Extract from Kathy Fray’s book

Oh Baby…Birth, Babies & Motherhood Uncensored

Did you pack the super-glue for bonding, honey?

The emotional Velcro ‘bonding theory’ first appeared in the mid-1970s, and by the 1980s ‘bonding’ had become an accepted maternity term; after which the process became analysed and scrutinised to the point of creating another term — ‘poor bonding’.

There are hundreds of factors, physical and emotional, which influence the mother–baby ‘bonding’ process. Lots of new mums do not always experience the ‘instantly-in-mother-love’ emotions.

Certainly, there are correlations between how good or traumatic a birth is and how smoothly bonding occurs. For some mums with a new baby, there are feelings of bondage well before there are feelings of bonding.

So for many women, particularly in the first 2–3 days, their dominant feeling is a kind of weird, distant, blank indifference towards their baby and motherhood as they slowly begin to come to terms with the enormity of it all, and go over in their mind their experience of childbirth. That is a very normal reaction.

Bonding is a gradually unfolding experience that can take hours, days, weeks or months to evolve, like a flower opening its petals — some studies have shown that almost half of women don’t love their newborns straight away.

But most new mums (and dads) worry about whether they’re feeling adequately bonded with their new baby, as if bonding is some super-glue that gushes out of a mother at childbirth, instantly sticking together the new mother and her newborn in some wondrous connection. You may be wondering why yours is not the love-at-first-sight experience you were imagining it would be, but often it’s just not like that. Welcome to the new world of worrying about your child!

For lactation a mother’s body secretes a hormone called prolactin, which is thought by some to help bring on those baby bonding feelings, stimulating a mother’s connection with her baby, making her more in sync with her newborn through increased maternal sensitivity (instincts). In a way, this makes a load of sense — how do other mammals know how to mother their young if not by instinct? So, it would be logical that the human babies’ mothers too are provided with maternal instincts at a biological level.

But if, deep inside, you are already feeling anxiety or guilt over your indifference and lack of bonded feelings with your brand new charge (a total stranger, let’s face it), then realise that you are not abnormal in any way. Many new mums experience feelings towards their newborn that are like a pendulum swinging from tense exhilaration to nervous despair.

There is a substantial amount of literature available designed to enhance your skill at bonding effectively with your baby — and a lot of it, from an idealistic Mother Nature perspective, is quite correct. But some of it can feel like propaganda. It is possible to be beautifully bonded to your baby without following any particular theory — and it is possible to feel completely unbonded after following every theory ever invented.

Perhaps the most useful bonding tools are calm, blissful moments of getting to know each other, such as sitting quietly, chatting face to face up close, or holding your baby skin to skin on your chest, or watching your baby sleeping, breathing, and her expressions.

Bonding is like childbirth: each journey takes its own unique path. It’s not like a switch that gets flicked on. Simply, one day you realise you know what your baby needs; or you miss your baby dreadfully when he’s with a babysitter; or you experience milk letdown at the same time your baby across town cries to her nana for a feed; or you have a beautiful and vivid dream of your baby when he’s older; or you find it hard to remember life without your wee bub; or you just know, intuitively, that there is some psychic connection between you both.

This is the day that you finally realise this little person has squirmed his way deep inside your soul, and that you would give your life for your wee babe … and by then, trust me friend, you are well and truly bonded!

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