As a new parent it's easy to feel overwhelmed, whether it be from the love you're feeling, to the exhaustion you're navigating, to the next-level amount of responsibility you're shouldering. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information you simply don't know, too, and how that gap in knowledge impacts your self-esteem. Like, for example, knowing if your baby feels secure. How can you tell if your baby trusts you? How do you know if they feel safe and loved? Because when you're a new parent looking for any sign that you're doing this whole child-rearing thing right, you'll take all the assurance you can get.
To find out more about the subtle and no-so-subtle ways your baby may tell you they feel secure, Romper spoke with Dr. Jessica Madden, MD, a pediatrician and neonatologist at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland and founder of Primrose Newborn Care, Dr. Inna Leiter, PsyD, a licensed clinician and Director of the Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Media, Pa., and Cecilia Matson, early childhood expert and co-owner of Galoop Children's Classes based in Boston.
Knowing that your baby is feeling OK is easier than you might think, especially if you know what signs to look for. And the good news for all new parents is that ensuring that your baby feels secure doesn't require you to hold them every hour of every day, breastfeed, or co-sleep if that's not your preferred parenting style. To find out more about how to tell what your baby is thinking, read on:
They Seem Pretty Chill
Not surprisingly, a secure baby seems relaxed and calm when you hold them. "The main sign that a baby feels secure is when a parent senses that their baby is calm and at peace when they are being held," Madden tells Romper.
So, to foster those warm, fuzzy feelings, Madden says you should snuggle with your baby often. "Holding a newborn skin-to-skin one of the best way to promote bonding and feelings of security. This can be done no matter the method of feeding. Bottle-fed babies can also have skin-to-skin time and fathers can also hold their babies skin-to-skin."
They Interact With You
According to Matson, a secure baby will engage with you and communicate with you. "They're engaged with play, smiling, holding your gaze, seeking comfort, curious and inquisitive, friendly, and yes, even crying is a sign of engagement and communication," she says.
In turn, if your baby doesn't seem interested in you or doesn't seek you out when they need something, there might be a problem. "Low engagement and communication are key warning signs," Matson tells Romper. "This can be seen through a lack of interest in play, poor mood, being inconsolable, and overall simply not looking for comfort from those around."
Leiter agrees. "When a parent reaches out for connection, a child with secure attachment will often (but not always) reciprocate or welcome that connection," she says. "Which, depending on the age of the baby, can be marked by eye gaze toward the parent’s face, a smile in response to your smile, or babbling while interacting with you."
They Don't Cry All The Time
If your baby feels secure, they probably won't cry all day long. "Secure newborns do not have inconsolable crying — newborns should not have colic, or long, frequent stretches of crying until they are a least 2-3 weeks old," Madden tells Romper. "A newborn with prolonged episodes of crying in the first two weeks of life is signaling that there is a problem — they are hungry, stressed, in pain, or withdrawing from a medication that they were exposed to in utero."
They Stop Crying When You Pick Them Up
Babies cry for a number of different reasons, according to the The American Academy of Pediatrics. It is, after all, their primary means to communication. Eventually you will probably learn what each of their cries means, and respond accordingly.
Leiter says it's important to respond to those cries consistently, so your baby learns to trust that you are there for them. "Infants whose experiences with a primary caregiver are negative or highly unpredictable are more likely to develop an insecure attachment style," she says.
Matson agrees that consistency is key. "Routine is also extremely important and allows babies to anticipate what happens next, and this knowledge in turn helps them feel safe and secure."
They Have Good Muscle Tone
Your baby might show physical signs of feeling secure, too, Madden says. "Secure babies have normal muscle tone — meaning they are able to maintain their posture in a comfortable fetal position." If your baby feels secure. Madden says they shouldn't have increased muscle tone, i.e. tightening or clenching of their muscles."
They Don't Need To Be Held All Of The Time
According to a 2015 review published in the journal Pediatrics in Review, the best clue that your baby feels secure is that they actually let you put them down. This is because a secure baby will feel OK exploring the world without you, knowing that you will be there when they need you.
The best way to determine this is to watch your baby, Leiter says. "If you are in a room with others, your infant may crawl around independently, but when something unsettling happens, he or she may look for you to assess your reaction."
They Seem To Love When You're Around
Secure babies like to be with you, Leiter says. "Babies with insecure attachment styles may seem indifferent to their primary caregiver. They may be unfazed when their mother leaves the room and then avoidant when the mother returns, or extremely clingy, to the point where they won’t explore or play with others in her presence."
If you are unsure how to foster secure attachment, Matson says you aren't alone. "Many people may struggle with the best ways to bond and attach with their babies at first, or suffer from PPD or simply a lack of experience around infants," she tells Romper. "Seek guidance from a professional as early as you spot a potential issue to help build the tools you need to bond with your baby and help them feel secure."