Since having our son 16 months ago, I found the baby world we'd been catapulted into completely overwhelming. No matter how much research I'd done, no matter how many books I'd read, no matter how much advice I'd been given... I didn't feel as prepared as I thought I should have been. I felt like the only one going through this; and I now know that that's 100% not the case. So many new parents struggle in those first few weeks and months, but hardly any really talk about it. And I mean, really talk about it. There are lots of struggles that we all face; but for me it was bonding.
The combination of an early, traumatic birth and other stressful factors (a house move to name one!) meant that I felt I was struggling to bond with Joey. I often felt confused about my new life; conflicted by who I was now. The guilt I felt for not having that one magical moment that you see in the movies where you're completely consumed by love, was sky high.
What helped for me? Aside from encouragement and love from family and friends, and an incredible WhatsApp group of local mums, playing with Joey was just what the doctor ordered.
Since then, it's been useful for me to reflect on just what has happened and how I feel my bond with Joey has changed over those months. And it got me thinking that I surely wasn't the only one who struggled in those early days? I turned to a trust network of mums and picked their brains through a survey. The response we've had to the survey has been amazing, lots of texts and emails off mums telling me that it was useful for them to reflect and put their feelings all those months ago into context.
What did our survey show?
Of our respondents, the majority were first time mums, followed by second time mums. Most mums said that their youngest was between 13-18 months old, of which 48% of mums felt that their bond with their baby was 'strong' straight away. That was in contrast to around 28% who said their bond was 'okay' or 'weak'.
When it came to factors affecting a mums bond with their baby; half of mums felt that their mental health negatively impacted it; with nearly 40% also listing their birth experience as a factor too. That's perhaps unsurprising to me given the experience I had, but I found it comforting to know I wasn't alone.
So what positively impacted their bond with baby? Unsurprisingly, just over three quarters of mums listed the support from their partner and/or family, followed by support from professionals (e.g. GPs, midwives and health visitors). There was a big gap in this support though; it's obvious that different mums will have had different experiences of all these factors.
A surprisingly high 45% of mums said they had been to sensory classes for babies during the early months with their child; how great is that! This reassured me that mums are getting out and about with their newborns, even if it's not the majority, it's higher than I expected! Sensory classes were by far the most popular classes that mums told us about. And some 83% of mums continued sensory play with babies at home; showing just how popular sensory play is for mums, and for other caregivers too.
And most importantly... Just over 70% of mums believed that playing with their baby within the first 6 months had a positive impact on the bond with their baby!
So if ever you're told that you're 'playing too much' with your baby, that you're 'spoiling them' with a variety of activities, rest assured that you're doing great things - not just from a development perspective. But from a bonding perspective. You're helping create a healthy and happy relationship between you and your child, and you should totally encourage others to do the same too!
What else did mums say?
"I didn't feel a bond until much later. Once my baby was more interactive and I felt that they wanted me as opposed to needing me. Now play is much more fun and bonding."
"Louis has always loved playing with different sensory activities and I feel it has really helped him."
"Seeing the response to the interactions made me realise that I was helping with their development. It also gave me the motivation to do more which then gives you more rewards in regards to development."
"Play time is time for just me and her. Watching her react and become excited and in awe was just so sweet and melted my heart!!"
"He’s happy and confident now at 14 months. We play together and he’ll happily play independently. But seeing him happy makes me happy, learning what he enjoyed and didn’t from a young age helped shape how we play now. It also meant that for that time (when we were playing) I was his soul focus and he was mine."