Society seems to assume that all new mothers will experience the same magical moment after they give birth to their baby: mom and baby’s eyes meet for the first time, and with that, mom feels this immediate sense of love and connection with the human she’s helped to create and has been carrying around for 40 weeks.

But what happens if you don’t feel this way? Is it normal to not feel an immediate attachment and bond with your baby? And what if this continues for weeks?

The short answer is that yes, it can be entirely normal to not feel that all-consuming, motherly love for your baby. However, it may be a sign of postpartum depression (which affects about 15 percent of all pregnant women), and of women with postpartum depression, about 30 percent will have issues with maternal-infant bonding. Therefore, it’s important to be able to spot the warning signs.

While many moms do feel an immediate attachment to their babies, this is not the case for everyone. It can be especially hard for a new mom to feel the joy of new parenthood in certain scenarios, such as an unplanned pregnancy, if she has no support from friends or family, if her birth did not go as planned or there were complications, or if she has financial stressors. These are just a few reasons the miracle of birth might not feel like one.

New moms who have these feelings may describe them in the following ways:

  • They have no feelings towards the new baby.
  • They feel like they are babysitting someone else’s baby.
  • They feel like they are acting and playing the role of being a mom.
  • They have thoughts of running away or harming their baby.
  • They don’t want to show any signs of affection towards the baby.

Women who feel this way often won’t tell anyone out of shame and the fear of being viewed as a bad mother. This can make things worse, especially if they have postpartum depression that goes unrecognized and untreated.

If this feeling is unrelated to postpartum depression, some women find that over time they do eventually develop a bond with their baby. For example, it may begin as the baby is able to give social cues, like that first smile. Many women report that after interactions such as this, something “clicks,” and they finally feel that connection.

Still others need to work at developing a mother-infant bond, and it can take weeks or months. It can be helpful to first realize you are not alone and that this doesn’t make you a bad parent. Letting go of expectations can help you move forward and give you the freedom to get to know your baby. Continue to hold your baby and care for him or her, rather than avoiding these tasks out of guilt. Carry your baby in a sling and keep up that skin-to-skin contact. Ask for help when you need it, and realize that you don’t have to fake something that isn’t there and that by providing for your baby’s basic needs, you are showing love.

There are times when you should seek help, however. If you have signs of postpartum depression or anxiety (you can also take an online version of the screening tool commonly used to help diagnose postpartum depression here), have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, or feel that nothing is improving over time, then you should definitely reach out right away, either to your own doctor or your baby’s doctor. Help is out there and these professionals can connect you with the resources you need.

Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, December 2018

Takeaways

  • Not all new moms feel an immediate bond or love for their baby.
  • Sometimes postpartum depression is the reason mothers feel this way, so it’s important to be screened for this.
  • Over time, many new moms find that a bond does develop.

References

  1. CM Klier and M Muzik. Mother-infant bonding disorders and use of Parental Bonding Questionnaire in clinical practice. World Psychiatry. 2004 Jun; 3(2): 102–103.
  2. CM Klier. Mother-infant bonding disorders in patients with postnatal depression: The Postpartum Bonding Questionnaire in clinical practice. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2006 Sep;9(5):289-91.

Comments

  1. I think it’s so important to distinguish between the Hallmark version of the first days with a newborn and reality. Having a baby is a huge change that is often both positive and negative and the timing of bonding is as unique as each child.

    Reply
    1. Yes! It’s not all rainbows every moment of everyday. We set new parents up for failure if we make them think that!

      Reply

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