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Bonding - What Hinders Bonding?

BondingNot every mother (or father) feels an instant bond with their newborn. It's a very personal experience that proceeds differently for every mother. Chances are that this bond will develop over the coming days and weeks as you become more confident in caring for your baby and you recover from the physical effects of birth.

There are many circumstances that can affect bonding. If your pregnancy was difficult, for instance, and you feared the loss of your baby, you might have held back emotionally to protect yourself. Mothers of very premature babies, or babies who are ill and in Neonatal ICU sometimes experience something similar. If your baby is in an incubator or attached to complex and unfamiliar equipment, it's not easy to touch and nurture him. Persevere, though, and ask the nurses to help you hold, stroke, soothe and feed him as well as you can under the circumstances.

Mothers who are exhausted after a long and difficult delivery, or mothers who have not had the kind of delivery that they had hoped for and anticipated, might find it harder to feel that immediate bond. If your baby is high-maintenance, for instance if he has colic, you might find that it takes a little longer for you to feel really attached.

Many new mothers simply feel inadequate to the task of looking after this new little person. Kathy* describes her first days as a mom, “My main emotion was absolute terror. I remember thinking, ‘How can they let us take this tiny baby home?' I didn't know how I was going to keep her alive. I didn't know if I was doing things right, or if she was getting enough to eat. When my husband went back to work I cried every morning. I wished I could go back to work, to do something I was competent at, and let someone who knew what they were doing look after the baby. I had absolutely no faith in my parenting skills and I was so anxious that it was difficult for me to enjoy my baby. We only really bonded after about a month, when my fear settled down a bit. It made a real difference when I got the hang of breastfeeding and I could see she was getting fatter. At least I could stop worrying that I was starving her!”

Claire Marketos of Inspired Parenting adds, “If the mom feels she is unable to meet her expectations of mothering she may feel miserable and disillusioned. Feeling isolated and unsupported can make a mother feel overwhelmed in her new role, especially if this is combined with criticism from family members and her partner about her mothering skills.”

If the mother is mentally, emotionally or physically unwell, this can impact on her ability to respond to and bond with her baby. There is a correlation between PND and difficulty in bonding, explains Debbie Levin, “When a person is depressed, bonding is often affected. The mother might go into automatic mode, bathing and changing the baby, but not really wanting the baby near her. In the case of very severe depression, bonding can be badly affected and in extreme cases, someone else might have to look after the baby.”

Approximately 10% of women who have just given birth experience postpartum depression. It's common, but treatable. Get help from your doctor if you suspect you are suffering from PND, and particularly if you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

Having a baby is a deeply profound experience, and mothers with unresolved trauma, such as abuse, or who have suffered a loss, perhaps of a partner or another baby, may find that the birth and the transition to motherhood seems to make these issues resurface. Your own experience of being mothered can also impact on your own feelings about becoming a mother yourself. A psychologist can help you look at these issues and heal the pain of your past.

Bonding - What helps bonding? [more...]
Bonding - If you aren't bonding? [more...]
Bonding - Does every mom feel it?  [more...]

Postnatal Depression Support Association 
National helpline:   082 882 0072  082 882 0072    082 882 0072  082 882 0072

Your ParentingPublished by: Your Baby and reproduced with permission from