Mother-Infant Bonding: It’s Not Always Instant

A word that shook the world of many mothers in many ways. Some because that’s all they thought and more; others because it’s not as instant and magical as they’ve heard others say or seen on social media and in the movies.
I can tell you as a 3-star general, AKA mom of 3, that bonding wasn’t instant for me, even though I love my kids dearly and would do anything for them. What! I carried them in my body for nine whole months and went through the most painful processes of birthing and caring for them.
It is like falling in love with any person or thing; sometimes it’s love at first sight; other times, it’s a process or transition to something amazing, and we need a minute. We all want instant and magical, but there is no flip switch that brings about this experience, and it doesn’t always happen instantly. It can take some time for a mother and her baby to bond emotionally with each other.

Let’s dig a little further.
Mother-infant bonding is the process by which a mother and her infant develop a close emotional connection. It forms an important part of early child development, and it has been linked to a number of positive outcomes for both mothers and babies. For the mother, bonding helps to reduce stress and anxiety, and it also boosts her self-esteem as a mother. For the baby, bonding helps regulate their emotions and behavior, and it can also promote their cognitive development. There are several factors that affect bonding with an infant.

The science
At the heart of the mother-infant relationship lies biology, and hormones are at the center of it. Our body produces hormones, which are chemical substances that control how our bodies work (physiology), our moods, and our behavior. Once a baby is born, a mother’s body is flooded with hormones that promote bonding. Oxytocin, prolactin, and vasopressin are all released, and they help to create a strong emotional connection between mother and child. Oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone” or “bonding hormone,” is a key player in this complex process. It sprouts during childbirth and breastfeeding, helping to stimulate feelings of trust, emotional attachment, and maternal instincts. However, it is very important to recognize that while oxytocin is undoubtedly influential, an immediate emotional connection is not guaranteed. There are several other factors that can affect bonding, such as the mother’s physical and emotional state, past experiences (trauma), and the baby’s health.

Other factors
There are several reasons why a mother may not bond with her baby right away. This includes:
Perinatal Moods and Anxiety Disorders: PMADs are a spectrum of mental health conditions that can affect a mother’s ability to bond with her baby.
Perinatal: The entire time frame from pregnancy to two years postpartum
Mood: Depression, Bipolar 1, Bipolar 2, Psychosis
Anxiety: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder
disorders: affects daily living and interferes with daily functioning
Source: Ingram Screening Business Model
Difficult or unexpected birth experience: A difficult birth experience, such as a traumatic or prolonged labor, can also make it difficult for a mother to bond with her baby.
Baby Health: When the baby needs medical attention due to premature birth, ill health, or an extended NICU stay, the separation act can delay bonding.
Adoption: Adoptive mothers may also experience some difficulty bonding with their babies, as they may not have the same physical connection that biological mothers have.
Expectations and Pressures: The societal spotlight on instant maternal love can make a mother feel alone and isolated, creating stress that envelops the bonding process itself.
Fatigue and Stress: Extreme fatigue and high stress levels prevent an immediate emotional connection. I remember feeling like I had been hit by a truck after I gave birth to my first child. It never occurred to me the severity of what my body and mind was going through until my doctor explained. That helped me give myself grace from all expectations.

What do you do when bonding doesn’t happen right away?
It is estimated that as many as 1 in 5 mothers have difficulty bonding with their baby. If you are a mom who struggles with bonding with your baby, I can tell you that you are not alone because I am in the 1-in-5 group. There are many resources available to help, and you can overcome this challenge.
Here are some tips that may help you bond with your baby:
Be patient with yourself and your baby. It can take time to build a strong bond.
Focus on the positive interactions you have with your baby. Even small things, like touching them or making eye contact, can help strengthen your bond.
Talk to your baby or read to them. Even if they don’t understand you yet, talking to them will help them feel connected to you.
Remember how much you love your baby and everything you do for the sake of the baby. That’s worth a lot.
Skin-to-skin contact: The so-called golden hour—the first hour after birth—is when oxytocin rises and is at its highest. Holding your baby skin-to-skin during this time is one of the best ways to promote bonding. Beyond this time, skin-to-skin training is still important, as it helps regulate the baby’s heart rate and breathing and releases oxytocin in the mother’s brain.
Breastfeeding is another natural way to promote bonding. It allows the mother to feel close to her baby, and it also provides the baby with essential nutrients. If you are struggling with breastfeeding in any way, you can ask for a lactation consultant, and remember, a fed baby is best.
Get help if you’re worried about your difficulties bonding with your baby. Don’t be afraid to seek help from a therapist, counselor, or support group. PSI offers a ton of support groups that are free to attend each week.

Spousal Support
Another person with whom a mother may feel very close to and want to bond at this time is her husband. The role of spousal support during this period cannot be overemphasized.
Emotional support: Offering listening, sympathetic understanding, and validation of the mother’s feelings can be very comforting.
Involvement in the home: Being overwhelmed with tasks, decisions, care, etc. required at home can be very beneficial to the mother and help reduce the physical and mental burden, which improves her chances of settling down with the baby.
Affirmation: Encourage the mother to seek professional help if needed, and reassure her that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Engage in bonding activities: Encourage the mother to engage in bonding activities with the baby and actively participate in them together.
Contact with the mother and physical connection can be beneficial to both parents.

Remember, you are not alone. Many mothers have a hard time bonding with their babies at first. With time and support, you will be able to build a strong and loving bond with your child.

Mother-Baby Bonding: It’s Not Always Instant
By Ayo Ayeni – Founder, Haven Advocacy

Author Bio: Ayo is a business and family life strategist, coach, and consultant with expertise in supporting women through one of life’s biggest transitions – motherhood. He does this through the Haven Advocacy Company, headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria, which provides much-needed, multi-layered dynamic support across Perinatal Mental Health; Family life; Child Protection; Parenthood; and KEEP Parental Leave Instruction.

Ayo seeks to build a Haven for women to make motherhood work at home and at work. He brings the concept of Human-Centered Design to life in company policies and culture in ways that serve organizations and the people in them. Her work is based on over 15 years of cutting edge experience in the Medical, Public, Aviation, and Media sectors as well as her deep knowledge and understanding of the holistic and dynamic nature of the support women need in home and work.

Ayo is professionally trained by Postpartum Support International and the Center for Parental Leave Leadership.

Keywords: bonding, mother-infant bonding, postpartum, mental health, support, motherhood, mother, postnatal, maternal health, hormones, oxytocin, breastfeeding

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