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What happens if maternal instinct doesn’t kick in

What happens if maternal instinct doesn't kick in

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No matter what your views on babies and children before you fall pregnant, once a woman conceives it’s expected that maternal instinct will suddenly appear from nowhere. But for some expectant and new mums that just isn’t the case.

What is maternal instinct?

The Collins English Dictionary defines maternal instinct as:

“The natural tendency that a mother has to behave or react in a particular way around her child or children”.

Of course, some mums feel they have bonded with their baby before she is even born, where as others feel a powerful wave of love and emotion when they’re handed their newborn for the first time. But this certainly doesn’t apply to all mums. Some take days, weeks, months or even years to truly bond with their child. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Why does this happen?

There are many reasons why a mum may find it difficult to bond with her baby. One of the most important is postpartum depression. Not all mothers with postpartum depression will experience trouble bonding, some mothers who aren’t depressed will have difficulties. However, studies have shown there is often a link between the two, if you find you don’t bond with your baby it is worth getting checked out.

Mothers with unresolved emotional baggage might also struggle with bonding. If there are things from your past, such as your own mother’s attitude towards you that are still niggling at you, it should come as no surprise that you find it difficult to offer unconditional love to another person. One of the other main reasons is as simple as everyday life getting in the way.

Just when you’re physically and emotionally exhausted after giving birth you’re presented with a baby to care for, look after, feed and change. On top of that, there’s a seemingly never-ending queue of visitors trailing in and out of your home wanting to welcome your new arrival. With this going on, it’s little wonder that some mums struggle to find the time and patience to bond with their newborn.

Keep realistic expectations

What happens if maternal instinct doesn't kick inIf you put pressure on yourself to bond with your baby immediately, you might find you are disappointed and left feeling flat or upset when it doesn’t happen straight away. As many as one in five mums find they can’t bond with their child. A survey for Johnston’s Baby revealed, a third of new mums felt they hadn’t bonded with their baby as well as they felt they should have. Of those, around 18% said they had moments when they felt that there was no bond at all.

Don’t compare yourself to others

You might find that you compare yourself to your sister, friend or someone in a mother and baby group. This person seems to have it all sorted, she respond’s to her child in the right way intuitively. However, there are plenty of reasons why this might be the case, such as a lucky guess at what the baby needs. Even if you do feel less motherly than others appear to be, don’t worry, you’re probably being harder on yourself than you would be on another mum.


While society would have us believe that all women possess a natural level of maternal instinct, some experts argue that maternal instinct is learned rather than something we’re born with. When a woman becomes pregnant and has a baby, the theory is she’ll become closer to the child the longer she spends with her. There’s a lot to be said for this.

Very few mums get everything right in the first few weeks of motherhood. It takes time to recognise what a baby’s different cries mean. Even if you feel you’re lacking in maternal instinct, you’ll find that intuition will eventually kick in once you get to know and grow to love your baby. It may take a lot longer than you’d like but you can be sure you’ll get there in the end.



About Maria Brett

About Maria Brett

Maria is a freelance writer with over 10 years' experience producing content for a variety of publications and websites. When not working or looking after her two gorgeous sons, she can usually be found playing flugelhorn in a brass band, helping out at her local hospital radio station, shouting at the television while watching Formula 1, at the cinema or plonked on the couch with a cold glass of wine.

Website: Maria Brett

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