I don't feel the way I thought I would about my baby

You may have heard people talk about the importance of bonding with your baby. Bonding is the term that is often used to refer to the process of developing a close, loving relationship with your baby. It is thought to be important for the baby’s physical, social and emotional development - and is, of course, a huge source of joy for many parents.  

People often talk about the ‘rush of love’ they feel for their baby straight after the birth, and this big, powerful, immediate love is often depicted in films, books and on television. This can lead us to think that falling in love with your baby the moment they are born, or feeling as if your baby has somehow made you feel ‘complete’ is the normal response, and anything different to this is not normal, or bad.. The gap between how we think we ‘should’ feel and how we are actually feeling can lead us to then feel other difficult emotions such as guilt or shame.

In fact, many people find that they don’t feel the immediate rush of love they may have expected. There can be many reasons for this. If birth has been a difficult experience, or your baby has been poorly, this can leave you feeling exhausted and scared, with lots of stress hormones still at a high level in your body. This can make it hard for your mind and body to connect with feelings of love until you have physically recovered and you feel safe again. Or it may be that you just need time to get to know your baby and for the feelings of love to grow. For most parents, even if they have not felt love for their baby straight away, the feelings develop over time. Many parents find that bonding is a gradual process over the first year or so of baby’s life. The relationship between a parent and child is always changing, and it can be helpful to think of bonding as a constant, ongoing process, rather than a goal that has to be reached in the first few hours or days after the birth.

Difficulties bonding can also be due to the parent having some challenges with their mental health. If a parent is feeling low in mood, very anxious, or having a hard time processing what happened in the birth, this can also make it challenging to connect with feelings of love.

Some parents find that the experience of becoming a parent stirs up memories and feelings from their own past, particularly if they had difficult relationships with their own parents, or experienced a lot of upsetting events during their early lives. These feelings can also make it difficult to focus on falling in love with your baby.

If you are worried that you do not feel the way you expected to feel about your baby, please talk about this with your Health Visitor or GP. It is important to explore whether there is an underlying cause for this that may need some treatment. There are also services that can help with supporting the bonding process, and your Health Visitor and GP can think with you about whether these would be helpful.

There are also things you can do to support bonding with your baby.

Close contact and attention

Spend time with your baby and enjoy getting to know them. Be curious about them, and watch how they behave and respond to the world around them. For some people, having skin-to-skin contact can be helpful with this, but it is not essential. What matters is being close and tuning into how your baby is feeling.

Making time for bonding

Having a baby can be hard work, particularly if there are other children in the home, or the parents have lots of other responsibilities. It can be tempting to focus on all the things that need to be done, like housework and laundry (which can feel never ending with a baby!) These things are important, but don’t feel under pressure to do everything perfectly. Spending time with your baby and getting to know them is one of the most important things you will ever do.

Looking after yourself and remembering that your needs are important too

It is really hard work caring for a baby, and many parents feel exhausted and stressed. This is understandable, and to some extent, unavoidable. When you do get an opportunity to focus on yourself, give yourself permission to do so. Where possible, try to eat nourishing foods, get some rest (even if it is not possible to sleep!) and fresh air. Use your support network to help with housework or to watch the baby while you have some time to yourself. Taking some short breaks away from your baby from time to time can help you to focus more on baby when you come back together.

Remember, if you are not feeling the way you expected to feel about your baby, you are not alone and it is nothing to be ashamed of. This is a really common feeling, and for most parents, bonding develops over time as they get to know their baby and fall in love with them. If you are worried about your feelings for your baby, there is support available. Please speak to your GP or Health Visitor.

You can also access information and support at your local Family Hub.

Barnsley Family Hubs

Doncaster Family Hubs

Rotherham Family Hubs

Sheffield Family Hubs