You’ve given birth! Your soft, beautiful angel is here. You’re glowing post-delivery, barely sore, hearts float around as you lovingly gaze into each other’s eyes while feeding, your partner is giving you a massage, harps play softly in the background. You’ve never been more in love. You never knew you could feel so connected. It’s exactly how you imagined. Life is perfect.
Record scratch. Let’s try that again.
You’ve given birth. Check. Your soft, beautiful angel is here. Absolutely. You’re glowing post-delivery? Maybe with sweat, tears, and other fluids. Barely sore? Barely able to move. Your partner is complaining they’re sore and need a massage (heads up – one of life’s greatest tragedies is the discomfort of hospital pullout couches). Someone barges in every time you’re resting. Baby is having difficulty feeding; panic sets in because you read about everything else on the internet, but you didn’t think to read about this specific thing and oh my god maybe you weren’t ready for any of this. It’s not exactly how you imagined. Life is... different.
And somehow, different feels wrong. Through nearly every outlet imaginable including movies, television, and social media most overwhelmingly, society conditions us to believe that immediate bonding and connection with your newborn is not only expected, but also the norm. Feeling anything otherwise must be taboo. A secret to keep for fear of judgment, fear that something is wrong with you, fear of never feeling connected, fear of not being normal.
It is a disservice to new parents and parents-to-be that there are not more honest conversations about the reality of parenthood. Becoming a parent is hard. Having a newborn is hard. Every time a baby is born, a new parent is born. Babies are born knowing exactly how to be babies, but parents are not born knowing how to parent. Although in most cases having a new baby is a positive event, positive stress is still stress and it can take a toll.
As a result, it is well within the realm of a normal experience to not feel instantly over-the-moon in love. This is a new and lifelong relationship, and relationships take time to grow. Each of you comes into this relationship with your own personality, preferences, and opinions. It takes time to get to know someone, learn them, and figure out how you fit together. On top of that, the transition into parenthood itself takes a physical and emotional toll; it can be stressful, challenging, and overwhelming. Yet, once you give yourself the compassion, grace, and patience you deserve, parenting can also become immensely rewarding. Read on for strategies to build your early bond and connect with your baby.
5 ways to enhance bonding with baby
- Talk, read, and sing to your baby. I can make you a single promise: your face and your voice are your baby’s favorite things. You are your baby’s greatest source of comfort and delight. Whether your home is filled with one hundred toys and activities or zero, know that nothing can top you. Take baby on tours of your home and describe everything like a museum guide. Making lunch? Describe what you’re doing, the foods, colors, and textures. Baby working on new skills? Narrate their actions like a sports announcer. Have hot gossip? Your baby’s the best secret keeper. Admittedly, talking to someone who doesn’t respond can feel unnatural at first. Keep practicing and you’ll find your groove. You can even leave a little space for baby to “respond” and help build the foundation of a back-and-forth conversation. Read and sing, too. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like your voice—your baby does! Try reading and singing while facing your baby so you can look at each other. This gives you an opportunity to delight in baby’s reactions while baby delights in seeing you and watching your mouth.
- Practice mindfulness while feeding and cuddling baby. Make eye contact and notice how baby’s weight feels in your arms, how their body feels against yours. Notice baby’s soft skin, eyelashes, the curve of their lips, their hands on you, their full cheeks, the rolls in their legs, the sound of their breath, the smell of their hair, the sparkle in their eyes. Mindfulness helps us feel more grounded and present and enhances the parent-child relationship.
- Get to know your baby. Responding to their cries and learning to read their cues can help new parents feel more effective and confident. Remember, even on hard days: you are the best parent for your baby, and you know your baby best.
- Pick baby up and hold baby… a lot. You cannot spoil an infant, but you can spend their infancy connecting with them. By holding baby when baby wants to be held, you are letting them know, “I’m here for you and I will always be here for you.”
- Journal sweet moments. It’s impossible to remember everything and you don’t have to love every moment. But it is possible to jot down the special things. Making a point to slow down and soak up these moments can fill your heart and carry you through the tougher times.
Keep in mind that other factors play a role in parent-child bonding. For example, underlying depression, anxiety, trauma, lack of social support, and life stressors impact a new parent’s capacity to feel connected. If these resonate with you, it is valuable to check-in with yourself. If it has been over two weeks since baby arrived and you feel disconnected, sad, unable to find joy, ashamed, guilty, like you have nobody to talk to, and you don’t feel like yourself, don’t settle for this as your new normal.
Many new parents’ instinct is to stay quiet and try to power through, but these feelings are screaming for you to pay attention to yourself and share your experience. Get the support you need by reaching out to a perinatal therapist who focuses on mental health during pregnancy and postpartum. Happy parents make happy babies, and it is ultimately most important that you take care of you.
About the author: Dr. Ellen Kolomeyer is a licensed clinical psychologist certified in perinatal mental health. She owns a private practice based in South Florida where she works with expecting parents, new parents in the postpartum period, and families from birth to five.