We all know, at least theoretically, that bonding with your baby is important but that it doesn't always come naturally or easily.
As the mum of three babies I think I've encountered the whole spectrum of emotions and experiences when it comes to bonding, from the immediate and all-consuming rush of love that people romanticise about, to the darker and harder to define sense of wondering if I'd ever feel the things I thought I was supposed to for my baby, but which just seemed eerily absent in the hours after birth.
So it came as no surprise to me to read that around 32% of UK mums experience baby bonding difficulties, according to data from the NCT. At last - data which bears out what I've long suspected which is that difficulties bonding with your baby are more prevalent than we might think.
This data has been published to mark the first UK Infant Mental Health Awareness Week, and it also reveals that 12% of new mums were embarrassed to speak to a health professional, GP or midwife about bonding issues.
A spokesperson for NCTsaid: "The bond a baby has with its parents acts as a template that shapes the child's emotions and relationships later in life so it's a crucial process. Parents who don't feel an instant connection with their new baby often experience strong feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy. We hope our research reassures new parents that they are not alone if they don't instantly bond with their baby and that this can often take time. GPs, midwives and health visitors can also play an important role in promoting bonding and it is important that this subject is raised and parents are encouraged to speak up if there is a problem."
Of course, we know that bonding with your baby is important and that the bond a baby has with his or her mother shapes important factors in later life. But what's arguably more important in the face of this data is knowing that it's normal and natural to struggle with bonding, and that it doesn't mean you or your baby will suffer.
The NCT offers these tips for bonding with your baby:
- Get support and friendship from socialising with other parents who may be going through similar problems.
- Encourage physical closeness, skin-to-skin contact or gentle baby massage.
- Interact with baby by talking, reading or singing.
And here's what I'd add:
- It's OKAY to feel nothing after giving birth. Try not to beat yourself up emotionally if your feelings don't flow or just don't seem to align with your own expectations of yourself. Give it time, and above all don't suffer in silence. Talking about bonding issues is immensely difficult but a problem shared is truly a problem halved.
- Talk yourself up instead of cutting yourself down. We're often our own worst enemies, speaking negatively about ourselves in ways we wouldn't dream of describing a friend. Instead of listening to the internal monologue about what a terrible mother you are, focus on all you've achieved in incubating and birthing a baby, and dwell on your strengths rather than honing in on your shortcomings.
- Above all; keep an open mind. Don't assume that because the bonding bubble didn't appear the moment you gave birth, it won't ever happen. Sometimes we just need time to come to terms with recovering from birth before conditions can be right for bonding to happen. The fears I harboured in the early dark days after giving birth all came to nothing and once I was rested and safe at home rather than holed up in a noisy hospital away from my family, bonding did indeed happen.
We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Did you bond easily with your baby, or was it a slower process than you expected? If so, what tips would you share for a new mum who is worried about bonding?