Many new parents worry when they don’t feel an immediate connection to their baby. These feelings of detachment immediately after birth can be confusing and painful. There are a number of reasons you may be feeling this way, particularly if you experienced birth trauma or complications. It’s important to remember that in these early days you and your little one are still getting to know each other—learning each other’s rhythms, smells, and ways of communicating—AKA forming your bond.
After birth, it’s very common to feel weepy, anxious, and/or easily frustrated. When these feelings are mild, they are most likely what we call the “baby blues” and dissipate after a couple weeks. This is an emotional time and if it’s causing you to feel a little overwhelmed or detached from your baby, know that this feeling won’t necessarily have any bearing on the closeness you will feel over time. For many new parents, it takes time for feelings of attachment and deep connection to form.
While experiencing complicated, ranging emotions in the days and weeks following birth is expected, prolonged or severe feelings of sadness, extreme worry, or hopelessness could be signs of postpartum depression. If you think you might be experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, or PTSD, you should seek out professional support. It is also possible for your partner to develop postpartum depression.
Why am I not bonding with my baby?
Like pregnancy and delivery, bonding looks different for every family. There’s no standard schedule for bonding, and for many families it can take a while. Some parents form an immediate attachment to a newborn; others develop a building sense of attachment through many experiences over time. Here are a few reasons why you may feel more attached to your newborn over time:
-You had a difficult pregnancy and/or delivery. If your birth did not go as planned, if you experienced pregnancy complications, or if you felt unsupported by your provider, it may take time to recuperate and feel like yourself again.
-You had a traumatic birth experience: If your birth experience was physically and/or emotionally traumatic, the time you may need to recover and begin bonding with baby could be longer than you had anticipated. Taking time to heal and care for yourself is essential.
-You were exhausted: After giving birth, you might have felt so relieved and exhausted that you didn’t have room to feel much else.
-You have complicated feelings about becoming a parent. Becoming a parent can be overwhelming even when your birth experience is a positive one. It is normal to experience some doubt, worry, or fear as you take on this new role. If these feelings are severe and/or prolonged, you should seek out help from your provider. Being a new parent will bring out new sides of you, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of not feeling like yourself.
-You did not physically carry your baby through pregnancy, or feed your baby afterward. Feelings of attachment are sometimes more elusive for non-birthing parents.
-You’re finding caring for your baby difficult. Your sleep schedule has likely been affected, and if your baby is collicky or very fussy, it can be particularly challenging to adjust. Taking care of a newborn is not easy. If you’re struggling, reach out to your support system for help and if you’re concerned your baby is collicky or unwell, consult a pediatrician for resources.
-You’re dealing with the baby blues, postpartum anxiety, or other perinatal mood disorders. Between 50-75% of new moms experience some symptoms of the baby blues and 15% experience PPD. If you are experiencing symptoms of PPD, reach out to your healthcare provider or call the hotline at Postpartum Support International for resources. You can also visit the PSI Directory for help finding a provider who specializes in perinatal mood disorders like depression, anxiety, OCD and bipolar disorder. More resources here.
Not developing an immediate bond with your newborn does not make you any less of a parent. As time passes and you spend more time getting to know your little one, and finding a routine, a stronger sense of attachment can form. If you would like to be proactive about bonding, here are a few things you can try:
Many hospitals and birthing centers initiate skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth by placing your baby’s tummy on your chest. You can continue to do this at home. Beyond supporting bonding, skin-to-skin contact has many physiologic benefits, including soothing and lowering baby’s stress levels and helping to regulate their temperature, heart rate, breathing and blood sugar. If you have a partner, they can practice skin-to-skin contact as well. And if you are breast feeding, feeding during skin-to-skin contact can boost your milk supply by increasing your prolactin levels as well as help you learn baby’s feeding cues.
Utilize Feeding Times
Use the moments when you’re breastfeeding and/or bottle feeding to spend special, intimate time together. Holding your baby close, looking into their eyes, and/or holding their hand while you feed are all great ways to establish trust and attachment.
Engage With Baby
Babies love to be talked to and entertained. Give them your attention while allowing them to study your face to build their trust in you and strengthen your attachment to them.
There are a number of reasons why attachment may not be immediate. Give yourself time to bond and take your relationship with your baby one step at a time. When it comes to parenthood, it’s definitely a marathon, not a sprint.