Bonding With a Newborn Baby Can Take Time
What Is Bonding?
The psychological definition of bonding is the formation of a strong attachment with another person. Bonding can be established with family members, a spouse, and friends, but many people agree that a special bond or connection like no other exists between a mother and child. Creating a strong bond with a newborn establishes and strengthens feelings of trust and security for a child.
Bonding with a newborn after delivery is critical for both mother and newborn, but what happens when a mother is having difficulty bonding with her baby? While society tells mothers that bonding is immediate after delivery, this is a common misconception. At times newborn bonding develops with time, not right after delivery. When a mother is having troubles bonding with her newborn baby, she can experience feelings of sadness and guilt. There are many factors that can influence a mother and newborn not bonding. Let's examine common situations where this may occur.
Known as the "baby blues," this mild form of depression normally occurs soon after birth and can last up to two weeks. While the causes of baby blues are not fully understood, many doctor's believe it is due to the drastic change in hormones. Due to the extreme body changes women experience after giving birth, it is estimated up to 80% of new mothers experience baby blues. Baby blues are easily recognizable by symptoms that include:
- Mood changes
- Lack of concentration (brain fog)
- Crying (for reasons that can't be explained)
Postpartum Depression (PPD)
Postpartum Depression (PPD)
If symptoms of baby blues continue past a couple weeks or worsen in severity, postpartum depression or PPD is typically diagnosed. Postpartum depression can be treated with multiple forms of therapy, relaxation techniques and depression/anxiety medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). While the severity of symptoms differ for each individual, postpartum depression can interfere with enjoying motherhood and the mother and baby bond.
At times a mother can have unexplained thoughts about hurting her baby. If these kinds of thoughts represent themselves in a new mother, appropriate treatment for PPD needs to be discussed with a health professional. While obsessive thinking or thoughts of harming a newborn baby can be frightening, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 15-20% of mothers exhibit one or more symptoms of postpartum depression.
Symptoms of PPD include:
- Feeling withdrawn or lacking interest
- Appetite changes
- Changes in sleeping
- Anxiety (panic attacks and obsessive thoughts)
Since the beginning of time, labor has never been easy. Some women are able to have an easy and perfect birthing experience. But many women have long hours of labor with unexpected medical complications. At the end of multiple hours of excruciating pain, many new mothers are simply too tired to form a bond with a newborn.
Medical complications during labor like an emergency cesarean section (c-section) can prevent a mother from bonding with her newborn. Skin-to-skin contact is often delayed with a cesarean section. Research shows skin-to-skin contact after delivery actually aids in bonding for mother and baby. But if medical complications with mother or baby ensue and a mother is not able to bond through skin-to-skin contact, the bonding process could take longer.
All expectant mother's have heard the phrase, "breast is best!" There is immense societal pressure on pregnant women to breastfeed instead of formula feed. Breast milk has the amazing ability to meet all of a baby's nutritional needs, while also reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). But what if mother and baby are unable to breastfeed?
Not every mother is able to breastfeed. If every mother was able to breastfeed, then formula wouldn't have been invented. Breastfeeding is hard. If a newborn struggles with latching or a mother has a low milk supply, formula may need to be introduced. Both breastfeeding and formula feeding have many advantages and disadvantages. However, if breastfeeding isn't an option many women have troubles forming an attachment with a newborn. Feelings of guilt over the lost ability to breastfeed often get in the way of bonding between mother and baby.
Although I had the best first time mom intentions to fully breastfeed, things don't always go as planned. I was confronted with the issues of low milk supply and improper latching. No matter the amount of advice I took and time I spent with a lactation consultant, my son and I couldn't breastfeed. The frustration with breastfeeding my newborn only helped further my postpartum depression.
Every bonding experience between a mother and child is different. But women are often overwhelmed with meeting expectations set forth by society. Pregnancy comes with the extra burden of having countless women offer their advice and birthing stories. Although motherly advice from others is spoken with the best intentions, it can put unrealistic expectations and pressure on pregnant women. Here is an example of a myth that someone told me while pregnant:
"You'll forget all about the pain once you hold your baby. You and baby will bond instantly."
Yes, labor is a beautiful process of birthing a baby into the world. But, let's be real. It's painful, long hours of work. After spending 28 hours with complete back labor, I can honestly say that I did not instantly forget about the pain. Plus, not being able to hold my son immediately after delivery because he had to be resuscitated was heartbreaking. Six hours after delivery I finally got to see and hold my son. Remembering the above advice I got during my pregnancy, I was left feeling extremely guilty.
While mothers everywhere mean well, often times the advice is unwarranted and is only based on their unique birthing experience. Every mother and birthing experience is unique and beautiful in its own way. What happened to one mother, is not exactly what's going to happen to another. When I heard that it's possible to bond instantly after delivery with my son, I was ecstatic. But, the bond was not instantaneous when I looked into his eyes.
After six hours of being apart, I had missed the critical, special time with him right after birth. I didn't get to have skin-to-skin contract with him. Once he was brought into my room, I was left in a state of disbelief. "Did I really just give birth to a baby mere hours ago?" My body feels different and empty, but is this really my baby?" Even after I picked him up and held him close, I didn't feel the instant bond or connection that everyone told me would exist.
Hearing misconceptions about bonding during pregnancy just led me to feel guilty and ashamed. If I'm looking at my baby and feel no bond, doesn't that mean I'm a bad mother? No, it does not. The problem is not with mothers not bonding instantly after a difficult labor and delivery, it is the misconceptions in society about bonding. Many women do not feel an instantaneous bond with their newborn.
Ways To Bond With Your Newborn
Forming a bond with a newborn takes time. To help form or even strengthen a bond, here are some helpful and healthy ways to bond.
- Practice skin-to-skin contact
- Respond when your baby cries
- Listen or feel your baby's heartbeat
- Breastfeed (if possible)
- Look into your baby's eyes when breastfeeding or bottle feeding
- Spend time holding and rocking your baby
- Try to establish an eating and feeding schedule
- Massage your baby's skin
- Talk to your baby
- Kiss and snuggle with your baby
Remember: Bonding Takes Time
Bonding with a newborn is not always immediate. It takes time. When a bond is not established after birth, does not mean you are a bad mother. Society puts too much pressure on pregnant women and new mothers to rush the bonding experience. However, forming a connection with a newborn develops overtime by attending to your baby's everyday needs. By focusing on feedings, diaper changes and responding to his or her cries a bond between you and your baby will form, eventually.
Just because a bond is not felt immediately, does not make you a bad mother. Remember that you are new to motherhood and learning as you go. No mother is perfect, no matter what society tells you. We're all just doing the very best we can for the children we love. Take time after delivery to focus on the process of bonding with your newborn. Try kissing, snuggling, rocking and responding to your baby's cries. A trust will develop between your baby and you, forming a connection and bond.
About two weeks after giving birth to my son, I remember changing my son's diaper and suddenly feeling an intense, beautiful bond with him. Both my son and I worked around the clock to develop the bond of trust between us. Today, the bond I have with my son is stronger than ever and continues to strengthen and grow with time. Attending to his every need the first two weeks, smelling and kissing his head helped me to establish a beautiful bond.