Did you feel an overwhelming rush of love when your baby was first placed in your arms? No? Well, don’t worry, you are not alone.
Not every mother instantly ‘connects’ with her newborn. After all, the first time you ‘met’ your baby you were probably exhausted, in pain, and if it was a particularly difficult birth, could have been feeling ever so slightly resentful that this little thing put you through such an ordeal. Bonding with your baby can take time, but rest assured that you will get there, in time.
Certain factors are thought to hinder the bonding process, for example:
- having your baby whisked away immediately for medical attention;
- or him/ her being put immediately in an intensive care unit;
- finding there is something wrong or a cause for concern;
- relationship difficulties;
- the death of someone close;
- having difficulty breast feeding.
You may not even be able to put your finger on what is causing you to feel this way. The important thing is not to feel guilty about your feelings, or that you are in any way a ‘bad mother’. Your life has just been turned upside down and it will take a while to get used to. Give yourself time to rest and get over the birth but do make an effort to spend as much time in physical contact with your baby as you can – this is an important part of the bonding process for both of you.
- Try to get some sleep – no-one feels rational when they are exhausted;
- Limit the number of visitors so that you and your baby have a chance to spend some proper, quality time together;
- Carry your baby in a sling – the feeling of closeness will help forge a bond;
- Make lots of eye-to-eye contact, it will help your baby feel secure and relate to you better;
- Have lots of cuddles to help reassure you both;
- Find activities that help you engage with your new baby – play, talk and sing to him/her or try a gentle baby massage;
- Try ‘kangaroo care’. This is where you hold your baby on your bare chest to promote a sense of protective closeness. It is thought to be particularly useful for mothers of premature babies since it can help stimulate the production of breast milk.
Remember, as long as you take care of your baby’s basic needs and cuddle them regularly, they won’t suffer if you don’t feel a strong bond at first sight.
If this is not your first baby, don’t be surprised if you feel differently this time around. Your relationship with each of your children is bound to be different because they are little individuals, each with their own characters and traits. Give yourself time and you will soon learn to love unique parts of their personalities. Encourage your other children to help out, under supervision, wherever possible. This will make them feel useful and adopt a loving, protective role.
It is not just women that sometimes find it difficult to adjust to their newborn. With all the fuss over mother and baby, many fathers feel redundant, as if they don’t have a role, and so start to take a back seat. He may feel that he is being replaced by the new baby and that your affections have shifted, so be careful to involve him in as much of the childcare as possible, so that he too has a chance to bond with the baby and doesn’t feel excluded. This is particularly important if you are breastfeeding as the baby is physically dependent on the mother.
If you notice that your partner still seems to be keeping a low profile, talk to him about your concerns. Try to be as patient and supportive as you can. We all tackle the new role of parenting differently and you may find it helpful to discuss with your partner what being a parent means to you both.
When should I worry?
If, after a few weeks, you find that you don’t feel more attached to and comfortable with your baby than you did on the first day, or if you actually feel detached from baby or resentful of him/her, talk to your GP or health visitor. Postnatal depression affects an estimated 10,000 new mothers every year and is a very real illness which can delay bonding so it is best to seek help as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the longer you wait, the harder it will be to win back your baby’s trust and affection.