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.

Building Bonds

To promote bonding with your baby in the first hours of life and beyond:

  • Bring the baby to your chest as soon as you can after delivery
  • Gaze into the baby’s eyes
  • Dim the lights so the baby can look at you more comfortably
  • Hold the baby, skin to skin if possible
  • Touch the baby
  • Talk softly to the baby
  • Room-in with the baby at the hospital
  • Breastfeed: “A unique and powerful thing a mother can do,” says Dr. Locke.
  • Nest: Create conditions at home that support you as a parent.

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.

Delayed Bonding

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.’”

Help Is Available

“There’s no one definition for how you should feel about your baby,” advises Tia Zlotnikoff, a certified postpartum doula. If there are problems with bonding, “It is essential to tap into your network of support professionals and peers,” she advises. Moms have many options for help and support with baby-bonding issues.

  • A trusted health care professional.
  • Other moms. Talk to your mother, sister or friends.
  • Postpartum support groups. Some groups address depression, but others focus solely on the transition to new parenthood. You can find local resources at
  • Breastfeeding support groups. Get in touch with other mothers who have been there. Support is available from; the La Leche League,; Nursing Mothers, Inc. (state of Delaware and southern Chester County, PA,; and the Nursing Mom’s Advisory Council,
  • Mommy and Me classes. They’re a good way to make a connection with your baby. Whether it’s an exercise class or a music class, you’ll have some time devoted specifically for your baby, with the added benefit of meeting other new moms. Check with providers in the MetroKids Classes Guide.
  • Postpartum doulas. These are professionals who “mother the new mother” during early parenthood. You can find a doula from the Association of Labor Assistants and Childbirth Educators (ALACE), 888-222-5223, and the International Childbirth Education Association, 925-854-8660,

Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

Categories: Babies