Bonding with your baby
There has been a great deal of emphasis placed on the concept of 'bonding' or 'attachment' in the last few decades. This idea has evolved from the natural birth trends of the 1970's and 80's as well as research examining different aspects that inhibited a mother (and father) from connecting with their baby soon after birth.
'Bonding' with your baby has been most commonly construed as 'falling in love' with your baby. For caregivers it is usually interpreted as the mother wanting to be with and care for her baby in the hours and days after birth. Indeed in the late 1980's some hospitals asked caregivers to fill out a type of 'bonding criteria checklist' aimed at predicting mothers who may be at risk of postnatal depression. This included questions as to whether the mother wanted to hold and look at her baby soon after birth etc.
The media often portray the image that bonding occurs within minutes after the birth, as if the parents are suddenly struck by a thunderbolt of emotions for their newborn baby. While this may certainly be the case for some parents, for many others the bonding is a gradual process that ignites and grows in the following days, weeks or sometimes months after the birth.
Don't be surprised (or feel guilty) if you do not fall in love immediately with your new baby. It doesn't mean that these feelings won't come, nor does it mean that you are a bad parent! As one new mother shared, "I felt guilty and thought something was wrong with me for many weeks after the birth, because I didn't cry as soon as my baby was born, just like in the movies!"
Many new mothers need time to recover emotionally and physically from the birth. Assimilating what their body has just achieved can take some time. When a labour is fast or very long, the woman can often feel quite overwhelmed or exhausted. This can mean that the last thing she feels like doing is holding her baby.
It is also well known that many mothers will be very self-focussed for the first couple of days after the birth, and do not always naturally put the 'baby first', until they feel more recovered themselves.
For fathers, the pregnancy can be a very surreal emotional experience. It can be hard to connect with your unborn baby because they are not inside your body. At birth, the realisation that "I am a father" can surface for the first time. This can create positive and loving feelings for many fathers (in some cases being so intense and unexpected that they catch them off guard). For others, the enormous responsibilities of what being a father could mean, may cause them to feel a little apprehensive, or even scared. Being nervous about holding, or handling your baby, soon after the birth can also delay the opportunity to connect with them immediately.
The recognition that 'bonding' is a desired, positive psychological adjustment has contributed to the western hospital system bringing about many constructive changes to policies and routines in the last 20 years (to various degrees). Fathers are now present at births, the baby is bathed, weighed and measured in the birthing room. Babies are not taken to the intensive care nursery for observations or treatments unless absolutely necessary. Babies are given to the parents to hold soon after a Caesarean (if all is well).
New mothers are now encouraged to keep their babies with them (known as 'rooming in') instead of them being taken to a large nursery in the postnatal ward with all the other babies. This continual contact has meant that the new mother carries out most, if not all, care for her baby, reinforcing and building confidence with 'hands on' parenting by limiting times of separation.
We do realise that some mothers are not fussed on this concept, as one mother stated when the new rooming in rules were introduced after her 5th baby "I've got the next 18 years to 'room in' with this baby, can't you take it to the nursery?"
There will be a few parents that are forced to experience periods of separation from their baby. This will be the case if the baby is unwell and taken to the intensive care nursery. Occasionally the mother and father can 'miss the birth' completely if a caesarean is performed under a general anaesthetic. Organising to take photos of the baby or asking staff about what happened can sometimes help to fill in these gaps.