When I was pregnant with my son, a co-worker warned me not to be surprised if I didn’t bond with him right away.
“My son was extremely colicky as a baby,” he told me, the memory of it casting a shadow over his typically easy-going expression. “I didn’t even like him for the first six months. But now… he’s great! He’s the coolest kid.”
I thought of that colleague this week when I came across this post on the r/Parenting subreddit from a brand new father, youknowjo, whose baby girl had been born a week earlier with some (non-serious) complications:
I am struggling with my feelings towards our baby girl. I feel very neutral about everything. I do not have any feelings of happiness that I am a father with my loving wife. I do not have any feelings of sadness due to her complications either. Just like looking at a blank piece of paper to me. It is completely a numb/neutral feeling. I feel no different than if I were to look at another baby in the unit.
Honestly, this is the troubling part to me. I am upset with myself that I do not feel happy or attached. Honestly, I would have the same reaction if they told me she could go home today, or go home in 6 months. I am really beating myself up over it, and don’t really know how to correct this, or if it is a normal feeling people have experienced.
When it comes to bonding with a baby, it doesn’t always happen right away. Some parents feel an intense attachment immediately, but for others, it may be a process they have to purposefully work towards. And bonding can come slower to dads, who do not physically carry, deliver or breastfeed the baby.
Child psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin tells Netdoctor that a lack of bonding can create a tremendous sense of guilt in new parents:
Bonding with your baby can take time — far more time than you think — and there are many reasons it might not happen immediately. The birth may have been long and traumatic. The mother may be suffering from depression or anxiety, which can affect her ability to bond. Don’t panic if you don’t feel overwhelmed with love at first. But at the same time, be aware that if the situation continues, you need to seek help and there’s no shame in doing so.
Prime bonding times
The best thing to do if you’re not getting that lovin’ feeling right away is to find ways to connect with your new baby throughout the day (and night).
- Skin to skin contact: Holding your baby close, with their skin against yours, is one of the best ways to kickstart the bonding process.
- Feeding: Look into the baby’s eyes while they’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding.
- Chat it up: Babies love to be talked to and smiled at. Tell them about anything — the weather, last night’s footy game, the ham sandwich you’re going to make for lunch. It doesn’t matter as long as they can hear your voice and begin to respond to it.
- Carry them close: Baby-wearing is a great way to keep them physically close to you to encourage an emotional attachment.
- Give an infant massage: This age-old practice increases baby’s circulation (for her) and reduces stress (for both of you).
Dozens of commenters jumped in on Reddit to reassure youknowjo that what he was feeling was both normal and very likely temporary. Their overwhelming advice was to give it time.
One man, ignorance-on-fire, who also had a son who spent time in the NICU, said the two-hour commute back and forth to the hospital every day took a toll on him:
I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I could just leave him there and never look back. It was so surreal and heartbreaking. He is the light of my life and I still regret I ever felt that way.
And mariah_papaya111 offered these words of encouragement:
Do not beat yourself up for this. Having a baby is like dropping a bomb on your life, and you are legitimately shell-shocked. Don’t worry, it won’t always be this insane. Those first six weeks or so (even without health complications!) are a total disastrous mindfuck. Happens to everyone. Literally everyone feels like this. Just survive a few more weeks and then, all the sudden, things will start feeling more or less normal, you’ll find a routine together and get through it.
Maybe not literally everyone feels like this, but a lot of people do. And that’s OK. Recognising it and wanting to change it are prime indications that you’re already a good parent.