So originally, this was meant to be a post on connection with your instincts as a mother, but whilst researching for this blog post, I realised there is something else that needs to be addressed first – bonding with your baby. I wanted to talk about responding instinctually to your baby, but what about the women who feel they have no maternal instincts? The ones who feel they really have no idea what to do with their baby? The ones who know they should be looking at their baby and feel overwhelming love but instead feel nothing but fear?
Many are too ashamed to admit these feelings. I will say one thing: IT’S OKAY. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Maternal instinct is described as “a bond between mother and child”. What “they” fail to tell you is that it isn’t always instant. It may take weeks, months or sometimes years to build that bond with your child. There are a number of things that can affect you bonding with your baby. Hormonal changes after birth can cause post-partum depression. 1 in 5 mothers suffer from post-partum depression. This is not just “baby blues”. It’s a complete depression, a feeling of helplessness, worthlessness, sometimes accompanied by hallucinations (in extreme cases), increasing anxiety. It can affect your relationship with your partner and those around and lead to you resenting your baby, further affecting your ability to bond. The expectation for mothers to bond with their baby means that those experiencing these feelings often feel too ashamed to reach out for help. If you or anyone you know experiences these symptoms, please do not feel ashamed, you are NOT a bad mother and you are NOT alone. Talk to someone and ask for help. Medications and talking therapies can help and allow you to begin to build a bond with your baby. Please see the resources at the bottom of this post for further help.
Having a baby, especially your first baby, is a big change. This can also affect your ability to bond with your baby. You’ve gone from being a successful woman in the workplace, in control of your own workload and able to cope with numerous tasks to being a mum to a baby who doesn’t instantly latch on to your breast as you thought they would, who remains unsettled no matter what you do and you feel like you aren’t doing a good job. Being a mother isn’t easy. Tiredness from interrupted sleep can cause arguments with your partner, even in the strongest of relationships. All of these changes occurring at the same time can lead to thoughts that it’s the baby’s fault, or that you’re doing everything wrong, and feelings of resentment towards your baby. Please remember that you don’t have to be a mother alone. Modern day life has changed the way we parent – and not always for the better. Humans used to live in a more tribal setting, where all the females would help each other with the care of babies and children, even breastfeeding each other’s babies if the mother had trouble with her milk supply or was absent when the child was hungry. Nowadays we are more isolated from each other, but the first few weeks and months of parenthood is when you need a “tribe”. Not just to help with your new baby, but to help with the dishes, the housework, preparing a few meals, all of which allow you to spend more time with your baby in a more relaxed state. Remember, maternal bonding isn’t always instant. It can take weeks or months to build up that bond with your baby. Spending lots of relaxed, stress free time with them can help you do this.
Another factor that can affect bonding is your birth experience. Every birth is different and there is no “right” and “wrong” way to birth. However, complications that lead to a C-Section, pre-mature births or infant complications that lead to mother and baby being separated for extended periods of time immediately following birth can interfere with the bonding process. You may have heard of Oxytocin – the “love hormone”, it is a key hormone in labour which triggers the uterus to contract and move your baby out of your body. Interaction with your baby immediately after birth – skin-to-skin contact, baby being able to smell you, hear you and touch you – further stimulates the production of oxytocin, helping you to bond with your baby. C-Sections interfere with the production of oxytocin as the baby is not born vaginally, and the time spent starting your recovery from major surgery is often time that you are separated from your baby and that post-birth contact is delayed. Just 5-10 minutes of skin-to-skin contact after birth can help with oxytocin levels and strengthen bonding with your baby. Many hospitals are now beginning to recognise the importance of this and providing there is no immediate danger to mother or baby, are doing their best to provide this. If you are separated from your baby after birth, please don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you will never be able to bond with your baby, but it may help you understand why you may be having trouble bonding with your child.
Expectations can also have an effect on you bonding with your baby. In today’s society there is a lot of information available about pregnancy, birth and babies. Although available with the best intentions, it can make some mothers feel inadequate and guilty – that they didn’t feel beautiful and glowing throughout their pregnancy (and were in fact throwing up numerous times a day), that they didn’t breathe through their contractions with ease and no pain relief, that they didn’t have a stunningly peaceful water birth or that their newborn baby didn’t instantly latch onto their breast and feed like a professional. Expectations can be one of the most influential factors for new mothers. Life doesn’t always go to plan, and things don’t always turn out the way you’d have liked them to. Some mothers may feel they have failed their baby. I implore you to do one thing: Stop comparing yourself to others. For starters, it’s never a fair comparison – you are comparing what you consider to be their strength, with what you consider to be your weakness. Secondly, everyone is different. Everyone’s body is different, everyone’s needs are different. You have incredible strength because you came through all the obstacles that you encountered, and the decisions you made in the circumstances you had, were exactly right for you and your baby at the time. It’s ok not to be the “perfect mum” and it’s ok not to be doing things the same way as the other mums around you. Be aware. Be proud of YOU and your strengths as a mother. You have brought a new life into this world, and that’s one of the most admirable things I can think of <3
Ways to help you bond with your baby:
– Touch. This physical interaction helps your baby connect with you. Try looking up baby or infant massage classes in your local area to take this interaction further.
– Eye Contact. A baby’s vision focuses at around 7-10 inches, about the distance you hold your baby to breast or bottle feed. Look into their eyes while you feed them, focus on them and talk to them.
– Sound. Your baby has been used to hearing the sound of your voice from inside your womb. Talking to your baby throughout the day, commenting on things you are doing, pointing out things you see can help you and your baby bond on a daily basis.
I hope you have found this post helpful, I would love to hear your views on it. In the meantime I’ll get back to writing about connecting with your instincts as a mother!
Love to all
Please note: Although considered and researched, my advice is not medically qualified and you should always seek advice from a professional if you have concerns.