You are here

The Truth About Bonding

All those months when you were planning and living your pregnancy, you scarcely imagined anything less than falling head over heels in love with your baby.

That's why it probably came as quite a surprise when you felt that first twinge of resentment. Maybe it was in the throes of pain in the delivery room; or a few days later, when your nipples were gnawed beyond recognition; or weeks later, when you still couldn't stem the tide of tears from your infant or you. Or perhaps what you were feeling was more like ambivalence: It's not that you don't care for your baby, it's that you're pining for your old life and aren't sure that the trade-off is going to be worth it.

The fact is, love at first sight is a bit of a maternal myth for many of us. Previous generations of parents may well have realized this, but some researchers back in the 1970s led us all temporarily astray. They put forth a theory implying that moms and newborns needed to spend the first 24 hours or so in close physical contact to emotionally bond.

The initial repercussions of this theory were actually quite positive, resulting in:

  • Less delivery room anesthesia (many moms slept through or were too wigged out to participate much in the birth process prior to this new bonding concept)
  • Dads suddenly welcomed into the delivery room
  • Hospitals offering rooming-in
  • Newfound interest in the ancient art of breastfeeding.

All this was terrific unless you were the unlucky mom who had her baby whisked away due to medical issues or an out-of-touch hospital staff and were left to feel that your moment of bonding was forever stolen, meaning you'd never have the chance to be the mother you could have been.

The idea that a lifelong relationship could hinge on what happens in the first 24 hours of life sounds laughable now, but back then plenty of new moms were left crying instead. Think what else was going on: The feminist movement was turning life upside down and inside out for women, who were being told they could be and do anything they wanted-yet the doors weren't always open, or the keys couldn't be found, when they finally figured out where they wanted to go. This was one more missed opportunity to contend with.

A generation and much misplaced guilt later, the delivery room bonding theory has taken its rightful place on the garbage heap of maternal lore. We all know it's nothing but a bunch of rubbish, yet many new moms continue to feel like lowlifes when a less-than-loving thought about their baby passes ever so fleetingly through their heads.

We're here to tell you: Get used to it. It's totally normal to have mixed feelings, not just in these overly romanticized newborn weeks and months but throughout childhood as your baby evolves from middle-of-the-night nursing creature to defiant toddler to potty-mouthed preschooler to spitball-slinging get the idea. And guess what? Your newborn isn't exactly sure what to make of you, either. He's got a lot of mental processing to do before he actually connects the voice, the smell, and the taste of you to the fact that his tummy feels better after you've been around. Bonding is a two-way street, and then there's Dad trying to hitch a ride from the side of the road. It'll be a little while before you all find your way.