Bonding and Attachment

Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC

AUGUST 13, 2018

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Parents about to have a baby will often have very clear ideas, and even written birth plans that focus on enhancing opportunities for early bonding particularly at the moment of birth. Breastfeeding (particularly immediate breastfeeding) is often at the top of that bonding plan, and while it is a wonderful way to feed and bond it’s NOT the only way. Too often I hear from moms deeply distressed as breastfeeding didn’t work for them, or their baby needed to be brought to the NICU, and they are wracked with a sense of failure at the lost opportunity to bond.

In addition, it’s important to note, that not all parents fall in love with baby instantly. Sure, some do, but when that doesn’t happen, it can be jarring, especially for mom, as the expectation is that we are to feel an overwhelming, natural, “motherly” attachment to our baby at the moment of birth. It’s “supposed” to be part of our DNA, something inherently female…and yet, if you talk to enough moms, brave enough to be honest, many will say they did not feel that instant attachment.

Many in fact, will admit that the initial feeling was much closer to feeling overwhelmed and terrified. During those first few days in the hospital, moms are cared for, but then we send you home, and suddenly you are faced with caring for your own physical healing as well as learning to care for your baby. If you are lucky (and it’s pure luck) to have a baby whose temperament is relaxed and pretty easy to read..i.e. a “good baby” that makes a difference. But if your baby’s temperament it a bit more of a challenge, or your baby has reflux, colic or, anything that makes him/her more sensitive or difficult to read, well, that can impact bonding.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health publishes some great resources for parents and they offer some of the following suggestions to parents to help with boding, many of which have to do with taking good care of yourself after delivery. Think “healthy mom, happy baby.”

  • Pamper yourself. Most of us feel so much better after a nice hot shower. If for nothing else, it gives you a few moments to yourself
  • Take a nap. Chronic sleep deprivation is brutal and certainly takes a toll on physical and emotional well-being. Many moms will say that they can’t sleep during the day as they are too focused on accomplishing tasks when baby is sleeping. If moms would give themselves permission not to task, but instead lie down, recline, listen to some soft music (not internet search or scan social media) they might just drift off for a rejuvenating nap.
  • Leave the house. Sometimes just getting outside an in nature changes one’s perspective. Attending a new moms group, where you can connect, meet other moms and realize you are not alone in this journey makes all the difference. Recently at one of the new moms groups I lead, one brave mom admitted that she felt guilty that the moment after delivery, when she first was handed her baby, she didn’t feel the love she thought she was supposed to feel, and in fact was happy to hand baby over to her partner. That’s all it took, one honest mom, for the majority of others to admit that they had the same experience!
  • Cuddle your baby. There are many babies whose temperament is such that they are not happy unless they are held. Here’s where infant carriers can be a lifesaver, but which one? There are so many on the market, and you can spend a fortune trying to find the one that works for you and your baby! A great resource to check out is Baby Wearing International where you can get assistance in trying out and learn to use a vast assortment of carriers and then for a minimal fee, try it out for a week before deciding if this is the one you want to invest in!
  • Talk to your baby. When you are changing his/her diaper make eye contact, smile, and tell your baby about the beautiful or rainy day happening outside the window.
  • Learn infant massage. YouTube has some great video demonstrating various massage techniques you can do with your baby, and even offers some specifically for easing tummy/gas pain.
  • Be patient. For many parents it takes a bit of time to learn who this little person is before falling madly in love. If after a few weeks you are not feeling increasingly connected, talk with your provider. You may be experiencing a postpartum mood disorder, one of the most common complications of pregnancy, and once treated, you’ll feel like all those other mothers who just can’t believe how crazy in love they are with their newborn!

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.