I was given the honor to speak with a group of moms at Charleston OT this week about ways that mothers bond with their baby. And not just this bond that we all see on Instagram (cue the slow motion image of a mother looking into her baby’s eyes with joy as a smile gently appears on her face).
I’m talking about bonding with a baby when you are struggling with a maternal mental illness.
Or rather, not bonding with your baby.
I know it’s a little taboo to talk about, but it’s a fact that not all mothers bond with their babies when they are born. Yes, some mothers have that immediate feeling of “I’d do anything for you” love. But lots of mothers don’t.
Here’s my quick story. My first some was born vaginally after 24 hours of labor. I was exhausted, mentally and physically. I was in so much pain, even with that epidural (that didn’t work). And when I heard my son cry and they laid him on my chest, I did not feel elated. I felt absolutely drained. It took me a while to build that bond with my son – those first few days at home with him here brutal.
I write that condensed version of my story for you to know that IT’S OKAY for you to not bond with your baby right away. You just pushed your body to it’s limit to have this baby – whether your birth was vaginal or caesarean section, you may not be feeling that instant connection.
We have to give ourself grace. Think about it – we just went through months and months of being pregnant. And now the baby is here and we are flooded with emotions – both good and bad.
And flooded with hormones. Our mind is trying to keep up with what our body has just been through, and that leaves little room for feelings of love.
But this doesn’t mean that you won’t ever bond with your baby. It’s just going to build over time, and that is completely natural and nothing you need to feel guilty about.
Here are some ways that you can build that bond but also give yourself space to heal.
1. You don’t have to over compensate for not feeling a connection.
Let me tell you right now, holding your baby to the point of feeling mentally depleted is not going to help. You have to be gentle with yourself and allow yourself time to form this attachment. Take time to let others hold your baby for you, or know that just because you are letting baby rest in their bassinet, doesn’t mean that you are a bad mother or doing something wrong. Hold your baby when you can and know that it’s okay to take a break.
2. Skin to Skin contact
Speaking of not holding your baby all of the time, be sure to make those moments when you are holding them special. Holding baby skin-to-skin (your bare skin on their bare skin – usually on your chest) can release chemicals in your brain like oxytocin to create a feeling of happiness. BUT, this may not be easy. Some moms may feel like their skin is crawling when they hold their baby like this, and that’s okay. It might not be for every mom.
3. Talk to your baby
I know, you may think this sounds weird, but talk to your baby. I mean, it’s you and baby together for several weeks or even months, and that can get a little isolating. So, just talk. Get out whatever you want to say. Narrate your day to your baby, sing songs to your baby if that feels comfortable. Bonding with your baby on a verbal level can help you build that relationship. And one day, they will be able to respond to you, I promise.
4. NICU bonding
When we have babies that go into the NICU right after birth, that bond can really be difficult to form. They are taken from us right after birth and sometimes it’s days or weeks before we can hold them. Ask the nurses what you can do to help care for you baby – maybe you can help feed them, or hold their little hand. You can also talk to them in this setting, or read books so that they can hear your voice.
While some babies aren’t too fond of being constrained in a carrier, others love it. If this is something you are interested in, I highly recommend trying some different wraps and carriers out. This gives you the bonding experience of close contact, while also allowing you to have your hands free to get some other stuff done. If you have questions about babywearing, there is a great local group called Lowcountry Babywearing Group that can answer those questions for you!
Give yourself grace as you work on this bond, mama. And reach out for support – don’t be scared to talk to someone about what you are going through.
We are here to support you.