Bonding with baby

Q   My sister recently had her first baby. She has a supportive partner and family around her, but she confided in me that she just can’t seem to bond with her baby. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone about this as she said she’s afraid of admitting such a terrible thing. How can I support her but also encourage her to seek help? I hate to see her suffer in silence.

A Regardless of how much information is now widely available for new parents, many still feel the burden of expectation about how pregnancy, childbirth and parenting “should” be. Sadly, many new parents do not want to admit to any negative feelings following the birth of a child, but this can place increasing pressure on families, and many continue to suffer in silence. The possibility of developing post-natal depression is all too common in situations like you have described and seeking help in some way is essential for your sister’s (and baby’s) wellbeing.

By confiding in you, clearly your sister trusts you, even if she doesn’t feel ready to take the next steps. Perhaps she is not aware of the different options available to her. I encourage you to keep talking to her, letting her know you can help in any way, including practical help; but give her information to help her find the support that will work for her.

In a media release in May last year, Beyond Blue reported some of the most searched Google data that could be indicators of anxiety and depression during the perinatal period (during pregnancy and after birth). Some of these include: “Does my baby love me?” “Am I a bad mother?” “I don’t love my baby.” New mums may not feel it or believe it, but they’re not alone and many attempt to seek answers in the anonymous online world.

According to PANDA (Perinatal & Anxiety Australia), some of the symptoms of postnatal depression include:

  • panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically “detached” from your surroundings)
  • persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or wellbeing of baby
  • the development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours
  • increased sensitivity to noise or touch
  • changes in appetite; under or overeating
  • sleep problems unrelated to the baby’s needs
  • extreme lethargy: a feeling of being physically or emotionally overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of chores and looking after baby
  • memory problems or loss of concentration (“brain fog”)
  • loss of confidence and lowered self esteem
  • constant sadness or crying
  • withdrawal from friends and family
  • fear of being alone with baby
  • intrusive thoughts of harm to yourself or baby
  • irritability and/or anger
  • increased alcohol or drug use
  • loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • thoughts of death or suicide.

If your sister is not yet ready to talk to someone in person, I recommend the following resources for her to at least explore. The support available to her is amazing.

  • PANDA website: PANDA has extensive information and support including a national 24-hour helpline. Its number is 1300 726 306.
  • Beyond Blue website: In 2019, Beyond Blue launched a perinatal depression and anxiety campaign. The website has resources, a helpline and online forums to support families. The helpline number is 1300 224 636.
  • CatholicCare runs a program called Bringing Baby Home. This program supports new parents who are expecting, or who have a new baby; particularly supporting healthy relationships and the transition to parenthood. For more information, visit or you can call 4979 1370.

At some stage, after discussing all the options with her, your sister may be willing to consider attending counselling or talking to her doctor. CatholicCare can help with counselling. Call us on 4979 1120.

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Tanya Russell

Tanya Russell is CatholicCare's Assistant Director and a registered psychologist.

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