Boom! There it is. At least that’s how you were expecting the mama/baby bond to strike. But if you’re still waiting for that rush of motherly love, don’t worry. You’re not alone – and it will happen
Buying prams and babygros is one thing, but what’s harder to prepare for is how you’ll feel once you have your mini-me in your life. A little scared? Probably. Overwhelmed with responsibility? That too. Tired and hormonal? Hell, yeah. It’s hardly the perfect backdrop for love at first sight. And, while some women fall head over heels instantly, it’s also normal to find bonding with your bundle takes longer.
Over half of new mums report that their connection with their baby wasn’t immediate, but happened over time. But, whether you’re smitten from the moment he appears or it takes longer for those feelings to emerge, the fact is it will happen. Because your body already knows what to do, thanks to its clever ability to release bonding hormones. Don’t want to wait that long? There are also ways you can help encourage the process.
THE BUMP BOND
One of the major stumbling blocks to bonding is feeling stressed about it, but when you’re growing a baby – especially in the first few months – there’s not much action you need to take. From around 20 weeks, he’ll be hearing sounds from outside the womb, including your voice, and he’ll prefer it to all others once he’s born.
All you have to do is keep chatting, ideally directly to your bump. He can also feel your touch through your abdomen and, once you can feel his movements, bonding becomes a two-way process just by laying your hands on your stomach.
Amazingly, research shows your unborn baby can differentiate between the feel of your hand, your partner’s and a stranger’s.
The hormone oxytocin starts being produced during the first trimester, and will eventually be responsible for the level of bonding between mother and child after birth. Dubbed the ‘love hormone’, mothers with high levels at the beginning of their pregnancy are likely to engage in better bonding behaviour post-birth.
Although you can’t control the amount you create, stress can interfere with its production, so the whole process will be helped if you feel upbeat about your pregnancy and meeting your new baby. ‘A positive attitude will spark caring, protective feelings towards your unborn child,’ says baby expert Rachel Waddilove. ‘But don’t worry if this takes several months, especially if your pregnancy was unexpected.’
BOOST YOUR BOND
Talk to as many people as you can about the reality of being a parent and the challenges you can expect. ‘Not being prepared for all the extra demands can dent your confidence and affect bonding once your baby arrives,’ says consultant clinical psychologist Alison Knights. ‘You won’t be the only woman to wonder what the hell she’s got herself into, or whether she’ll be able to cope. These feelings are normal – the fact that you are asking questions now is a good sign. All this will help you adjust to your new role.’
Over half of new mums report that their connection with their baby wasn’t immediate, but happened over time
THE BIRTH CONNECTION
Given the, erm, discomfort your baby causes you on his way out, it’s a miracle that we feel so fondly towards the little red-faced bundle that finally emerges. Again, this is partly down to your body’s production of oxytocin. Having gradually increased during pregnancy, levels go up sharply during labour, stimulating powerful contractions and also helping you connect with your baby in those first few hours.
Ironically, though, labour can also get in the way of bonding. ‘Giving birth is exhausting, and can leave you too tired to pay much attention to your baby,’ says Vivette Glover, professor of perinatal psychobiology at Imperial College London. ‘Similarly, if the birth’s been traumatic, this can disrupt the process.’ However, it’s usually temporary. And, after a few hours’ sleep, the impact of those surging hormones will kick into your system.
This is the fabled post-birth ‘rush of love’ – but not everyone feels it. ‘It’s by no means universal. In fact, for many women, it takes a few weeks to develop,’ says Vivette. ‘Try not to panic – just take your time getting to know your newborn.’ If you’re still feeling distant from your baby by six weeks, talk to your midwife or health visitor to rule out postnatal depression.
BOOST YOUR BOND
As soon as your baby’s born, the most important thing you can do to connect is cuddle up. ‘Have him placed on your bare chest after birth,’ says Mary Steen, a midwife from the University of Chester. ‘If you have a c-section and this isn’t feasible, your partner could have this contact instead – it’s just as important for him to bond.’
Gazing into your newborn’s eyes while you feed is also a great way to get closer. ‘There’s a reason why a newborn’s eyesight is the exact distance between your nipple and your eyes – a breastfeeding baby can see his mother’s face,’ says Mary. ‘You don’t lose the effect if you’re bottle-feeding, either, because you hold the bottle where your nipple is positioned.’
So, in those first few weeks, just indulge in lots of precious moments with your baby when you can. That mama love will hit you before you know it.