What to Do When You Don't Love Motherhood Right Away

mother and baby
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When you are expecting a baby, you spend a lot of time imagining that first moment when you will meet your little one. Maybe you picture holding your baby in your arms while the two of you lock eyes, and tears of love stream down your face. Maybe you imagine pushing your baby down the street in a stroller, skipping along and feeling carefree.

Yet for many of us, the reality of what happens when we finally have that baby in our arms is a little different. Exhausted from labor, our hormones raging all over the place, and confronted with the baby who may not be easily consoled, it’s easy to feel like the reality of motherhood is just not what we imagined it to be. And this reaction can be enough to make us feel disappointed, discouraged, or wracked with guilt.

The fact of the matter is, “love at first sight” is not something all mothers experience. For many mothers, bonding is a journey, one that can take many weeks or months. Just as meeting any new person and letting them into your life is a process, the same can be said for learning to love and connect with your newborn.

Not Bonding Right Away Is Normal

When love at first sight doesn’t happen right away, many mothers understandably feel uneasy. They are concerned that they have failed somehow at motherhood because they assume that bonding was supposed to happen immediately—as if that were the most natural and expected way to enter motherhood.

But if you have not connected with your newborn soon after birth, you are far from alone. In fact, you are actually quite normal! According to a survey from the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), up to one-third of all mothers report that they had trouble bonding with their baby initially. What’s more, 1 in 10 mothers felt embarrassed to bring up these difficulties with their healthcare providers.

As the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) assures, bonding is not something that’s expected to happen right away—and there is no time limit on it, either.

“It’s also quite normal if you do not immediately have tremendously warm feelings for your baby,” writes the AAP. “Labor is a demanding experience, and your first reaction to the birth may well be a sense of relief that at last it’s over. If you’re exhausted and emotionally drained, you may simply want to rest. That’s perfectly normal. Give yourself until the strain of labor fades and then request your baby. Bonding has no time limit.”

What Factors Make Bonding More Difficult?

It’s not just the demands of labor and the physical changes that your body has to adapt to after birth that makes falling in love right away difficult for many moms. There are many factors that may delay or hamper your ability to feel relaxed and bonded with your baby.

These include:

  • A difficult or traumatic childbirth
  • Negative or depressed feelings during pregnancy
  • A baby who spends time in the NICU
  • Facing a postpartum medical scare for yourself or your baby
  • Lack of postpartum care and help
  • A history of mental illness before pregnancy
  • Being a first-time mom
  • History of pregnancy loss
  • Significant life stresses such as job loss, financial stresses
  • Marriage problems
  • Lack of a social network or support system
  • Baby feeding difficulties

If you have been faced with a stressor that makes it more difficult for you to bond with your baby, don’t blame yourself. So much about motherhood and life in general is outside our control.

A great first step is to recognize that, and then give yourself a whole lot of grace here. Remember that bonding can take time—give yourself that time, and have faith that the connection between you and your baby will happen with a little patience.

What Are Some of the Emotions You May Feel?

If you are a mom who hasn’t fallen in love with your baby right away, you are probably feeling very emotional about that fact. That’s common too—when bonding between you and your baby isn’t immediate, and when you feel pressure to make it so (either from within or from others), it makes sense that you would have an intense emotional reaction.

Here’s what you may be thinking and feeling:

Confusion

You might think to yourself, “But everyone I know bonded with their baby right away. What’s wrong with me? Why isn’t this happening? Am I defective in some way?”

The truth is, though, that all the smiling pictures you may have seen of your friends and their sweet babies are just momentary snapshots of their life as a mom. No one’s reality is sunshine and roses all the time when they welcome a baby into their lives. It’s sleep deprivation, milk-stained t-shirts, messy homes, and chaos. And it can include feeling disconnected from your baby at times.

If your reality looks a little different than you expected it to, that’s okay.

Guilt

This is a big one, for sure. When you are certain that motherhood equals love at first sight, and then that is not what happens for you, you may feel very guilty. You may feel like you are not doing something right, like you failed the test—like you are a bad person or a bad mother. But you can go ahead and kick that guilt right to the curb. It’s just not true. You are just a new mommy doing the best you can. Cut yourself some slack.

Regret

Regret in motherhood is not something most of us talk about much because it can feel really heavy and there is a lot of shame attached to the idea of regretting motherhood. Yes, sometimes even those of us who went into motherhood with the best intentions—and who wanted nothing more than to be the best mother to our baby—experience regret. We may have moments where we actually regret becoming a mom and wish we could take it back.

These are common thoughts, especially if they are fleeting.?

If this is a thought that is pervasive or that you seem unable to shake, you might consider talking to your doctor or a therapist, as extreme feelings of regret might indicate a postpartum mood disorder such as postpartum depression. However, if motherhood regret is something you experience intermittently and it is not interfering with your mental health, then this can be very normal, and something to forgive yourself for thinking.

You Can Love Your Child, But Not Love Motherhood

Here’s maybe the most important lesson of motherhood—one that can sometimes take years to understand: You can love your baby to bits, but not love motherhood itself. Pretty mind-blowing, huh?

What that means is that you can have moments where you look at your baby—their perfect, tiny toes, their beautiful searching eyes—and think: “This is the most gorgeous little person I have ever met and I love them so much.”

And then, just a short time later—when you have to change their diaper again, or feed them again, or when it’s 4 a.m. and they won’t stop crying again, you think: “This is horrible. I hate this. I can’t take this any longer. I hate being a mom.”

You are allowed to feel this way—because motherhood is hard. But it doesn’t mean you don’t love your baby, or that you aren’t a good mom.

Tips For Bonding With Your Baby

Besides giving yourself the gift of time and recovery after childbirth to bond and get to know your little one, there are some practical things you can do to try to promote bonding between yourself and your baby:

  • Practice skin-to-skin with your baby. You can do this regardless of feeding method. Skin-to-skin contact can be soothing for both of you and releases hormones that promote bonding.
  • Talk it out with a friend or loved one. Just being able to honestly say how you are feeling about your baby—the good, the bad, and the ugly—will help you feel more at peace with your feelings and relax into your relationship with your baby.
  • Take a day off. There are no real “days off” when it comes to caring for a newborn. But sometimes the hustle and bustle of entertaining visitors, trying to keep your house in order, and all the other work of life and adjusting to motherhood, can keep you very busy. Take a day just to rest in bed with your baby. Sometimes that is all it takes to fall in love.
  • Get out of the house. Sometimes feeling isolated in your house with your baby can make you feel anxious, depressed, and resentful. Getting outside for a simple walk can change both of your moods, help you relax, and make you more likely to bond with your baby.

A Word from Verywell

While it is absolutely true that bonding with your baby is a process and that it can take many weeks or even months for mothers to experience this fully with their baby, if you are finding that your feelings of disconnection are mixed with feelings of anxiety or depression, it might be a good idea to speak to your doctor or a mental health professional.

While the “baby blues” are common in the immediate postpartum period and may include moodiness and depression, if these feelings linger beyond the first two weeks postpartum, and are extreme enough to interfere you’re your ability to function or care for your baby, you might be experiencing a postpartum mood disorder such as postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. If so, you are not alone, and help is out there.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, thoughts of self-harm, or thoughts of harming your baby, this is a medical emergency, and you should call 911 immediately, or go to the emergency room for care.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Bonding With Your Baby. Healthy Children website. Updated November 2, 2009.

  • Halliday J. One third of new mothers struggle to bond with their baby, research shows. The Guardian. Updated June 5, 2016.

  • Nakano M, Upadhyaya S, Chudal R, et al. Risk factors for impaired maternal bonding when infants are 3 months old: a longitudinal population based study from Japan. BMC Psychiatry. 2019;19(1):87. doi:10.1186/s12888-019-2068-9.