In a word: yes.
If you believe many parenting books, you’ll be deluded into thinking that the second your newborn baby is placed in your arms, your cup of love will overflow. The reality is, the bond with your baby just doesn’t always happen this way.
Take Dana.* From the minute her baby was born, her daughter screamed. She screamed in the morning, she screamed during feedings, she screamed if Dana put her down. And for such a little girl, the level of screaming was epic and non-stop. They took her to the doctor to rule out any physical or health concerns, but there was nothing. Her husband asked, half jokingly, if they had a return policy at the hospital. Alas, no. Dana felt guilty for not feeling anything for her baby. The months of anticipation while she was pregnant just didn’t result in anything close to her expectations.
Feeding, changing, feeding, changing, playing, crying, feeding, changing. It can feel like a relentless routine that takes the joy out of parenting. It’s not at all unusual for moms to experience baby blues, at best, and serious postpartum depression, at worst, in the days and weeks that follow your baby’s birth.
The worst part is that many parents put a lot of pressure on themselves to find that perfect bond with their new baby, and the guilt that comes when they aren’t able to bond makes everything they’re experiencing that much worse!
How to deal with not feeling an immediate bond
First—don’t feel guilty. It’s not at all unusual. In fact, fifty percent of new mothers don’t feel an immediate bond, taking upwards of nine weeks to feel like more than the babysitter / milk provider. You’ve been through a HUGE change physically, hormonally, emotionally and more. It takes a lot of people time to adjust to this. While you may have known what was coming in your brain, actually living it is a whole other matter. And this assumes that you’ve had a normal birth, with no complications!
Second—relax. The love will come. Very few parents go through parenthood with zero attachment to their children. It can come when you least expect it. Your baby’s first smile, the first time they reach and grab your finger, the first time they pee on you… It’s different for everyone! As long as you are meeting your baby’s needs, physically, you’ll find the opportunity for the emotional needs to form.
Third—find the little moments. Bonding isn’t a zero sum game. Unlike baby ducks, which bond instantly with the first duck they see (thankfully, usually the mom), you have time to find your groove with your newborn. This is an area where a postpartum doula can be particularly helpful. If you’re feeling less of the relentless grind of parenting, you will be rested enough to find the joy in it too. Giving your baby a calming bath, an infant massage, having some skin-to-skin time. All of these ‘moments’ can help to build that bond.
Fourth—get help. Beyond giving you the time, and grace, to appreciate the ‘moments’, some extra help could be what stands between you and a little bit more rest. If your feelings, or lack of them, persist, check in with your doctor. You could be dealing with the same postpartum depression symptoms that up to 20% of new moms deal with. Don’t feel guilty about that, as if you are a bad parent. Talk to your doctor and deal with it head on.
For Dana, she started to see things differently in week three. Her daughter had miraculously stopped crying all the time and actually smiled. Sure, it might have been gas, but for the first time in twenty-one days, her face reflected something than total, red-faced anger. It was a change that made all the difference.