I was recently contacted by a writer for Associated Content to do an interview answering questions for parents on common difficulties bonding with a new baby, and tips to create a healthy relationship. Below is the content of the article, and a link to the original:
Tips on Attaching & Bonding to Your New Baby
Interview with Therapist Nikki Lively, LCSW
There are some moms that have a difficult time attaching and bonding to their new baby. To help understand what some of those reasons are and tips for attaching and bonding to a new baby, I have interviewed therapist Nikki Lively, LCSW.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a licensed clinical social worker with just over 10 years of experience providing individual, couples, and group psychotherapy. My main areas of expertise are treating women experiencing depression, anxiety and other mood disturbances during pregnancy and the postpartum period, as well as supporting the parent-infant relationship, and working with couples as they go through the transition into parenthood together.”
Why do some new moms have a difficult time attaching & bonding to their new baby?
“There are many reasons why a mother and her baby may have a difficult time bonding with each other, but there are some general themes I see in my work with mothers that are experiencing difficulties in this relationship. First of all, though the mother takes the lead in building her relationship with her infant, this relationship is a two-way street. Certain characteristics of infants can make bonding difficult such as chronic fussiness or colic. When an infant cannot be soothed easily, this can leave a mother vulnerable to doubting her competence and can trigger some negative feelings towards the baby and this can begin leading down a path towards relationship difficulties.
Secondly, there are multiple layers of meaning for a new mother in terms of her personal identity that are evolving for her as she is learning how to care for a newborn infant, and some of these (or potentially all of them) are impacting her outside of her awareness and can then impact how she feels about herself and her baby. It’s a bit like an onion when you start to peel layers back and discover important questions like: What have larger cultural messages taught her about how she should feel, look, and act as a mother? What memories of her own childhood are being triggered as she cares for her baby? What is her relationship like with her own parents, both past and present? What expectations does she have for how her baby should be, or act, or respond to her? How much support does she have from friends, family members, and her partner?
Often when expectations of how being a mother ‘should’ be, collide with a different type of reality then this can lead to difficulties relating to the baby. If a mother doesn’t have adequate and nurturing support from the people in her life, this can lead to difficulties bonding with the baby as well. In essence, new mothers need much support and guidance during this transition, and any experiences that undermine a woman’s confidence in herself as she is learning how to be a parent to her new baby can have an impact on her relationship with her baby.”
What type of impact can a lack of attachment and bonding have on the mother baby relationship?
“All mothers and their babies will form an attachment of some sort, but what can happen is that the nature of that attachment becomes uncomfortable, tense, or filled with anxiety for both mother and child. As their infants become toddlers, mothers may feel confused and upset by their children’s behavior, and express a sense of hopelessness about both managing it better and understanding their child better. Toddlers in these relationships often have more difficulty managing their feelings and this may come out as ‘temper tantrums’ or more aggressive behaviors towards parents, siblings, or other children.”
What are some tips you can give to help moms attach and bond to their new baby?
“The first tip I have for new mothers in bonding and developing a secure, loving attachment relationship with their babies is to set realistic expectations for this relationship. Just like any other relationship, it will take time for a mother to get to know her baby, and it will also take time to fall in love with the baby. Newborns are very demanding, and for some mothers it can take up to 6 weeks to really start having positive feelings for their baby (before that, they are just too exhausted!) If mothers know this going in, they can be more patient with themselves and their infants during the bonding process. (The key word here is process!)
Next, it is important for new mothers to practice seeing their infant’s emotional states (crying being a quite frequent state) as a communication that the infant needs something and attempt to put themselves in the infant’s ‘shoes’. (‘What might my baby be feeling right now? What is this experience like for my baby?’) For some infants, it will be harder to figure out what they are needing than with other infants, but this more objective approach will assist mothers in not taking their infant’s behavior personally or interpreting it as a sign of their lack of skill in taking care of their infant because this is truly not the case!
Finally, mothers should intentionally spend time just enjoying their babies, and find lots of excuses to talk to, sing to, and get skin to skin contact with their baby. Some of these opportunities will present themselves during diaper changings and feedings, but also look for opportunities when the baby is awake and content. I coach mothers to spend about 15 minutes per hour that the baby is awake just spending time with the baby, of course if a mother can do more than this that’s great too! However, especially for mothers dealing with postpartum depression or anxiety, this 15 minute limit can feel more do-able and research shows that this time can be enough to give the baby the stimulation he or she needs and keep the mother-infant relationship on track.”
What type of professional help is available for moms who have a difficult time attaching and bonding to their new baby?
“A service called ‘parent-infant psychotherapy’ is the most frequently used type of professional help available for mothers and infants who are having a hard time bonding with each other. Parent-infant psychotherapy is for parents and infants (ages 0 ‘” 3) and involves meeting with a therapist (usually one who specializes in infant mental health and child development) where the parent and therapist can observe the infant together and process the parent’s responses to the infant, and improve the parent’s confidence in themselves while simultaneously building more understanding of their infant’s behavior.