Bonding problems

What is bonding?

No other relationship is as demanding or as time consuming as that between a mother and her baby. In the early weeks a mother spends almost every waking moment thinking about and caring for her baby in some way.

The term ‘maternal bonding’ is used to describe the positive emotions, thoughts and behaviours mothers have for their babies. Sometimes, if for example the mother is depressed, it can take time for these feelings to develop. In such situations it can be very helpful to get professional advice.

Myths and realities of bonding


  • It happens in an instant, immediately after giving birth
  • It feels like ‘falling in love’
  • It can only happen if you have a ‘natural’ childbirth
  • It’s an all or nothing thing
  • You can only bond if you breastfeed
  • It only happens if you have skin to skin contact immediately after birth



  • It is different for different women
  • It can develop gradually or quickly
  • Like all relationships feelings vary day by day
  • Many new moms feel like a fraud, as if they are playing a role
  • It is a process; a set of feelings and behaviours that take time to learn and feel confident about
  • It does not feel like romantic love

Examples of how it might affect you

Feelings: Depressed, Ashamed, Anxious, Hopeless, Useless, Irritable, Fearful

Bodily reaction: Tension, Agitation

Behaviours: Avoid the baby, Avoid other mothers, Hide thoughts and feelings, Never leave the baby with anyone

Beliefs: ‘Being a mother should come naturally’, I’m a failure’, ‘I‘m a bad mum’, ‘Everyone else loves their baby immediately’, ‘My feelings will never change’

Thoughts: ‘What’s wrong with me’, ‘I should always be patient’, ‘I should always be able to settle him’, ‘My baby doesn’t like me’, ‘I am a useless mother’, ‘I shouldn’t have mixed feelings’

Your relationships: Distant, Strained

What causes bonding problems

  • Your mental health condition
  • Current emotional state – depression, anxiety
  • Current physical state— tiredness, pain
  • Difficult, traumatic pregnancy and delivery
  • Bereavements
  • Recent traumas
  • Stress levels (financial, relationships, family and friends, housing)
  • How much support you are getting
  • The baby’s temperament
  • Your experiences in childhood
  • Unhelpful or unrealistic ideas about motherhood

What can help?

  • Talking care of yourself
  • Sleep and rest
  • Talking to a professional who understands
  • Exploring your thoughts and feelings
  • Begin to recognise how your thoughts affect your feelings and behaviour
  • Challenging unhelpful thoughts and beliefs
  • Gradually change your behaviour
  • Medication
  • Learning about how babies communicate and develop relationships
  • Realistic expectations of yourself and your baby
  • Doing enjoyable activities with your baby
  • Baby massage
  • Support from family and friends
  • Asking for advice and help
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