you’ve got a comfortable high chair, and that eating time is enjoyable. Even if the rice cereal ends up on the carpet and the prunes end up in your own ears. Which they will. You can count on it.

In the end, you’ll be creating important parent-child bonds and establish positive associations that will literally last a child’s entire life; all by doing the things you love doing with your baby anyway.

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