It’s supposed to be love at first sight. But here’s the reality: for many parents, it takes a long time to bond with their new baby, which can naturally lead to feelings of shame and disappointment. It’s not something people often talk about, so let’s shed some light on bonding.
What mothers really say about bonding
If we go by the movies, bonding is something that magically happens when we look into our newborn’s eyes. And for a lot of mothers, that magic moment does happen – it’s instant, it’s powerful, and it’s a bit like falling in love. However, there are many other mothers who have an alternate experience. One that involves looking at their newborn baby with a curious mix of disbelief and maybe a bit of ambivalence. And a gut-churning guilt that they’re not reacting the way they’re supposed to.
This is something a lot of mothers keep to themselves. And understandably. Society has led us to believe that motherhood is a one-size-fits-all experience, but finally a national survey of over 500 mothers has provided a bit of perspective. Commissioned just last year by WOTBaby, the survey found that 70 per cent of new mothers expected to bond with their baby from day one – but here’s the clincher: over 60 per cent said it actually took a lot longer than that.
For all those mothers who spent countless hours in the hospital searching for their maternal instinct and wondering what on earth was ‘wrong’ with them – this is information worth sharing. It proves that we don’t all instantly in love with our babies, and that some feelings of disconnect are the norm, not the exception.
Finding a connection
We know it’s essential to develop a strong emotional bond with our baby. And Princeton University research has suggested that what psychologists call “secure attachment” can impact on a child’s future success in life. However the murkier issue is how bonding actually happens and what kind of timeframe is required to really establish a rhythm with our babies.
In response to the WOTBaby findings, WOTBaby founder and mothercraft nurse, Jen Hamilton, said that movies and advertising were a big part of the problem. Often, they depict an unrealistic ideal of instant mother-baby bonding, when in reality there are a number of important factors that can effect the experience. High on the list are factors like labour, health, relationships, support systems, personality and feeding.
“In my experience, I generally find on average, mums truly bond with their child at four to five months,” Ms Hamilton said in an interview with the Herald Sun.
What you can do
Like every other aspect of motherhood, bonding with your baby is deeply personal, and different for everyone. The best thing you can do is take the pressure off yourself, and remember that everything is fuzzy in those early days with your baby. You’re dealing with wakeful nights, stressful sleeping schedules and maybe some feeding challenges. Bonding isn’t something you can force, but you can try a few little things to optimise your time together:
- Find the right people. Have a couple of like-minded and supportive people you can talk to, and keep the lines of communication open, especially on those rough days when you need a sympathetic ear.
- Stay informed. Knowing that lots of other mothers are struggling with aspects of bonding can help keep things in perspective.
- Spend lots of time with your baby. I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes at that, because it can feel like you spend every single minute with your baby. But focus on those small, quiet moments when you’re having some skin-to-skin time.
- Let things fall into place. It takes time to get your groove with a baby. Many mothers find that things don’t really start to make any sense until the 4-6 month mark. So hang in there.
- Seek help if you need it. If you’re feeling like things aren’t improving, or you’re having worrying thoughts about your baby, please reach out to your doctor or family health nurse. Post-natal depression is a common experience in those early days, so get help as soon as you need it.
What was your experience with bonding? Did it take some time for you as well?