When you meet your baby for the first time, you are beginning a relationship. For some women, the moment feels like falling in love at first sight. For some, it doesn’t, and both are perfectly normal.
“There is this myth and expectation that new mothers will fall madly in love with their newborn the minute they pop out, so many women somehow feel defective if they don’t have that immediate bond and spectacular love for this baby,” says Margaret Howard, PhD, professor of psychiatry and human behavior and medicine at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “But any relationship takes a while to develop, so there’s no rule about when mothers have to fall in love with their babies. Everybody’s circumstance is different.”
“We all want instant gratification; the image out there is happy family all bonded together instantly after birth,” agrees Dana Rosenbloom, MS Ed, a parenting coach in New York City. “More often than not, that doesn’t happen, and you get sort of little pieces of that as time goes by and you get more and more connected.”
“Part of the problem is that people think that it is supposed to come naturally,” says Rosenbloom, “that there is one way to do it, and that there’s an exact science to how you are going to bond.” In reality, bonding can happen in many different ways and on different time lines. Here are a few things to do to both encourage—and have patience with—the process.
DO THINGS YOU ENJOY:
“Bonding happens very naturally when you are happy,” says Rosenbloom. “So do things with your baby that make you happy. If you like to lie on the couch and watch Law & Order, do that with your baby beside you. If you enjoy sitting by the water, bring your baby and sit by the water. The great thing about babies is that they are portable.” (And they don’t know how to work the remote yet.)
DON’T WORRY ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE NOT DOING:
“There are all of these ‘supposed tos,’” says Rosenbloom. “You’re supposed to do skin to skin; you’re supposed to do tummy time. Wipe all those things away. Obviously, there are
things that are important to do for your baby’s development that will help set them on the right path, but, particularly in the first three months, it’s so much more about being together, feeling good and calm and in a positive space with your baby that is what’s going to do it.”
BE SEPARATE BUT TOGETHER:
“Not only do you not have to spend all your time directly interacting with your baby, you shouldn’t,” says Rosenbloom. “It’s a wonderful thing to put a blanket on the ground, put your baby on it, and let him just experience the world.” In fact, Rosenbloom is a big proponent of a child development concept called “play in the presence of.”
“There’s a lot to be said for your children being near you and you being available and present for them but not necessarily directly engaging with them. If you are enjoying the world and you are close to your baby, your baby is going to feel that as close bonding time.”
DON’T WORRY IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO:
If your baby is colicky and hard to soothe, if you haven’t yet figured out which cry means what, it’s okay. “Instinct is more about feeling connected than it is about having the answers,” says Rosenbloom. “Mothers who naturally just know how to give a baby a bath or have the insight to know ‘My baby’s doing this; it must be gas’ are few and far between. That kind of intimate understanding naturally evolves. Take away the pressure that it should be instant. It takes time.”
YOUR BABY CAN TEACH YOU:
“The beginning is learning what your baby needs and what you need and how you two will work together,” says Rosenbloom. And that kind of learning requires quiet observation. “Some of the most important bonding and engagement comes from sitting back and watching your baby naturally.” That’s how you will learn how she gets tired, how she relaxes, what makes her smile, and developing that knowledge is the beginning of bonding with—and understanding—your child.
IF YOU’RE NOT FEELING IT YET, THERE IS NOTSOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU:
“Some women bond instantly and some don’t,” says Karen Kleiman, LCSW, founder and director of the Postpartum Stress Center in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. “I’ve never seen a failure to bond as an issue beyond a mom’s anxiety about it. Attachment happens. It’s biologic. The best we can do for women who are concerned about it is to help them not be concerned about it.”
That said, if you continue to worry about connecting with your baby or how you are feeling, you may feel better with mental health support. (See here.)
Been There, Done That: Moms Share Stories of How They Bonded with Their Babies and How Long It Took
I was surprised how quickly I felt bonded to Frida considering she came into our home as a foster child. I felt an instant and huge responsibility to protect and keep this little being alive, and that dovetailed with warmth and so much love for her.
—KRISTEN, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
I was surprised at how detached I felt from my baby after he was born compared to how attached I felt during thepregnancy. I thought the attachment would “cross over,” but in fact, I had to redevelop my attachment to my son when he was outside my body.
—ABBY, DECATUR, GEORGIA
It was immediate for me. I just felt simply complete.
People think, Oh, if she doesn’t have an immediate emotional tie something is wrong! And that’s just not true. It’s like an arranged marriage. There’s a sense of duty first that drives the relationship, and the emotional love grows and sweetens the relationship into something really beautiful.
—SND, ATLANTA, GEORGIA
I felt bonded with both of my babies the second they were born. It felt like a love that I had never experienced.
—CARRIE, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA
It took until she was about a year to feel bonded. Honestly, we grew up together. She grew up, and I grew up into being the mom I never believed I could be.