During your pregnancy you will release a hormone called “oxytocin” which helps you bond with your baby. This will peak at birth and is further released if you breastfeed.
You can increase oxytocin levels after birth by: Cuddling and keeping baby close.
Mums start producing oxytocin during pregnancy but this increases in the later stages of pregnancy and peaks during the birth of your baby. It Oxytocin is one of the most ancient hormones and promotes feelings of love, calmness and reduces fear and anxiety. It is often referred to as the ‘love’ hormone. Oxytocin is also associated with a feeling of wellbeing and happiness so is particularly beneficial for new Mums. Levels are higher when Mums keep baby close to them and breastfeeding also increases levels. If you’re bottle feeding, you can help increase levels of Oxytocin by having lots of skin to skin contact, keeping baby close, looking into your baby’s eyes and cuddling them. The great news is that Oxytocin works like a fertiliser for your baby’s brain supporting their ongoing brain development.
The human body and its hormones are quite remarkable. Parents will even produce oxytocin in the run-up to adopting a child and when they are first united with their new baby or child and will fall in love and bond in the same way.
If you have a C-section, ask for skin to skin contact straight after the birth.
The bond may not come immediately – don’t worry – that’s quite common – these tips will help build oxytocin levels and this will encourage the feelings of love and bonding.
Bonding with your baby
If you compare a newborn human baby to most other mammal babies, say a foal or a lamb, you’ll notice a huge difference. A foal or a lamb will be up on its feet almost immediately searching for milk from its Mum. A human baby won’t walk until they’re about 1 year old. The amount of time a human baby needs for its very large brain to develop means that they’re very vulnerable, particularly for the first 2 years, and very reliant on their parents to care for them.
For this reason, all babies need to form what psychologists call a ‘secure attachment’ with their Mum, Dad or primary caregiver.
Bonding with your baby is a process, not a one-off event.
Some parents have the movie moment birth where they fall madly in love with their babies the instant they are born. This happens frequently and is wonderful, but it’s not that way for everyone, particularly if you’ve had a traumatic birth, an epidural or a C-section, you could well feel quite distant from everything at the moment of birth. Don’t worry, there is a great deal you can do to make sure can begin to develop a loving bond with your baby. See the section below on C-section births.
Even if you don’t feel the bond and the love yet, your baby will still love you. Try to give them as much skin-to-skin contact as you can, this promotes the release of oxytocin in you both and will start a feedback loop, even if you don’t feel the bond at the start, by doing lots of skin-to-skin contact, the hormones released will help promote the relationship. Same goes for breastfeeding, that releases oxytocin and will help you bond as well.
Carry your baby in a sling as much as you can, they love hearing your breathing and heartbeat and feeling your skin.
If you are worried about your relationship with your baby and you’re worried something isn’t right, remember that feeling worried and being concerned something isn’t the way it should be is a normal part of parenthood. However, if your instincts are telling you that you need some help dealing with your feelings, your health visitor and GP are there to support you and they are very used to talking to new parents about their worries.
Will a C-section affect the way I feel about my baby?
There are lots of things you can request if you have a planned C-section or even an emergency C-section. You can discuss all of these with your midwife in advance. Ask for your baby to be placed on your chest after the birth. Discuss a small delay in the cutting of the cord. Skin to skin contact straight after birth is enormously helpful for developing a loving bond with your baby, even your baby will love it. Allowing your baby to lick and nuzzle around your breast will stimulate all those wonderful maternal hormones and lead baby to try a first breastfeed.
If for any reason mum is not able to have immediate skin to skin contact it can be lovely for your babu’s dad or partner to initiate this. Dads/partners can unbutton their shirt and your baby will love lying safely on their chest, listening to the heartbeat and feeling the warmth.
Dads will also produce oxytocin (albeit in lower levels) when then cuddle their baby which helps them to fall in love with their baby and provide security and warmth for them.