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Will I bond with my newborn immediately after birth?
Q: Will I bond with my newborn immediately after he’s born or will this take some time?
A: Dear Shauna,

You have asked a great question—one that we all secretly share but are often afraid to discuss. Childbirth books and movies often imply that bonding with your wrinkly newborn will be an instantaneous process. I remember being somewhat afraid to meet my first child, worried that I might be put off by her looks rather than overcome with rapture. I had the feeling that my birth team and video crew would be studying me during this incredible “blind date.” And at my second birth, I was concerned that my intense bond with my two-year-old daughter would greatly diminish my feelings for my newborn son.

Having observed thousands of women meet their newborns, I think that some women do bond immediately with their newborns, while many others ease into the process. There is so much anxiety in the last weeks of pregnancy: we wonder if our baby will be healthy or not, we wonder how s/he will look, and we are unsure if we will be able to completely give ourselves over to the selfless and binding process of motherhood. Additionally, childbirth is often exhausting and painful, and may lessen our excitement for bonding with our baby. I have been comforted to note that bonding usually does begin within hours or days, and deepens and develops with the passage of time. Holding, breastfeeding, smelling and caring for your baby will create a deep and long-lasting attachment. Even mothers who have seemed to me extremely ambivalent about having a baby throughout their pregnancy have amazed me, as I have watched them time and time again transition into loving, connected mothers in a relatively short time.

That being said, there are some mothers who do not feel the connection with their newborn that they had hoped for. There may be disappointment about the sex of the baby, the physical features of the baby, or a medical problem that was newly discovered. If your baby requires hospitalization or medical intervention, this may make bonding more difficult, as you see your baby attached to tubing and machinery rather than snuggling in your arms. And many women resent the enormous upheaval that occurs in their lives as they accommodate to the needs of their little one.

If you do find that you are not feeling attached to your newborn within the first two weeks I recommend talking to your health care provider, pediatrician or a therapist. Sometimes an inability to bond can be a sign of post-partum depression. It’s wise to have an outside professional listen to your feelings, and provide some support and feedback.

Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist