How to foster deeper connections with your baby

After my water broke 16 weeks into my second pregnancy, doctors told me that we were losing my daughter and forced me onto bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy. My Asha showed me with every scan that she was a fighter who would not take no for an answer, and she persisted on hope and everyone’s prayers until 38 weeks when she arrived, beautiful and healthy.

During our bed rest together, we really got to know each other. I told her everything I could think of, read her stories, and shared jokes together (I noticed she would kick more after Indian food). But we really hit it off after her birth.

It was atypical for me–a workaholic entrepreneur CEO–to take maternity leave to bond and be together. When I had my son Zane in 2010, I was running one of the fastest growing businesses in America as the Founder & CEO of Happy Baby Organics. It was only after 10 days of maternity leave that I had to jump right back into the fray of building my business with my pump in tow. Not nearly enough time to recover from a c-section! At age 2 my son Zane was diagnosed with autism, which set in motion deep research about creating the optimal conditions for a healthy pregnancy and connected babies, all of which I used to inform my second pregnancy and ultimately my second business, Healthybaby. So when I had my daughter Asha in 2016 after an IVF marathon, I decided to take a full 3 months to rest, recover, and connect with my miracle baby.

Here’s a few things I learned about bonding with your baby and what I encourage every parent to focus on for deeper connections with their child:

1. First focus on yourself
Distractions are everywhere, and we often forget to ground ourselves before connecting with our baby so we can be fully present. I like to focus on two things to ground myself: my breath and gratitude. There are so many great breathing exercises, but the one I like is called “box breathing:” Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, repeat. For gratitude, I like to think of the prompt, “I am so thankful that my baby…” and fill in the blank.

2. Development is not a race!
Your child's development is not about reaching end points, because your baby is never finished growing. When you do away with hard and fast milestones and start to see development as a process of flow, you and baby can more readily engage in meaningful connections that are the basis for true development.

3. Let go, get goofy, have fun, and narrate, narrate, narrate
Brain-building play doesn't require toys or distracting things. In fact, these can often get in the way of genuine connection and creative thinking. Brain development can be as simple as sustaining eye contact, a conversation with goofy faces, narrating what you’re doing, a light massage, or a belly laugh together rolling on the floor. Think about simplifying your baby's play options and reducing objects around your home to amplify human connections.

4. Baby's routine is the framework for connection
Between diaper changes, baths, meals, naps and bedtime, your daily routine is full of mini opportunities to integrate moments of meaningful connection. It turns out that moments of routine are perfect to introduce stimulation and novelty, because these patterns are ones that your baby likes and expects, and when they feel safest to explore something new, they’re more open to learning. At Healthybaby, we've designed an entire program to make the most of these moments that pair the very safest diapers with enriching activities.

5. Be intentional with your cell phone
Your baby might be nearby while you're reading this article on your phone and you might even be holding them in your other arm. Everything happens on screens and it’s nearly impossible to put our phones down, but our cell phones diminish high quality connection and can break down the natural “serve and return” responses. According to the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, “serve and return” interactions with you are critical for deep connectivity between neurons in baby’s early brain development. When your attention is directed at your phone, your attunement to your child diminishes in the moment. Try your best to use your phone intentionally and set it down (even if it’s just for 5 minutes) when it’s time to connect and play. Remember, baby is obsessed with you. They want you to be attuned to them, and if they’re always seeing your face engrossed with that shiny phone, it could send a subtle message that the phone is sometimes more important, when of course you’re likely looking at something that will help them. We all do this, but it never hurts to be mindful of it.

6. Listen to advice that serves you and throw out the rest
Nothing can disconnect you faster than the constant barrage of parenting information and advice. Advice often comes as a one-sided opinion based on one person's experience, when in reality, there is never one right way to parent. With all advice, understand your options and choose what feels right for you.

7. Get rid of guilt
Our awareness of the importance of the early years of our child’s growth often leads to a heavy dose of self-imposed guilt. Are they eating the right food? Am I playing with them properly? Am I using the right laundry detergent? So many questions. But we intuitively know that guilt doesn’t serve us in the end, and if anything, it’s just another barrier to connecting. I like to always remind myself that there’s no perfect way to parent; children are resilient, adaptable and forgiving; and every day is a new chance to build a stronger bond with my baby.