Bonding After Baby

You just have had that beautiful baby put in your arms and you’re a little nervous. You may have done this before, but the newness of it is still scary no matter how many children you have. You will definitely never be the same, ever again. The changes you are experiencing are good changes, full of hopes and dreams and expectations. Your partner is looking on, and is so amazed with all different kinds of thoughts running through their head. Some of these thoughts they share with you and some they don’t. Some of these thoughts may seem like crazy thoughts: “Man, that wasn’t so bad– kind of like cleaning a deer”  My husband shared this one with me and I definitely wish he never would have, that line initially prompted a desire to slam him over the head (which I never acted on, but it was definitely there).

Men and women, mother and partner, have different needs after birth, some very obvious and some not so obvious. For mom, she needs sleep, good nutrition, and support and help on the physical side, but there are many things that she may need on a deeper level for the emotional aspect of her being. For her partner, they need reassurance, confidence and support also, with many emotional needs of their own that they will probably not express at least not without a little coaching. Usually, the partner’s need to support their wife overrides any concern they have for their own welfare, and with mom, needing to be there for her child will often be her concern for the first few months after a baby is born.

While many couples expect these adjustments to be normal, and they are for the most part, there can be many support concerns that if not addressed during those first few months will become an emotional burden the longer it goes on.

One of these concerns can become a bonding issue, and surprisingly this issue can come up for either spouse, and come up as soon as the baby is born. While the postpartum period may be a time when desires for your spouse to change may come up more intensely, it is important that the postpartum time never become a time of expecting huge emotional changes in either spouse. Also, on the physical front, major changes should be avoided, such as a change of job, or moving and running away to Bermuda.

Avoid changes that you can put off and focus on the major change of bringing a new baby into your home. Secondly, take the desire of bonding from any spouse seriously. The word bonding really is a word that means …see me… do something that is important to me… I need you. So you can see that even though some people are not really the bonding mushy types, most everyone needs bonding on some level and especially when a major change has taken place in their life– like a new baby!

Bonding needs can come in any form and are different for each person. If you know each other intimately as a couple, then taking the next step to discuss or analyze what each person absolutely may need in the postpartum period may be quite easy. The sad truth is, though, that many couples have never discussed what their needs are, and having their needs met after a baby comes can compound issues that may have never surfaced before because they were covered up with other concerns at the time, like preparing for the baby or getting a new job or putting up with nausea or hormones ect. After having a baby the need is even greater than before. So what can you do as a couple to promote postpartum bonding so that neither spouse feels like they are on a diet emotionally, or physically unsupported?

The first thing you need to do is address some of these issues prenatally. This is preferably done with your partner, but if you are not able to discuss these issues with him/her then you can figure a lot of these things out on your own. Some people do not like to being pressured into communicating, so take it slowly. Go to them and tell them how wonderful they are and that you are so happy to be having this child with them, and then tell them that you would like to avoid as much as possible any extra stress after the baby is born and that you would like to find simple ways to reduce the stress.

Both of you as a couple, or by yourself, will need to do some thinking about your relationship to determine what is important to you and what your/their actual actions show in the moment is important to you/them. Write down the things that you notice, and make sure you discuss these things with your partner with no judgment, just a desire to understand. Of course, if they are unwilling, you can work with this on your own. One reference that can give a lot of priceless understanding is the book The five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This book can be very instrumental in helping a couple see patterns of love with each other and also how each person desires to give and express love. Many times just understanding another’s love languages can be instrumental in supporting and healing a relationship even before the birth of a baby.

After you have a basic understanding of your partner’s love languages, it is important to think about how those needs or abilities to give may be affected if you are tired, emotionally drained, and/or physically exhausted. In other words, change them to activities that would support the interruptions and needs of having a newborn baby. For instance, if a partner needs to feel appreciated and that is how they feel love, then as early as your delivery you can express to that person, how wonderful they are and how good a job they have done. While bonding with the baby is one of the most important things you can do, if a partner has an extreme need to be noticed and praised, that should take top priority.

We had one mom who had such an extreme need  to feel noticed and catered to, that the minute the baby was born and people started paying attention to the baby she shut down emotionally and it took her weeks to make a healing place for herself. This sometimes is where a doula can come in to notice these extremes and advise the couple. If mom feels the need to be supported physically, then getting up in the middle of the night to support her in breastfeeding can feed her more than many other actions that you would normally do. Preparing the chair, bringing her a glass of water, giving her the baby, telling her thank you for what she is doing, and encouraging her even when she feels discouraged can be a major aspect of bonding and a true show of love.

Couples can cuddle by swaying together as they rock their baby back and forth. Dads can feel appreciated by a partner expressing gratitude for the physical work that is done in or outside the home, at the job or with the car… Appreciation to some types of partners is the gold and glue to the entire relationship.

Listening can be an important aspect to many couples as a sign of love. Letting your partner know that you will give them your undivided attention for 30 minutes so that they can cry or complain or talk can be a major step to promoting bonding in a relationship. If what they need to talk about is beyond your ability to understand, then holding the baby for 30-45 minutes while they chat with a friend can be priceless.

Just holding hands around your partner while they sleep or nurse can promote deep bonding, support and love. If a partner is feeling jealous because of lack of freedom, like a mom with a new baby and the other partner is constantly going to the gym, then simply acknowledging her need and provide the mom with one or two ours out the week while the other partner takes care of baby and makes sure dinner is ready when mom gets home, can create great levels of appreciation and love development.

Finding and honoring a partners love languages for giving and receiving can be a powerful rocket toward cementing a relationship and allowing the natural process of change to make your relationship deeper and more powerful. Another aspect to this process is the art of ignoring. Ignoring is the process whereby you ignore everything that is not in the others love languages. For instance if one person in the relationship does not like giving love by service, then do not expect him to give you physical service like cleaning the house and making your dinner ect. to show you love– it is not in his nature.

Appreciate your partner’s own uniqueness and ask for help from someone else, or discuss with him the need to have paid help, order in, or accept outside help. On the other hand, if he likes to show you love by service, but does not like to verbally appreciate you, cuddle with you, or listen to your need to talk about the birth, then let the rest go. Appreciate the physical help.. it will only make things better if you acknowledge your needs, and allow your partner to go as far as they can in meeting them.

Honor each other’s need for space; giving another space is sometimes the greatest form of love. After having a baby, this need for space can be honored in many different ways. Sometimes just 30 minutes in the tub without being able to hear a screaming baby (take them in the car if needed), is all someone needs to be renewed, feel supported and be better able to bond.

Remember, bonding means…. see me–do something that is important to me– even if it is just very small..

If a partner does not like to talk or discuss what you feel is important, then take up the process of leaving notes, very short ones that say, I feel or I am feeling such and such (without blame toward them), and  then allow them to respond the way that they feel most comfortable. Pushing them emotionally or mentally into something that they feel uncomfortable with will only drive a wedge between you. You can discuss how this will be handled ahead of time so there is no stress.

Remember, this can be a very simple process. For instance- my partner loves presents and making sure the house is clean for him does not stack up to a simple pair of new socks. If you feel bonded and happy when someone cleans the house for you, then set up priorities of what you feel the best about– first priority kitchen, ect. That way even if they are not into physical service as a love language, they may be able to swing the kitchen, but be happy if they just make the bed or pick up toys ect.. if they do, be over the top excited and appreciative. Also, some of these things can be given to someone else other than your spouse so that the very thing you feel like you need, you do not feel resentful about. This will do wonders for your mental state, and keep you in a neutral space to be able to ignore what is not in his love language space. This will create bonding on a major level.

So love, knowing and understanding each other, making a plan, ignoring what it is not in each other’s immediate nature, and allowing time to create the bonding between you can leave couples with memories of very unique bonding memories that saved you through a very unique wonderful and challenging time.

Avoiding resentment is one of the best ways to promote bonding, and resentment is avoided by seeing how your relationship works and making sure each of your needs are met and enjoyed by each other. Be aware, and figure out between you with discussion or deep thought what would work out best for you both. There is no harm in doing this and it can only bring great rewards. You are unique, you both have needs and you can be much better parents if you honor those needs.