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Will I Bond With My Baby?

If you've had one of those pregnancies riddled with problems, in which you seemed to move from constant nausea to backaches to carpal tunnel syndrome and swollen ankles, you may have begun to wonder if disliking pregnancy means you'll dislike your baby too. After all, it seems strange that you'd fall in love with someone you've never met who is making you sick to your stomach, keeping you up all night, kicking you when you're down, making you take time off from that exciting project at work, and giving you a belly that rivals Santa's.

However, for most women, the pregnancy itself will be forgotten the minute they finish giving birth. That doesn't mean that love will come easily. Predicting when and how much moms will love their babies is an inexact science because once again your body is at the mercy of hormones. Endorphins -- the same hormones that make you feel so good after a sweaty run or workout -- are released during childbirth, infusing you with good feelings. You also produce oxytocin and prolactin, and levels of those bonding hormones will be even higher if you nurse your baby. So falling in love with your baby may come naturally as chemistry kicks in.

However, there are also parents who struggle not to feel resentful of their newborns. Some of these parents may have been ambivalent about the pregnancy to begin with or have an inadequate family support system. Some are also disturbed to see that their babies aren't picture-perfect after birth, but red-faced, bald, squinty-eyed creatures covered with goo. Others are so overwhelmed or depressed by new responsibilities that they feel numb or angry. These post-baby emotions can affect you whether you're a teenage mom or an over-40 mother who's had infertility treatments because she wanted to have a child.

Don't worry. So long as you go through the motions of feeding and rocking your baby, talking to her, and meeting her various needs, those feelings of love will materialize because you're repeatedly acting in a loving way. Research shows that even babies whose parents initially feel resentful of them turn out fine as long as they're well cared for during this adjustment period. Eventually your baby will smile at you or babble in response to your conversation, and that love light will shine. If after time you think the bonding simply isn't happening, talk to your obstetrician or pediatrician.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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