You've waited for months, and you have all the stuff. Now you need your baby to be born! You can't wait to coo at them. And you certainly can't wait to snuggle them! And finally, they arrive but wait. What's going on? Where are all the gushy feels?
For about 4% of laboring women, there is a chance that situations surrounding labor and birth could impact the ability to bond right away with their child.
Evidence suggests that possible birth trauma or past trauma that is triggered during birth could hinder bonding. Postpartum PTSD is one mood disorder that is getting more attention as it has severe impacts on the care and quality of life for a family who suffer from it.
There isn't a unifying situation that defines trauma - what one person sees as traumatic may not seem the same to another. Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. That could be birth itself, a confrontation or action that took place with a medical provider, or a whole myriad of other relevant reasons.
But if there are high levels of stress present in the postpartum period, there can be a disconnect in the areas that make instant bonding possible; reward centers and risk centers. These are two places of the brain that change in neurotypical birth parents.
The "New Parent Brain," when operating "normally" sees every interaction with their new baby as a source of dopamine, be it cooing, or crying. Your brain is hooked on your baby. For parents who are struggling to bond with their baby, these centers typically are not reacting the same. Meaning they have to work harder to feel the "bliss" that others describe when around their new infant.
So what can you do if you are struggling to bond with your baby?
The number one thing that seems to make the most significant difference for new parents is adequate support. Support means extra physical hands, adequate childcare, and self-care. It also means having support from bosses that extend flexibility and help at home to be able to gain adequate rest.
And, for those parents who are struggling to bond with their baby, having the resources to spend physical time with their child without other responsibilities piling up is crucial. If you are someone who has not felt the immediate rushes of love and connection to your baby, taking the time to have as much skin-to-skin and support as you need is worth the work to make it possible.
Your connection to your child can grow. Through activities like feeding your baby, engaging in skin-to-skin, and spending quality time without additional stressors, your brain will respond to the outpouring of oxytocin and bonding can happen. For some, the relationship may not start seamlessly at the beginning, but it can improve, and you can fall in love with your baby. Your brain needs a little extra help.