Bonding can be very difficult if you’re a new mum suffering from Postnatal Depression and Anxiety. It’s a common myth that all mums with PND struggle with bonding; this isn’t the case and bonding issues shouldn’t be used as a diagnostic tool. However, it is common and it can feel unbearable. These illnesses are often all consuming, particularly Anxiety, and the feelings of fear, sadness or anger are so powerful they can prevent us from feeling anything else and from feeling connected to our loved ones, including our own baby.
The great news is that once you seek help and start treatment and therapy, and begin learning useful techniques for managing your illness, bonding with your child will begin to grow naturally. If you want to read more about the bonding struggles brought on by my postnatal illness, and how I overcame them, you can read either of the posts below. Today, I want to share a few practical tips that may encourage bonding during your recovery.
One of the initial catalysts for my bonding problems, and subsequent related anxiety attacks, was my son’s emergency c-section and the fact that I didn’t get to hold him for several hours due to excess anaesthetic. We missed out on that initial skin to skin and closeness, and I definitely feel this had a negative impact. If you’re having a c-section and are concerned about this I would recommend talking to your healthcare providers in advance and put plans in place. For example, although I couldn’t move my arms my husband could still have held my son to my chest but sadly he was whisked away and that didn’t happen.
In terms of physical contact after birth, my Anxiety attacks made it quite difficult for me to feel comfortable with lots of baby-wearing or lengthy cuddles but, as I began to recover, I made a point of being physically close to my son as often as possible. Eventually you’ll begin to see the benefits, for both your mood and your baby’s comfort levels.
On a similar vein, baby massage classes are a great way to encourage that physical contact in addition to cultivating vital eye contact and interaction – both between you and your baby and with other new mums. My anxiety meant that I didn’t like to be alone indoors so I attended lots of classes and baby groups. Baby massage was a great one because it was a chance to learn something simple and tactile in a really calm and soothing environment. Truthfully, I didn’t really know what to do with a newborn much of the time – which was a big source of anxiety. We were trying to use the EASY routine (eat, activity, sleep, you time) but I was unsure what qualified as ‘activity’ for a really small baby. After learning the baby massage techniques in class I was able to practice at home too and it was really enjoyable for him and calming for me. Baby massage classes are one of my few positive memories from my son’s early days. Contact your local children’s centre to find your nearest class.
Do Things You Enjoy
This seems obvious but it took me a really long time to get my head around this. I spent much of those first few months beating myself up that I ‘wasn’t enjoying motherhood enough’ until I realised that my anxiety filled mind was spending a lot of time trying to enjoy mundane tasks such as feeding or changing, rather than being realistic. As my son grew and I guiltily struggled with the fact that I still found a lot about mum life to be boring and unfulfilling my therapist suggested I write a list of the things I did enjoy. I soon realised that the things in life that bring me happiness, such as singing, reading or being creative, I could also translate into play time with my baby. Obviously this also gets much easily as your child grows and now I enjoy a huge amount of activities with my son. For more about this check out the post Are You A Player?
Spend Time With Family
One of my worst Anxiety symptoms was derealisation. This is a state where you feel completely mentally and emotionally disconnected from the world around you, and even from your closest friends and family. During the early days of recovery I sought a lot of support from my family and I found spending time with them and, importantly, watching them play and interact with my baby, really brought me a lot of comfort. I felt grateful that while I couldn’t feel everything normally they at least could and my son could absorb this from them, which really helped to ease my guilt. When you’re poorly, it’s incredibly important to do the things that used to make you happy, even if you’re struggling to feel happiness now – so that’s why spending time with my parents and brother was so important to me.
Take The Pressure Off
This is by far the most important piece of advice I have when it comes to bonding. When my son was only a few months old, and I was really unwell, I literally couldn’t imagine a time where I would ever feel ‘normal’ again, where I would love being a parent. Nearly five years later and I can safely say that becoming a mum is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me and I love my son just as deeply as any other parent does. Try to take the pressure off yourself to feel everything immediately. As I mentioned in last week’s post, it isn’t always realistic to think you’re going to feel bonded and euphoric from the moment your baby is born – the love and connection between you can take time to grow and develop and that’s more than okay. Try to allow your mind the space it needs for bonding to come, rather than getting angry or frustrated with yourself.
I hope these ideas are helpful. Is there anything else that helps you? Please feel free to share in the comments below.
- Get your free Affirmations For Anxiety printable here
- Find over 12 hours of Anxiety management videos here
- Follow the Lotus Petal Parents You Tube channel where I’ll soon be joining it’s founder – Sarah Wood – to post a video a week re parenting & mental health.