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Infant Bonding in Adoption

This month’s Thriving Family Magazine features a pull-out from one of my articles. Here is the full article:


Lexi Baby PictureBonding with an Adopted Newborn

By Cindy Rasmussen

I was there when she was born. I jockeyed around the other family members, trying to get a glimpse of her. What would she look like? Would it be love at first sight? What if I felt differently than when Joey was born? What if I fell for this baby and the birth mom changed her mind?

Then I saw her; full head of dark hair, covered in the life-preserving substance of birth. The nurses grabbed her quickly, whisking her away to the bedside table to suction her lungs to make sure she hadn’t aspirated any meconium. After a few tense moments it was clear she was fine.

“Go see her.” The birth mom encouraged. I gave an empathetic half-smile, as tears welled up in my eyes. I walked over to the bassinet and peered down at this brand new life. I wanted to scoop her up and tell her, “Mama is here!” but I didn’t know if this would really be my girl. I didn’t want to risk letting myself fall head-over-heels in love with this child from God, only to have her taken from me. Not again. But when I saw her I couldn’t hold back the joy. “She’s beautiful.” I gasped. “You did good.” I looked over to her birth mom with a gratitude that is unspeakable.

A few days later we were able to bring home this baby girl home from the hospital. It would be months before the adoption would be finalized, but I decided right there, the first time I got to look into her eyes, that I would love her dearly as long as I had the chance. We began the process of bonding; wonderful, yet hard at times, bonding really is a process, and it has been very different for each of my six kids (bio and adopted).

I found bonding with my adopted newborn was enriched by doing some of the following:

Use Kangaroo Care as a way for them to learn the rhythm of a new drum

When my bio babies were born they were all born very premature. One of the therapies used to help them thrive was to do Kangaroo Care. It simply means skin-to-skin snuggling with the baby lying chest to chest with the parent. I used this to bond with my adopted daughter to get her used to the sound of my heartbeat. The close physical contact allowed her to hear, feel, and smell her new mama. I scheduled kangaroo time right after our last feeding before bed. That way I knew I wouldn’t get too busy to take the time to snuggle.

Respond right away, meet their basic needs

I tried to use the 30 second rule. When I heard my baby cry or fuss, I tried to respond to her within 30 seconds. This was either verbally, “Honey, Mama will be right there!” or physically, immediately going to see what she needed. Then I could figure out if she needed to be fed, changed, or just snuggled.

“But won’t this spoil the baby?” Not in the first few months. Babies need to learn that their basic needs will be met consistently, and that Mom and Dad are the people who do that.

Make eye contact, and display lots of facial expressions

We know from research that one of the biggest hindrances to attachment is the lack of eye contact. Babies from orphanages that miss this key element have a very difficult time attaching later on in life to any caregiver. Eye contact and watching facial expression is how the brain gets wired to trust and learn empathy. The first few weeks a baby’s eyesight is still developing, but as they grow, they thrive from the long gazes and expressive faces of mom and dad.

Hold your baby for every feeding

You have 6-10 opportunities a day for prime bonding time…feeding times. Although it is much harder to be enthusiastic about your special bonding time at three in the morning, every time you feed your baby he/she is learning to associate the goodness of being full with mom (and/or dad). Whether you are bottle feeding or decide to try breastfeeding (there are ways to breastfeed as an adoptive mother), make sure you are holding your baby and making a clear connection between food and bonding.


“Mom, you don’t have to walk me to my class.” She’s eleven now and apparently doesn’t need me quite so much anymore. There were ups and downs in those early bonding days (“I’m gazing at you with my happiest 3am face and you still won’t stop crying!”) there were times I questioned my parenting, (“Wasn’t this easier with my bio son?”) but I began to really trust that God had given me this little girl for a reason and that the process of bonding with her would not be perfect, but it would be perfect enough for us.

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