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How To Bond With Your Baby If It Doesn’t Come Naturally

Signs you aren't bonding with your baby




Written by:

Barbara Mighdoll

Expert reviewed by Jen Jordan, Board Certified Medical Doctor

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between my birth with my second child versus my first, was how emotional I was. There was a stark difference between the uncontrollable crying and sentimental-filled moments with my first, Caden, versus the happiness, but strange lack of tears and emotion with my second, Willow. I felt guilty pretty quickly about the juxtaposition of these two birth experiences, and the days and weeks that followed where it just felt so different, like the magic was robbed from me.

A challenge that often goes undiscussed (as are so many postpartum experiences) is the struggle to bond with your new baby. We're led to believe that the bond between parent and child is this magical, instant bond, but for many of us, it's not that straightforward. If you're finding it hard to click with your newborn, you're not the only one, and it doesn't mean you're failing as a parent. For expert insights, I'm turning to family medicine physician, Dr. Jen Jordan, MD, of Bloom After Baby to provide tips and advice to help strengthen the bond with your baby.

bonding with your baby

What Does Bonding With Your Newborn Mean?

Dr. Jordan explains that maternal-infant bonding is, “the maternal-driven process of forming a strong emotional connection, characterized by affection, attachment, and responsiveness to your baby's needs.” While many of us associate bonding with that precious skin contact right after birth, it's much broader than that. Bonding encompasses many senses beyond just tender touch, such as the sound of your voice and your facial expressions. 

Why is bonding so important?

Maternal-infant bonding is a significant process that fosters a deep sense of attachment and love between you and your baby. It's not just crucial for your baby's emotional development, but yours as well. For your baby, bonding provides a sense of security and comfort. Through bonding, your baby learns to trust and develop healthy relationships, which is important as they age.

Dr. Jordan explains, “Strong maternal bonding is associated with better infant well-being, cognitive development, and psychosocial competence for children later on.” In other words, when you bond with your baby, you are setting them up for success in the future. Conversely, Dr. Jordan emphasizes that inadequate bonding can lead to significant long-term adverse impacts on a child's development and their ability to form healthy relationships in the future.

Exploring the biological and emotional aspects of bonding

Maternal care patterns can influence how babies respond to stress and connect with others. This process is regulated by oxytocin and stress and reward related neural systems. Oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone', plays a crucial role in this process. It's released during childbirth, breastfeeding, and skin-to-skin contact, and helps in establishing a strong emotional connection. Dr. Jordan provides the example that when a mother interacts with her child with warmth, sensitivity, and care it activates parts of the brain associated with pleasure and reward. On the other hand, when moms are overly intrusive or anxious, it activates brain regions linked to stress and worry. 

Recognizing Signs of Difficulty in Bonding

Recognizing that you're having difficulty bonding with your baby is the first step, and enables you to seek timely support. If you're frequently feeling indifferent or detached towards your baby, it might be an indication of a bonding issue. Other signs could include:

  1. Dreading moments of interaction or care
  2. Constantly feeling overwhelmed and anxious
  3. Resentment
  4. Having difficulty responding to your baby's cues
  5. Intrusive thoughts about parenting

Research also shows that prenatal expectations significantly impact bonding,” says Dr. Jordan. If you enter parenthood with negative expectations, it's more likely you'll face bonding challenges with your baby after birth. According to this research, maternal support, maternal education and preparedness, and maternal mental health and mood disorders are contributing factors to expectations and outlook during pregnancy. Strive to maintain positive or neutral expectations and engage in open conversations with your partner to ensure alignment and understanding. Think about discussing any anxiety or things that could negatively affect your expectations with your mental health team and support system, especially if you suffer from mental health or mood disorders.This proactive approach can help establish a supportive and cohesive environment for both parents as they navigate these new experiences together.

recognizing signs of difficulty bonding with your baby

Postpartum depression and bonding

Prenatal and postpartum depression (PPD) can impact the bonding process between a new parent and their baby. PPD is a common mental health issue that affects many new moms post-childbirth, and is characterized by persistent feelings of anxiety, sadness, irritability, and fatigue. Dr. Jordan explains that mothers may feel withdrawn and want to engage less with their baby. Postpartum anxiety and stress can also influence maternal-infant bonding, with signs of over-the-top vigilance and awareness, which Dr. Jordan explains, “can similarly lead to rejection, anger, and poorer emotional involvement.”

These symptoms can interfere with the ability to connect emotionally with your baby, making bonding more difficult. You might find yourself feeling detached or uninterested in your baby, or overwhelmed by their needs. If you suspect you're experiencing PPD, reach out to a healthcare provider. Timely intervention can alleviate symptoms and support the bonding process with your baby.

Stress and support systems

Stress can significantly influence the bonding process. High levels of stress can cause feelings of overwhelm, fatigue, and irritability, which may impede your capacity to bond with your baby. This is particularly prevalent in situations with limited support systems. On the other hand, strong support systems can alleviate stress and facilitate bonding. Having reliable individuals around you, such as family, friends, or a partner, who can provide emotional support and share in childcare responsibilities, can make a world of difference. Your support system can bolster your confidence, provide respite, and reassure you during challenging times.

Seeking professional support can help too. Therapists, medical professionals, or support groups can offer valuable tools and strategies to effectively manage stress. It's important to remember that seeking help is not a sign of weakness but a proactive step towards taking care of yourself and your baby.

Is Not Feeling an Instant Connection Normal?

Yes. Bonding is a process, and for some parents, it takes time. The reality of parenting, coupled with physical exhaustion, hormonal changes, unexpected emotions, and the pressures of adapting to a new role, can sometimes overshadow the bonding process. Dr. Jordan clarifies that the absence of an immediate connection doesn't necessarily indicate a lack of bond. It's important to actively nurture the bond with your newborn and to establish a strong connection within the first few months of your baby's life.

Practical Methods to Encourage Bonding With Your Baby

Here are several practical methods to foster a stronger bond with your baby:

  1. Skin-to-skin contact: This simple yet powerful method stimulates the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the “bonding or love hormone”. You can practice skin-to-skin contact while feeding your baby or by simply cuddling with your baby. Dr. Jordan adds, “It’s shown to have immediate physiological benefits like regulating body temperature, stabilizing heart rate, and promoting breastfeeding.”
  2. Feeding: Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, these are special moments where you can make eye contact or sing softly, fostering a deep emotional connection.
  3. Baby massage: This can be a relaxing and enjoyable activity for both you and your baby. It's a great opportunity for physical connection and can also help to soothe your baby after bath time.
  4. Communicate with your baby: Talk, sing, or read to your baby. This not only strengthens your bond but also stimulates your baby's language development.
  5. Respond to your baby's cues: Understanding and responding to your baby's needs can build trust and strengthen your bond.

During pregnancy, you can also encourage bonding between you and your child. Dr. Jordan recommends singing and talking, reading, touching or massaging your belly (particularly in response to baby's movements!), and journaling about your pregnancy experience. Feel free to include your partner in this process too! 

methods to encourage bonding with your baby

When to seek help for bonding issues

If you feel like you have a poor connection with your newborn and/or are struggling with symptoms of PPD and postpartum anxiety, it's important to reach out to your healthcare provider. They can help you address any underlying issues and provide support and resources. Other resources include:

  1. Postpartum Support International (PSI)
  2. Bloom After Baby – a digital support space offering free resources via social media, podcasts, and online courses

Bloom After Baby‘s mission is to provide comprehensive education and a supportive community, demystifying the transformations of motherhood for a path of resilience and growth. Get prepared for your postpartum period with this postpartum essentials checklist.

Feature image Sarah Chai from Pexels


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