When we, moms, picture birth, the moment we look forward to the most is laying eyes on our beautiful little bundle of joy. We imagine their soft, warm body tightly pressed against ours, tears rolling down our eyes, our heart growing larger than it has ever been. We imagine falling, no, plummeting into all-consuming love towards this helpless little human. And how disappointing is it when it doesn’t happen, and you don’t immediately fall in love with your baby?
Am I the only one not in love with my baby?
It can be disappointing and even shocking when we hold our newborn and feel nothing towards them. The multitude of thoughts that pass through our heads at this moment is enough to swallow us whole and bring us down into the dark spiral of shame.
We start wondering what is wrong with us? All other moms fall in love with their babies immediately. None of the movies we ever saw showed a mom who wasn’t instantly enamored with her wriggly offspring. So a conclusion emerges — there must be something wrong with me.
The truth is, there is nothing wrong with not bonding right away with your baby. As many as 20% of parents do not bond immediately with their newborns. Sometimes they only start feeling the bond days, weeks, or months after birth. And there is nothing wrong with that, though it may feel like it at the moment.
What Can Prevent the Bond from Happening Right Away?
Now that you know that you are not the only parent who didn’t fall in love with their baby right away, you may still wonder why this happened. There are many reasons for this, but the most common is exhaustion from a difficult birth, C-section, birth complications for mom or baby, baby being rushed to NICU, and postpartum depression.
Traumatic and challenging labor may leave mom feeling completely exhausted, in pain, and wanting nothing more than eating and sleeping afterward. Or if this baby came after a previous pregnancy loss, mom can feel incredibly ambivalent towards the baby that is alive and in her arms. Feelings of guilt for loving this new being can stand in the way of a new budding bond.
My First Birth Experience
I’ll share a personal story about bonding. I have two sons. My first was born via an unplanned C-section, while my second was a VBAC baby. My first labor was long, drawn-out, full of interruptions (I ended up being transferred from a birth center to a hospital because my labor stalled for too long), unexpected C-section, unsupportive medical staff at the hospital, and a poor reaction to anesthesia. I could not hold my son until over an hour after his birth due to being strapped to the operating table. I also suffered from perinatal depression that began during my pregnancy.
Needless to say that when I was finally able to hold him, I felt absolutely nothing. I felt nothing for almost four months. My postpartum depression prevented me from forming a bond with my child. It was stressful, confusing, and excruciating. I did not experience that with my second.
My Second Birth Experience
With my second, I felt instant love and adoration. But I had shorter labor, was surrounded by supportive staff, and succeeded in my VBAC plans. So, all the cards were stacked right this time. And now, five years have passed since the birth of my first and two years since the birth of my second. I am bonded to both of them equally. And I bet not a single person could tell that my eldest and I had a rocky start to our relationship.
Why did I share this with you? To show you that the lack of bonding happens through no fault of yours or your baby’s. Also, to let you know that just because you didn’t bond right away, it doesn’t mean you can’t bond later. There are plenty of romances that don’t start with flames. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t build that flame by caring for your child and spending time with them.
What Can You Do if You Didn’t Immediately Fall in Love with Your Baby?
First and foremost, don’t despair, blame yourself, or think you’re a horrible mother. It’s not a helpful line of thinking. What is helpful is realizing that, yes, it happens, but it doesn’t mean anything for your bond with your child in the long run. But it is still important to build that bond. Your baby depends on you and a strong bond for survival and safety. So let’s work on creating it.
- Make sure you do lots of skin-to-skin cuddles and nursing sessions. This will help with the bonding by releasing oxytocin, and it will also help with breastfeeding.
- Room-in with baby at the hospital and at home. Put the crib, bassinet, or pack-and-play in your room and have the baby sleep in there. The more you are around your baby, the more likely your bond will form.
- Wear baby in a wrap or carrier around the house and on walks outside. Babywearing is so wonderful because it not only helps with creating a bond, but it helps baby regulate their body temp, feel safe and secure, and provide the rocking motion for better sleep.
- Engage in all parts of caring for the baby. That includes diaper changes, baths, picking and changing outfits, etc. The more you do for the baby, the more bonded you will feel.
- Learn how to do baby massage. Baby massages are a great activity to bond with your baby and help you relieve some stress. Make sure you are using unscented and high-quality products for the massages to prevent irritating baby’s skin.
A Word of Caution
As I mentioned before, postpartum depression can come in between you and your baby. Postpartum Depression is a serious illness that affects 1 in 7 moms and can present itself with many different symptoms, one of which is a lack of bond to your baby. If you suspect that you may be suffering from postpartum depression, reach out to your doctor and find a referral to a therapist. The faster you address the issues associated with postpartum depression, the better your motherhood experience will be.
Resources for Postpartum Support
- Postpartum Support International (PSI) — offers online support groups, teletherapy local provider referrals, Helpline, Online Professional training, and other services for you
- Phone crisis line: 1-800-944-4773
- Text support: (503) 894-9453
- Motherhood Understood — an online community that offers group discussions and resources via a mobile app
- The Mom Support Group — offers free peer-to-peer support group calls on Zoom calls led by trained postpartum advocate facilitators
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) — a mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness
- Phone crisis line (800-950-6264)
- Text crisis line (“NAMI” to 741741) for people who need immediate assistance
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — offers free 24/7 helplines available for people in a crisis who may be considering taking their lives
- Call 800-273-8255
- Text “HELLO” to 741741