Posted with permission from the Toronto Parents of Multiple Birth Association. This article originally appeared in November 2013 issue of Bulletwin, the magazine published by the Toronto Parents of Multiple Birth Association.
“Baby Blues” and Post-Partum Depression are an important topic for new moms. We asked Angela Golabek, a Healthy Families manager, and Bernadette Kint, a Maternal Infant Health manager, both at Toronto Public Health, to tell us a little bit more about how we bond with our babies and when to seek help.
Q: While many Moms feel love for their babies right away, “falling in love” may take a little longer. Is this normal?
A: “Falling in love” or the bonding that Mom feels towards her baby is a process that happens over time. As with all human relation- ships, the process can happen quickly for some and take a bit of time for others.
Most parents dream of the ‘perfect baby’ being raised under the perfect conditions but the reality may be different. There might be a brief period of ‘grieving’ for the loss of the ideal. But most Moms adjust quickly and begin bonding with their babies. With the added challenge of caring for two or more infants at the same time, the process might take longer. Mom might find it easier to bond with one baby than the other for different reasons, but it happens eventually as long as she consistently nurtures and responds to the infant.
The process requires a give and take from both sides. For instance, infants should be able to give the caregiver clear cues about their needs and the caregiver should be available and able to respond sensitively in a consistent and nurturing manner to the infants’ needs.
Any issue that interrupts the children’s ability to give cues or the caregiver’s ability to be accessible and responsive can prolong the process. Separation of Mom and babies by a prolonged hospital stay by either, medical issues, mood disorders, lack of social support, challenging infant temperament, juggling multiple responsibilities— all can affect the bonding process. So yes, it is normal for the falling in love process to take a bit longer to develop.
Q: How long does a true bond take to develop?
Experts say the deep emotional bond or secure attachment experienced by a mother and her baby is a process that begins to form over the first year of life and even beyond. It happens as a result of consistent and sensitive parenting. It is a much deeper relationship than the instant bonding a mother might feel when her baby is placed in her hands at birth. Generally, a baby is born ready to connect with other people. In fact, a baby needs human connections and different experiences to complete brain development and his understanding of the world around him. As a baby grows through the months he woos his caregiver for interaction by intentionally reaching out to touch, smile, coo, and engage for responses. He also begins to seek out the mother to play, or explore her face. He prefers to be comforted by Mom and may fuss or cry when unfamiliar people pick him up. These cues generate in the mother similar feelings and cause her to respond with love and affection. When parents tune into their infant’s emotional needs and respond appropriately, the infant develops a sense of security, love and belonging. Getting to the end of the infant’s first year, they are likely to form true and secure attachment with her by remembering she exists even if she’s out of sight and will show delight when she returns.
Q: Do “baby blues” or post-partum depression play a role in how slowly or quickly a Mom bonds with her babies?
A: Post-partum blues or “baby blues” describes a short episode of tearfulness, anxiety, irritability and sleep and appetite disturbances which affect 30-75% of women within days of giving birth. These mild symptoms are unlikely to affect bonding. If these symptoms, including feelings of overwhelming tiredness, guilt and worthlessness, difficulty concentrating and making decisions persist for a number of weeks—whether they begin shortly after giving birth or sometime during the first year—the mother should talk to her family doctor about the possibility of post-partum depression (PPD) (Ross et al 2005).
Experiencing these symptoms most of the time, every day, will affect a woman’s ability to function as a mother and partner. She may be able to provide physical care for the babies but will find it difficult to provide any emotional and social connection. This will impact the maternal infant interactions, attachment and bonding (Murray et al, 1996). The mother can overcome these barriers as she receives help for her depression.
Q: What advice do you have for Moms who feel like they aren’t bonding with their babies?
A: It will help if Mom can think about possible reasons why they don’t feel a bond with the baby. Could it be that the child has a ‘fussy’ temperament and is not responsive to Mom’s smiles and coaxing? Is it because the Mom is experiencing anxiety or depression, or lacks confidence in her parenting ability? Moms should seek professional help for mood disorders or any extreme temperament issues with the infant. Harness and take advantage of your social support to give you some care relief.
The following suggestions may help with some practical ways to bond with your babies at different stages:
An infant aged three months or less recognizes voice, prefers human faces, enjoys being held and fed, and cries when he needs you. Take advantage of moments when the infants are quiet and alert to sing, read and talk to them. Be warm and responsive during social activities like bathing and feeding. At this stage they a need to be close to you and feel protected.
Between three to seven months of age, your babies may take a more active role in getting your attention. They’ll turn to your voice, smile at you and seek you out. Peek-a-boo games are great at this stage.
At about the seven to 12 months of age, your babies becomes much more engaged. Expose them to new and interesting experiences. Allow them to explore your face or objects and patterns on your clothes. Talk to them and delight in the things that they delight in. Be responsive to their moods and let them know you understand and accept them for who they are. No matter how you feel, your babies prefer you over everyone else. It is normal at this stage for them to exhibit “stranger anxiety” when unfamiliar people pick them up. When they feel safe in their relationship with you, they’ll use you as a secure base, a place for refuelling after a period of exploration or feeling threatened. They’ll seek you out for comfort when sick, distressed or frightened.
It is very challenging to pay attention to more than one baby at a time. It might help for Mom to have one-on-one interaction with one baby while the other sleeps or is not in a playful mood. Should both baby’s schedules be close, then having another family member or support person interact with the other baby will help. There are instances whereby the temperament or medical needs of one baby are more challenging than the other. In such cases it’s possible for that baby to receive more attention than the easy-going baby. Moms can alternate spending individual time with both babies with the assistance of family or support people to ensure she bonds with both babies.
Ultimately, taking care of your own emotional needs, and getting rest and support from others will help your own emotional availability for your babies.
Q: What resources does the City of Toronto offer for new Moms who want to bond with their babies?
A: Toronto Public Health has several Parenting Programs available to new moms and parents:
- Make the Connection Program (parenting group) http://www.toronto.ca/health/parenting
- Living and Learning with Baby Program (Parenting group) http://www.toronto.ca/health/parenting
- Healthy Babies Healthy Children (Home visiting program) http://www.toronto.ca/health/ healthybabieshealthychildren/
Other programs in the Toronto area are also available:
- First Three Years Organization http://firstthreeyears.org/
- Hospital for Sick Children http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/En/ResourceCentres/PregnancyBabies/Babies
- Aisling Discoveries (Treatment Programs) http://www.aislingdiscoveries.on.ca/
- South Riverdale Postpartum Adjustment Program http://www.srchc.ca/program/postpartum-adjustment-program