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Emily Savage-McGlynn
Child development expert and researcher National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit for the University of Oxford specialising in infant and maternal mental health. MSc in Psychology from the University of Oxford and a PhD in Child Development from Cambridge University.
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Stage 4 – 9 months

Social & emotional development of babies

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, more important for your baby's future happiness, resilience and independence than being in a close and loving relationship with his parents during his early years of life. It can sometimes take time for you to fully feel this deep bond but you can help it develop by spending time in skin contact, keeping him close and talking/responding to him. The more time you spend interacting and responding to your baby the more confident and independent he will become safe in the knowledge that he is loved.
Video Tutorial
In Short
Following a straightforward birth, your baby is already sociable and can respond to you immediately. 

Holding him in skin to skin contact at this time will set the foundation for a loving relationship

He has heard your voice in the womb and can recognise it from birth – you will see him turn his head when you speak. 

He will love to look at your face, even if it’s a blur to start with. 

Very quickly he will enjoy copying you in little ways – like sticking out his tongue when you stick yours out at him.

Talk to him a lot – he can’t talk back yet, but he’ll love the attention and his brain is like a sponge soaking up all those wonderful new experiences.

Babies are born sociable and respond to others as soon as they are born. They have heard their parents’ voices whilst in the womb and love to look at faces.

Your baby is utterly dependent on you to provide all his basic needs for sustenance, warmth, and safety. However, beyond that, you and your baby co-exist inside a loving bond which provides both of you with love, joy, and stability. A loving and sensitive bond is crucial to a baby’s optimal emotional and social development. That is not to say that you have to be a perfect parent but newborn babies who form a loving bond with a caregiver in the first two years of life are happier and more robust and resilient well into adulthood. Furthermore, they are more able to have loving and warm adult relationships when they grow up.

If you are worried about your relationship with your baby and you’re worried something isn’t right, remember that feeling worried and being concerned something isn’t the way it should be is a normal part of parenthood. However, if your instincts are telling you that you need some help dealing with your feelings, your health visitor and GP are there to support you and they are very used to talking to new parents about their worries.

How can I bond with my baby?

Bonding is a process not a one-off event so make lots of time to chat, cuddle, share books and have face to face contact with your baby.

Why is skin-to-skin contact important?

In the early hours and days with your newborn baby, skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding are like a fast track to bonding. Having your baby lying on your chest in skin-to-skin contact causes you to release oxytocin which calms you down and promotes bonding in humans and other mammals.

Smell is a very powerful sense and evidence suggests that humans just like other mammals will use smell to help them identify with and bond with their baby.

Should I talk to my baby?

Yes! From the moment your baby is born to spend lots of time in face-to-face contact. When you talk to your baby he will look intently at your face and will respond by moving or smiling or making a noise. This is called ‘serve and return’ and is a really important way you can support your baby’s emotional and social development in the early months before your baby can talk to you.

Bonding time improves your mental health

Having a new baby is a time of great upheaval, stress and sleep deprivation. Low mood is very common but the good news is that spending lots of time bonding with your baby is very good for your mental health. Instead of trying to keep on top of the housework and rushing around to lots of social engagements and events it can really help to go slow and keep things simple and realise that bonding with your baby is your most important job as a new parent and something that will give you increased joy and calm.

If you are concerned that you may be suffering from postnatal depression it’s really important to talk to your family, friends, midwife, health visitor and family doctor. The more practical and social support you can get the better and your doctor will be able to put you in touch with community support and discuss treatment if needed. All of the parents we filmed with spoke about how overwhelming being a new parent is so please watch this video and remember that you are not alone:

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.