Marion Bilich, PhD, on Growing to Love Your Baby
Aren't mothers supposed to naturally adore their children?
I feel like a horrible person. I just gave birth to my first child three months ago -- a baby girl -- and I really don't like her. She's cranky, fussy, and difficult. I know that things might improve as she grows up, but how do I deal with these feelings? Aren't mothers supposed to naturally adore their children? What's wrong with me?
Before you judge yourself too harshly, keep in mind that there are two factors to consider -- the baby and the mother.
Babies are born with different temperaments. Some babies are easygoing and social. They seem content no matter what you do with them. Other babies tend to be more irritable, fussy, and difficult. They don't react well to change, to noise, or to any form of stimulation. The new mother may have difficulty forming a bond with these types of babies.
The baby's temperament has an effect on the mother's state of mind. We have all heard women exclaim how they instantly fell in love with their newborn babies. Don't believe for one minute that all mothers feel this way. No other life event will affect a woman more psychologically, socially, and biologically than giving birth to a child. After the birth, her hormones are changing rapidly; she may be more isolated from her friends and family as she spends most of her waking hours caring for her child. A good night's sleep is something she only dimly remembers. No wonder many new mothers experience the "blues" in the days and weeks following the birth of their babies.
For some women, the biological, social, and psychological changes overwhelm their abilities to cope (especially with a difficult, fussy baby). About 10 to 15 percent of all new mothers develop a serious problem known as postpartum depression. Symptoms include sadness; crying spells; feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and excessive guilt; loss of interest or pleasure; and lack of interest in your baby. In extreme cases, some women have thoughts of hurting their babies or themselves. While you may not be experiencing all of these symptoms, the fact that the depression has lasted so many months suggests that you may be one of those women who suffers from a postpartum depression. (Notice I said "may." That diagnosis can only be made after an evaluation by a qualified medical or psychological professional.)
A lot of women are afraid to admit they have these feelings, fearing that people will think they are bad mothers -- or worse, that their babies will be taken from them. Don't be afraid to ask for help. The first step is to stop judging yourself. You are not a bad mother. You have done nothing wrong, and you did not bring this upon yourself. There are effective treatments for this kind of depression. Medication helps about 85 percent of women with postpartum depression. Psychotherapy has also been shown to be very effective. You might want to consider joining a support group. Make sure you have time for yourself separate from your responsibilities as a mother. Other family members may have to take over some of your household jobs for a while. In time, you will likely recover, and your bond with your daughter will begin to grow.
The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.