Why Bonding With Your Newborn May Be Harder Than You Think and What to Do About It

Many parents recall the day they first held their baby as one of the best days of their lives – but for some parents, that isn't quite the case. Even if you love your newborn baby with all your heart, sparks may not fly right away, and that's okay! It is completely normal for bonding between parents and their babies to take time, and sometimes, a little bit of extra effort is needed before the connection is fully solidified. 

Reasons bonding with your baby may be difficult:

A lack of support

Caring for a new life can be all-consuming; if you don't have a community, it is easy to become worn out. Having a non-sustainable system will make it difficult for you to consistently give your newborn the energy needed throughout the bonding process. A strong support system will allow you to take breaks and get the help you need. 

What to do: Self-advocacy will be your (and your baby's!) best friend in this scenario. If you have a community, it is time to call on them to form a support system you and your baby can rely on. Many communities also offer new-parent support groups. You can often call your local hospital for information on meeting times and locations. 

Birth trauma

Giving birth is a miraculous event that can be a transcendent and empowering experience, but it can also be difficult, painful, and traumatizing. "Birth trauma" is a wide-spreading term that can refer to any negative experience such as uterine rupture leading to an emergency cesarean section, cervical checks without consent, experiencing a panic attack while giving birth, and more. If your birth-giving experience did not go according to plan and you find yourself reflecting on the negative experience and feeling sad, scared, or angry, it can be difficult to focus on your baby and the budding relationship between the two of you. 

What to do: If you are experiencing emotional difficulty following the birth of your child, it is critical to address those feelings. Ignoring birth trauma can lead to an increased likelihood of postpartum depression, anxiety, or even psychosis. Reach out to your medical care provider for talk therapy, support groups, or medication options. Treating symptoms is helpful, but addressing the trauma is the most beneficial course of action as it allows you to heal. 

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Your baby has health complications.

If your baby is experiencing health complications, it can be emotionally, mentally, and even physically draining. Extended NICU stays, frequent doctor's appointments, and constant attentive care at home can be a lot to deal with. Not only are you left "pouring from an empty cup," but the fear of the future and what that may look like with or without your child can trigger emotional walls that don't easily allow for connection and bonding. 

What to do: Taking down emotional walls can be daunting as our mind puts them up instinctually in an attempt to protect us. Removing that protection may create a dangerous response or, at the very least, feel incredibly uncomfortable. A great option is to work with a therapist, lean on your support network, and reach out to the community of parents having a similar experience to find comfort, solace, and strength. In the meantime, try and take care of yourself so you can enjoy the positive moments as much as possible.  

History of loss

Similar to experiencing a baby with medical concerns, having a newborn after you have experienced the loss of a child or pregnancy can bring about many of those same emotional walls. The especially difficult part may be recognizing how real the possibility of loss is once you have been through it before. 

What to do: Being able to confide your fears and talk through your previous experience with loss can help the healing process and open some room in your heart to let your sweet new baby in. You can speak to a therapist, partner, friend, or another parent who has experienced something similar. Knowing you're not alone can be just the support you need as you embrace this new chapter. 

Hormones

The classic scapegoat for all your pregnancy woes won't be leaving the spotlight just yet! A whole new shift of hormones takes place after you give birth. While ideally, these hormones, like oxytocin, are natural and should be helping you bond with your baby, the changes can leave you weepy, sad, or irritable, which is not a conducive environment for love and bonding. 

What to do: Unfortunately, this is one hurdle in the postpartum period you may just have to push through and wait out. Most people's hormones even out with time. If you are continuing to experience mood swings, consult your healthcare provider. They may have some insight or be able to do some additional testing to make sure everything is okay. 

Mental health struggles

Those struggling with their mental health before having a newborn will most likely continue to struggle afterward. The newborn stage of parenthood is especially trialing. Even those who have not had difficulty with their mental health before may find themselves facing new thoughts and feelings that are challenging. 

What to do: The first course of action is to always reach out to a medical professional if you are experiencing worrisome thoughts or feelings. Trust your instincts; if you don't feel your doctor is taking your concerns seriously, find someone who will. Enlist a loved one to help you call and make appointments if needed, so all you need to do is show up. One at-home strategy in the meantime is to give yourself a schedule with small, manageable goals for you and your newborn, such as getting dressed each morning in clean clothes. Creating an attainable and sustainable system with your baby will be grounding and allow your relationship to progress healthily despite any difficulties. 

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Divided attention

The sage advice to "sleep when the baby sleeps" may work like a dream for first-time parents with no other responsibilities, but for the rest of us, it ages like a sippy cup filled with milk and left in the minivan over a summer weekend. Most parents have a multitude of things drawing their attention, such as work, pets, and other children. The newborn stage quickly becomes synonymous with "survival mode" when you are pulled in so many directions, making time spent bonding with your baby seem like an unaffordable luxury. 

What to do: While it is important to fulfill our obligations and responsibilities, having a strong connection with your baby is not a bonus. It is a vital part of your baby's development and an absolute necessity. If you are unsure how to find the time (and energy!) to bond with your baby, check out seven quick and easy tips below:

Seven easy ways to connect with your newborn:

  1. Have skin-to-skin contact. This tip is recommended immediately following birth but doesn't (and shouldn't!) have to stop in the following weeks. 
  2. Take some purposeful time during each feeding to make and maintain loving eye contact with your baby. 
  3. Listen to your baby's heartbeat. This one may take you back to those early ultrasound days and the excitement of hearing their heartbeat for the first time. 
  4. Enjoy that new baby scent. Your sense of smell is directly coordinated with memories and emotions, which can help you make a forever connection with your baby. 
  5. Read aloud or sing to your baby. While your newborn won't be participating in full-length discussions anytime soon, they will appreciate hearing the sound of your voice and even begin to respond to it, which can feel especially rewarding at times where your words instantly soothe their tears. 
  6. Come up with a nickname. Choosing a baby name can come with a lot of pressure! A nickname is something that can develop naturally and help you feel like you can relate more personally with your baby.
  7. Record milestones. The day-to-day can feel monotonous, but taking time to reflect on the day and journal moments can help you notice and appreciate details you might have otherwise missed. 

 

 

 

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