Changing diapers has never been considered one of the more enjoyable tasks associated with parenthood. Not that it's really as awful as TV and movies would have you believe (well, maybe occasionally), of course; if anything, the task is more humdrum than horror show. Even so, you probably never considered the possibility that there might be some benefits to changing your baby's diaper (beyond the fact that their diaper is no longer dirty, of course). But experts say this daily (hourly?) chore is actually a golden parenting opportunity, particularly for moms struggling to feel connected with their child.
It doesn't always feel that way. Changing your baby's diaper can be a terrifying experience in the beginning, particularly for first-time moms who haven't handled a newborn before. As you become more comfortable with diaper-changing, you might get a little jaded to the whole thing: Ugh, again? But the truth is, out of all the everyday moments you have with your baby, those never-ending diaper changes are one of the most potentially valuable, bonding-wise.
"During this time, opportunities abound," Kecia Gaither, M.D., tells Romper. Double board-certified in OB/GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine and the Director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, Dr. Gaither has a wealth of firsthand experience when it comes to the health and well-being of new moms — and she knows that diaper changes present an opportunity uniquely conducive to bonding.
"Eye contact is had between mother and child, talking is had," she says, noting that babies will use this time to learn language and imitate facial expressions. Plus, she adds, there are the physical contact and cuddles that come after the diaper change, providing yet another level of bonding.
If you're thinking that bonding is something that primarily concerns babies, it's true that everything from a baby's sense of security to their ability to thrive has been linked to how successfully they've bonded with their mothers. But bonding is a big deal for moms, too, and when the process isn't going as well as expected, a mom's confidence can falter and her mental health can suffer as a consequence.
As The Telegraph reported, a survey for Johnson's Baby "found that more than a third of mothers have felt they have not bonded with their baby as much as they should have, and 18 percent say they've had moments when they've felt no bond at all."
Societal pressure is partly to blame; as child psychologist Pat Spungin told The Telegraph: 'There's an automatic assumption in our culture that mothers will bond with their babies. Mothers who don't immediately feel this tremendous engagement think there must be something wrong with them and ask, 'Am I normal?'"
But bonding isn't something that's guaranteed to happen the second your child is born.
"Bonding is not an instant glue," pediatrician William Sears, M.D., author of The Baby Book and a father of eight, told Parenting. "It develops over time and every family is different. Just because you didn't hold your baby the first hour after she was born, or you didn't breastfeed, doesn't mean it's all over."
It's those little moments that happen over and over again, like diaper-changing, that help to bring you and your baby closer.
"The position of parent and baby during a diaper change is perfect for creating a bonding experience between you," Elizabeth Pantley wrote in her book Gentle Baby Care (as quoted by the Child Development Institute).
"You are leaning over your baby, and your face is at the perfect arms-length distance for engaging eye contact and communication. What’s more, this golden opportunity presents itself many times during each day; no matter how busy you both get, you have a few moments of quiet connection. It’s too valuable a ritual to treat it as simply maintenance."
So the next time you find yourself groaning at the thought of another diaper change, take a deep breath and remember all the potential this moment really has for you and your baby to connect. And also remember that it's okay if every change isn't all warm and fuzzy, either. Blowouts happen, people. They just do.