BONDING THROUGH THE SENSES

Sight Encourage gazing time. Sit or lie comfortably together and simply look into each other’s eyes. Research has found the best distance for babies to focus is about 15 cm from their face (which happens to be the distance to your face when the baby is feeding at the breast). Looking into your baby’s eyes, as you soften and relax your gaze, you may notice waves of feelings passing through you. If your child is different from your expectations, or disabled, this can be an important time to swing between what you had idealised as the form of your baby and what they are really like. This helps the letting-go process — letting go of ‘what might have been’ and allows an appreciation of ‘what is’. Sound Your baby knows your voice and will like to hear it. You will enjoy listening to the baby breathing and murmuring and, later, babbling and laughing. Babies seem to enjoy the sounds of peaceful music, your heart beating when they are cuddled against your chest or special heartbeat tapes, available from baby shops (though your own heart is better). Babies even like the lilting sounds of talking which, presumably, they don’t understand. Many people sing and some even read short stories or poems to their baby.

Taste We don’t yet understand all that happens when babies and parents kiss and touch. Some subtle chemicals may be exchanged, letting them know that this is Mum or this is Dad, and triggering relaxation and trust. Most animals lick their newborns and babies we have known seem to love having the nape of their neck licked, and their fingers and hands gently sucked — making a game of putting their hands in and out of your mouth, and yours in and out of theirsFULLSTOP

They will even suck on fathers’ hairy arms.

Kissing must be the softest touch/taste combination that nature could devise. Parents love to kiss and gently move their lips across the baby’s face and hands — even their feet. Babies’ first kisses often consist of them opening their mouth wide and falling headlong on to your cheek, and licking up and down.

Smell Babies have an acute capacity to discriminate between smells. They smell your unique combination of skin, hair, sweat and clothing, as well as your milk. They can detect which breast milk comes from their mother, preferring it to samples taken from other mothers. It is a pleasure for you, too, to smell their skin and hair. Later, it’s valuable to be able to notice the smell of an ear that is infected and needs attention, changes in bowel movement or the acid smell of infected urine.

Touch Although a baby can’t understand the meaning of the words ‘I love you’, they can feel your loving touch, the comfort and security of being held, and the relaxation of being stroked. Specific touches you can enjoy together include massage and special baby yoga. Massage is soothing for both baby and mother. Time spent in a warm place, stroking the baby’s body all over with oil or powder, will soothe a fretful baby, ease colic, strengthen muscles and promote digestion. You can time it to relax them before a feed or a sleep.