What If You Don’t Fall in Love With Your Newborn Right Away?

newborn baby

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From the minute I started sharing the news that I was pregnant with my first child in 2010, other moms assured me of one thing: the love I would feel for my baby would be like nothing else I had ever experienced. I would give birth, look down into my child’s eyes, and just like that—poof!—instant love.

Several months later, I gave birth to my baby boy...and I certainly did feel a rush of emotions. The only problem was that none of them really seemed like love. In fact, later that night in my hospital room, I looked down at my son—fussing in his bassinet for what felt like the hundredth time—and cried.

What had I done?! My old life had literally vanished in an instant, and my marriage, my identity, my future all irrevocably changed. I knew deep down it was all for the better, but in that moment, all I could feel was loss and fear and, honestly, a little bit of betrayal. Why didn’t anyone tell me I might feel this way after giving birth? Was there something wrong with me?

I had been a parent for a mere twelve hours, but I was convinced: I was a bad mom.

Love at First Sight: Myth vs. Reality

The idea that every mother falls in love with her newborn baby the minute they first lock eyes in the delivery has been memorialized in movies and TV commercials, in parenting magazines and marketing campaigns for everything from diapers to bottles to baby soap.

But do all mothers get that “love at first sight” feeling when they give birth? Maybe...but maybe not. During birth, your body releases endorphins to help you through the physical pain of labor and delivery. Frequently, those endorphins can contribute to a euphoric high, enhancing the mother-baby bond right after birth.

Just as many women, though, don’t feel euphoric—or find that as soon as the endorphins drop, they are left with an immense feeling of sadness.

Feelings of sadness, mood swings, and negative feelings triggered by the drop of endorphins are common: around 70 to 80% of new moms experience "the baby blues."

The baby blues usually get better within a week or two after giving birth. However, for a small percentage of mothers, these feelings may contribute to the development of postpartum depression in the weeks following delivery.

Why You May Not Fall in Love Right Away

Many women do fall in love the nanosecond they first catch sight of their new baby. Those eyes, that wrinkly skin, that fresh baby smell!

But let’s be honest: giving birth is an event. No matter how it happens, it’s a physical and emotional marathon that is often painful, confusing, and scary. On top of that, it’s literally life-changing. If you spend nine months training to run an actual marathon and then the big day comes, at the finish line you get to celebrate your accomplishment as essentially the same person (albeit a tired and sore version of yourself).

Giving birth, though? You get to that finish line, and you’re an entirely different person. You battle physical exhaustion and pain alongside the emotional upheaval of bringing a new life into the world that you’re 100% responsible for.

Some women have difficult deliveries, birth plans that go awry, or frustrating breastfeeding experiences. Postpartum, many women struggle with anxiety and depression. It’s a lot to handle, and all of it can affect your relationship with your baby.

Not falling in love with your baby right away doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom—it means you’re a human who needs some time to adjust to the major changes that have just happened to you.

Why It’s Hard to Cope

Wherever we turn, new moms are faced with an onslaught of messaging about how we’re “supposed” to feel after our babies are born.

You walk through the grocery store with your new baby and a stranger smiles at you, coos over your little one, and says “Isn’t it amazing? You just fall in love right away!”

Your mother-in-law stops by for a postpartum visit and regales you with several stories about just how much she adored your husband way back when he was first born. “I couldn’t stop looking at him!” she proclaims.

You even do it to yourself: every time you change or bathe or feed your baby, there’s a running monologue in your head telling you that you should be in love, that you should feel something extraordinarily powerful whenever you look at your child.

But the truth is, while you’ll likely have a primal, “hands-off my baby or I’ll kill you” kind of love for your child, the kind of love everyone talks about between a mother and baby—the Hallmark-style, googly-eyed, rainbows and butterflies, “I’m so over the moon” love—can take time to grow and develop. That’s actually totally normal, even if most people don’t admit it.

How to Deal

We promise: at some point in the first few weeks or months of your baby’s life, you will fall madly in love with them. The actual timeline is different for every mother and baby, so there’s no formula here to figuring out when. But it will happen.

In the meantime, there are ways you can strengthen the bond between you and your baby while you wait for that head-over-heels feeling to kick in:

  1. Do lots of skin-to-skin contact. This is also called “kangaroo care,” and it has clear, proven health benefits for both mom and baby, including lower stress hormones and increased bonding. Undress your baby down to their diaper and let them lie on your bare stomach or chest (right after breastfeeding is a great time to do this!). The closeness will help you two feel more in sync with one another, and that can foster powerful feelings of affection and devotion.
  2. Make eye contact. A baby’s vision won’t really sharpen until closer to three months of age, but most babies love to look at people up close even in the early weeks of life. While holding your baby in your arms, look into their face and see if you can hold a few seconds of eye contact. Some researchers believe this can sync your brainwaves up with your baby’s, and improve communication and learning skills later on.
  3. Develop a special routine. Having a habit unique to your relationship with your baby—like singing a certain song during diaper changes or sitting in the same chair while breastfeeding—means there will always be something shared just between the two of you.

It might also help to have a few mantras or phrases in the back of your mind to draw on when well-meaning friends and family ask about your relationship with your new baby, or for when you start to doubt yourself.

When someone asks, “Aren’t you just so in love?” try responding with a casual, “We’re getting to know each other!” If you see another new mom doting adoringly over her baby, resist the temptation to compare yourself to her. If you begin judging yourself for not feeling a strong bond with your newborn right away, remind yourself that all relationships take time—the mother and baby relationship is no different.

Finally, if you can, find a trusted person who you know won’t shame you for the normal, understandable way you feel. You can say, “I love my baby, but I’m having trouble really connecting.” More moms than you think have been there themselves and won’t hesitate to reassure you that it’s just a passing phase.

A Word From Verywell

Not bonding or “falling in love at first sight” with your newborn is a common experience for many moms. Try not to judge yourself; instead, know that it’s perfectly natural to need time to adjust to the many changes happening in your life. Work on bonding with your baby as much as possible and finding a friend who can act as a confidante while your budding relationship grows.

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  1. American Pregnancy Association. Baby Blues: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment. Updated August 2015.‌

  2. Leong, V et al. Speaker gaze increases information coupling between infant and adult brains. PNAS, 2017, doi:10.1073/pnas.1702493114