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Are you not bonding with your new baby as you think you should? This may point to postpartum depression, but other factors can also be responsible. What might help you bond with your baby?

"Labor and birth were hard, and taking care of a newborn certainly comes with its fair share of challenges, like the sleep I haven't had in weeks! But the moment my little one was placed on my chest and we looked into each other's eyes, I just fell in love and knew that I was willing to do anything to keep my baby safe. It's strange how an unbreakable bond can develop so quickly with someone you've only know for a matter of moments!" 

Yep. That's the cliché of instant infant-mother bonding, portrayed, it seems, wherever you look. 

If you just didn't bond with your baby right away, frequent reminders, confirmed by scientific literature, that early mother-infant bonding has a huge impact on your baby's emotional, social and cognitive development [1] — not only during the first year, but even later in life — are likely to just make you more anxious. Mothers who do not feel they are bonding with their newborns to the expected extent, guilt-ridden, might well start worrying that they are not good parents and that they're doing wrong by their babies. 

These worries, however, might just make the situation worse. What you really need is answers. Why are you not bonding with your baby? Could this be one of the signs of postpartum depression?


Postpartum Depression: Just One Cause Of Delayed Infant-Mother Bonding

Postpartum depression, a condition that is estimated to affect between 10 and 20 percent of new mothers [2], is characterized by a depressed mood, along with other symptoms such as feelings of guilt and worthlessness, insomnia or excessive sleeping, a lack of interest, motivation and pleasure in activities one previously enjoyed, and fatigue. Some women affected by postpartum depression also experience thoughts of harming their babies, or are plagued by suicidal thoughts after having a baby [3]. 

Depression, which can create an emotional numbness, can certainly lead to delayed infant-mother bonding, and postpartum depression is a very logical diagnostic "candidate" to consider for mothers who feel they are not bonding with their babies adequately. [4]

However, delayed bonding is not always pathological — some mothers simply need more time to get to know their babies before they feel that all-encompassing love, and as long as they otherwise feel perfectly fine, this does not have to be a problem. Bonding, in these mothers, will happen with time. It is probable that spending time with your baby and being sensitive to their needs will naturally develop your bond with them [5]. 

Just as not all delayed bonding is  pathological, it can also be caused by numerous mental health struggles other than postpartum depression. 

While most women with a history of miscarriage quickly form a healthy bond with their babies, for instance, some mothers who have experienced such losses may emotionally "shut off", afraid to establish a bond, or they may question their own physical competence [6]. 

Research likewise shows that women with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which may have been pre-existing or could have emerged as the result of a traumatic pregnancy or childbirth, and those with a history of childhood trauma, are at a higher risk of struggling to form healthy bonds with their babies [7]. 

The same holds true in parents who struggle with alcohol dependence [8], borderline personality disorder [9], and pre-existing psychiatric illnesses [10]. 

Research even shows that mothers whose babies have trouble sleeping are more likely to suffer from mood disturbances, sleep deprivation and — poor bonding! [11]

I Haven't Bonded With My Baby: What Should I Do Now?

Mothers who have recognized that the mother and child bond is not developing as they believe it should are in a position to seek proactive help. While difficulties in bonding with your baby can, as you have seen, be caused by a rather wide variety of different factors, we also have to acknowledge that postpartum depression is indeed the most likely cause of delayed infant-mother bonding. 

If you are wondering how to bond with your baby, know that help for postpartum depression and other possible causes of your struggle is available.

Research shows that attending even a brief nine-week course of cognitive behavioral therapy significantly lifts postpartum depression signs [12], where necessary in combination with antidepressant medication [13].

Getting help for the underlying cause of your struggles in bonding with your baby first requires an accurate diagnosis, however. In recognizing your struggle and being ready to seek assistance, you have taken the most important first step. Whether you approach your family doctor, a psychologist, or your OBGYN, you are now on the path to getting the treatment you need. The mother and child bond will follow. 

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