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Bonding with a Baby After Adoption

Bonding with a Baby After Adoption

The developmental stages of childhood are recognizable – and the number of stages and emotional milestones between birth and the age of two is incredible. The actual timeline will vary between infants, but the path is virtually the same. Major life changes will often result in noticeable disruptions or deviations or reversals of the development stages of the infant experiencing the change. One such “major life change” is adoption.

Newly adopted infants will often need time to adjust to their new situation. Remember that the change they have experienced meant a loss of everything familiar to them: faces, sights, sounds, smells, routines, etc. Babies are adaptable, but you can ease their transition.

Don’t become immediately frustrated if your adopted 6 month old baby’s records note that she has been sleeping through the night for a few months without disruption and she wakes up crying loudly for several minutes every few hours throughout the night when you bring her home. Don’t be overwhelmed if your 18 month old seems to want to be held every minute of every day and has no interest in playing. You already know what’s going on…they need a little bit of time to adjust to their new situation.

What Can Adoptive Parents Do to Ease the Transition and Create a Lasting Bond?

Newborns (birth to five months old) should be kept close to you. Respond to their needs consistently (eating, drinking, diaper changes, etc.) If possible, don’t wash the outfit they came home in immediately. Instead, keep it close to them in the crib so they can be comforted by the familiar smell. Be the person providing the primary care for at least the first month – diaper changes, soothing to sleep, feeding, etc. Let your friends and family know that you want to be the only ones offering hugs and kisses to your adopted baby for the first month as well. This will help your baby learn to identify you and your spouse with comfort. Respond to cries or calls either verbally or physically within 15 seconds to reassure them that you will always be there. Snuggle your baby constantly; teach them to associate food with comfort by holding them and rocking/singing to them while you feed them. You may even make a concentrated effort to carry your baby in a front carrier, allowing them to hear your heartbeat as you go throughout your day. Interact with your baby with lots of smiling and mimicking of coos and other sounds. Speak quietly, move gently, and don’t push for excessive eye contact. When your baby looks away or closes their eyes, they’ve had enough.

5-10 month old babies will become more aware of themselves as “separate” from their mothers. This is evident when your baby suddenly prefers to be held facing “away” from the parent. Soon after this stage, babies can develop separation anxiety – crying and clinging when their mother leaves. They don’t understand that even if you go away, you’ll be back. Babies adopted during this developmental stage who have already developed separation anxiety could become sadder and/or more fearful. Curiosity about the world may slow down. Fear of strangers may be increased. Babies adopted at this age may experience sleep disturbances or night terrors. Babies may benefit from a “back to basics” method involving holding them in nursing position, perhaps when bottle feeding or prepping for naptime. This helps to reinforce eye contact and relaxation. Maintain routines as much as possible. Allow your baby to grieve, but stay with them even if they won’t accept consolation. Be playful by singing songs, smiling, playing peek-a-boo, etc. Give them plenty of opportunities to associate positive feelings with you.

9-18 month old babies need to transfer the trust they’ve developed with previous caregivers to their new adopted family. If your child missed earlier stages filled with nurturing, incorporate it now with rocking, hugging, back rubs, etc. Provide comfort even if they don’t turn to you immediately when they need to be comforted. Teach your child to check in with you. This will teach them that you are the source of their safety. Teach them that they must check in with you prior to playing with toys or leaving the room to play in a different area of the house, etc. Be there when they return to check in and always express joy in your baby’s accomplishments.

15-22 month old babies may have a particularly difficult time being moved. To lessen the difficulty, prepare your child by discussing the move with your child before it occurs – together with the previous caregiver where possible. If a visit isn’t possible, send a photo album of family pictures or a recording of your voice to provide them with a sense of familiarity prior to your first meeting. Help babies at this stage to identify feelings. The verbal abilities of a 15-22 month old isn’t quite developed enough to express feelings about this type of life change. You can help them by labeling the emotions they are feeling: anger, sadness, fear, etc. Make a detailed record of placement day so they have the information later. It will help them to further understand the experience and how they feel about it.

If you are interested in the details of an Arizona adoption, please get in touch with the experienced lawyers at Arizona Family Law Attorneys. We can assist you in determining where you need to start.
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