Bonding with Baby Isn't Automatic
A mother-infant connection sometimes take time, and help, to develop.
Imagine the setting: Clouds part and the sun shines through the window. You are propped comfortably on a bed of pillows. Your husband smiles as your baby is placed in your arms for the first time. A tear of joy runs down your cheek and you fall instantly in love.
That’s the Hollywood image, and some lucky moms do bond instantly with their babies. But often, “it’s not like ‘Bam! You’re here. You’re mine,’” says Suzanne Belmont, RN, a nurse specializing in parent & child nursing at Kennedy Health System in Washington Township, NJ.
In reality, bonding with your baby is an “unfolding process,” says Dr. Karen Edelstein PsyD, a psychologist practicing in Philadelphia and Bryn Mawr, PA.
Bonding refers to a getting-to-know-you period in which mother and baby develop a strong connection. It is a learning process during which you learn to match styles and temperaments.
“As a newborn grows, his ability to communicate and the parents’ ability to understand grows,” says Tia Zlotnikoff, program director at the Maternal Wellness Center in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia. Mothers learn to distinguish between hunger, pain, fatigue and discomfort cries, and to provide for those needs. For the baby, bonding is important for social and cognitive growth and for anguage skills.
According to Dr. Robert Locke, DO, an attending neonatologist at the Christiana Care Health System in Newark, DE, 90-95 percent of mothers will bond with their babies during the course of their pregnancy or within the first few days after giving birth.
Most moms who don’t bond initially will do so within a few weeks, once they gain confidence in their ability to parent and receive positive feedback from their support network of family and friends.
Even if bonding is delayed, day-to-day caretaking will help create a bond with your baby. Feeding, diapering, bathing and dressing the baby while smiling gently at her will forge that connection.
If you notice that the caretaking has become mechanical, without eye contact or conversation with the baby, then there may be a bonding problem. Talk to your health care provider if you do not feel that you have bonded with your baby by the time you have your child’s one-month well visit or your postpartum check-up.
Factors that can prevent a bond from developing include:
- Postpartum Depression
- Anxiety Disorders
- Other negative feelings, such as fear, feelings of inadequacy as a parent, and lack of a support network
Stay positive. With intervention, bonding difficulties can be worked through. Anxiety and postpartum depression are treatable, so seek help if you think you need it.
Medical issues such as C-sections or neonatal intensive care unit stays can physically separate moms and babies, but they usually don’t affect bonding in the long term. “They are barriers,” says Dr. Locke, “but they are barriers that can be overcome.”
“This is just the beginning of a relationship of trust,” says Kennedy nurse Belmont. “Respond to your baby so the baby knows ‘this is where my source of comfort and love is.’”
Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.