You've seen the movies, the commercials, and the television shows where labor looks a breeze and mom and baby greet each other with instant recognition and picture-perfect joy. In real life, a process as complex and meaningful as parent-infant bonding can take time. So, if you're wondering, "what does it mean if I don't feel connected to my baby," the good news is, you're not alone.
"Not feeling an immediate and strong connection to your baby is actually a fairly common experience," writes Gabrielle Mauren, PhD, LP of Park Nicollet clinics in an email interview with Romper. "We are told to expect a sudden and overwhelming love, and women who don’t feel that often worry that they are bad moms."
Expectations don't always match reality, and never is that more true than with parenting. Mauren explains that having a baby, whether it's your first or your fifth, amounts to a powerful and emotionally disruptive life change — a fault line in the landscape of your world. Adjustment to such a shift requires patience, so don't rush, and don't judge yourself harshly.
"It’s important to know that 70 to 80 percent of women experience the baby blues," writes Mauren. The reason? Psychologically, you're settling into your new life, while biologically, you're contending with a major hormonal event. "Feeling sad or overwhelmed for five to 10 minutes at a time is normal and expected."
If the baby blues persists, it's important to seek help. For some women, feeling disconnected from their baby can be a sign of postpartum depression (PPD), explains Mauren. Other women might only feel connected to their baby — and experience a disconnect with friends and family, or even with the rest of the outside world.
If you don't feel connected to your baby right away, don't panic. Mauren offers this advice to help the bonding process along:
"Spend calm time with your baby (with minimal distractions). Take your baby with you to your favorite places or while you do fun activities. And talk to your baby. It can feel odd talking to an infant, but the simple act of talking with them is connecting for mom and baby and stimulates the baby’s brain development."
Mauren suggests that if you still feel a disconnect by the six week postpartum check up, you should mention it to your provider.
Bonding leads to attachment, and "attachment is the lasting psychological connectiveness between human beings," writes Dr. Kathryn Smerling, PhD, citing the work of attachment theorist John Bowlby. According to Smerling, the most important way to foster attachment with your baby is to be there to comfort her, and to respond to her. Remember that infants crave interaction. When attachment is reciprocal, it's known as attunement.
Attunement — the word alone is beautiful, but this harmonious connection between parent and child can take time to achieve. "No one is ready for the experience of being a parent," Smerling tells Romper, so keep in mind that love can grow. "Don't give up at all," she advises. "Never give up on trying."
According to Mauren, life stressors can negatively affect the bonding process. A colicky baby, a difficult birth, relationship trouble, and financial difficulties can all throw your family for a loop. Fortunately, the mother-infant bond isn't entirely formed — or destroyed — in the first few weeks, or even months, of a child's life. In fact, Mauren tells Romper that it's never too late for moms and babies (or dads and babies, for that matter). If you're under duress or suffering from depression or anxiety, the most important thing is to help yourself. So set the guilt and self-judgment aside, and do what you need to get back on your feet.
If you don't bond instantly, don't panic. Your connection to your child isn't static, but an ever-changing, ever-evolving thing. Motherhood isn't always picture perfect, so try to be patient. You and your baby can afford to wait for that overwhelming feeling of love and connection you always dreamed of. Such a deep and lasting connection is worth the work, and the wait.