Bonding with Baby Can Be Surprisingly Difficult

By Angela Cabotaje

Some parents feel instant, overwhelming joy the first time they meet their babies. For others, that emotional connection is less immediate.

“The bonding experience is really different for everybody,” says Sally Manion, a certified nurse-midwife at Northwest Hospital Midwives Clinic. “We hear a wide range of stories from ‘The moment the baby was put on my belly, I just fell in love’ to, ‘What is this wet, screaming thing they just put on me?’”

Sally explains how bonding works, how it can benefit both parents and babies, and why it can sometimes take longer to develop that connection.

Bonding with baby has health benefits

Does changing a poopy diaper at 2 a.m. sound fun to you? Didn’t think so. But you do it because you’re emotionally invested in the well-being of your child.

“Bonding is a connection that’s both emotional and hormonal, even with an adopted child,” Manion explains. “It’s a connection of love and motivation to care for that baby.”

In the hour immediately after birth — aka the “magical hour” — enjoying skin-to-skin time with your baby releases pleasure hormones like oxytocin and beta-endorphins. This helps facilitate bonding by reinforcing positive feelings when interacting with your baby.

Simply put, skin-to-skin time gives you a “hit” of happiness that you associate with your child. The benefits exist even if you don’t get to do skin-to-skin right away. The brain continues to release oxytocin when a mother breastfeeds and when a parent touches or gazes at their baby.

Beyond motivating you to tend to your wailing newborn in the middle of the night, a strong bond can also contribute to long-term mental health and happiness for both you and your child.

“As with any positive relationship with people, the longer an emotional connection goes on, the better it is for the soul, mind and body,” Manion says.

Bonding may take longer for some parents 

So how come it can take some parents mere seconds to feel that intense connection while others wait longer? It all goes back to your unique road to parenthood.

“Bonding can really be affected by a mother’s experience in labor,” Manion explains. “Some women have a difficult delivery and are exhausted, and some have scary interventions that can make them emotionally wiped out.”

Other contributing factors to delayed bonding include sleep deprivation, an extra-fussy baby (hey there, colic), complications with breastfeeding, or general difficulty adjusting to the new family dynamic. Basically, all the challenges that come with having a newborn can contribute to delayed bonding.

The most important thing to keep in mind, Manion says, is to release yourself of guilt and shame if you’re not feeling the way you expected or hoped you would. She encourages parents to keep at it — that bond will eventually develop as you interact more and more with your baby.

When delayed bonding means something more

While there’s no set time frame as to when you should feel connected to your baby, Manion relays that it is important to check in with yourself after a few weeks to see if an underlying issue may be at play.

Postpartum depression is the most common reason why some parents may experience delayed bonding, though not the only one. In other cases of a delayed bond, past experiences from your childhood or with your own parents can affect your response to your infant.

That’s why it’s so important to get screened for postpartum depression and to be honest with your partner, parent peer-support group, midwife or doctor about where you are on an emotional level and seek assistance from a therapist or counselor, if necessary.

To read the full story, visit Right as Rain by UW Medicine.

About the Author

Angela Cabotaje is a writer for Right as Rain, a digital publication which provides health and wellness news, tips and information, brought to you by the experts at UW Medicine.


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