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When the Baby Phase Sucks

In his book Buddha Brain, psychologist Rick Hansen describes three evolutionary stages of the brain that provide different signaling systems: the Brain Stem, the Limbic System and the Neocortex. Each of these brains focuses on different survival stressors. The brain stem, the most rudimentary and automatic of the three, is concerned with physical safety. It's primary focus is on fleeing from threats. The limbic brain is a pleasure seeker. When stressed, this brain seeks to acquire or hold on to. The cortex is concerned with attachment. The bond between a parent and baby is very strong because the growing baby requires care and attention for a long time. Community improves chances of survival and success, so the cortex is wired to bond with others of its kind.

Babies are miracles.

Babies are also high maintenance. They require an enormous amount of mental energy to understand and attend to their wants, needs, rhythms and cues. The require constant care: feeding, diapering, sleeping, bathing, holding. They keep us on point, worried, exhausted, yearning for a break. They give us little positive reinforcement. It's not surprising that this can make parent/infant attachment difficult or protracted for some.

Our pre-parenting and early parenting experiences (death, divorce, depression or anxiety, traumatic birth, physical recovery from childbirth, problems with feeding or sleeping, colic, etc.) can greatly impact our ability to enjoy parenting and bond with our babies. Trauma and mental illness stress all three brain areas described above- a perfect storm.

For example, after a traumatic labor and delivery, a grieving mother may feel her physical and emotional health threatened by the loss of control, pain, disability, physical protection, loneliness, lack of support, overwhelm, etc. This experience can cause her to retreat inside of herself, or in extreme cases dissociate, reinforcing an isolation effect and limiting her ability to attach emotionally to her baby as she struggles to keep up with the demands of early parenting.

Parents, particularly the birthing parent, describe a void, crying at everything and feeling guilty about it or feeling despondent and distant. Holding a baby in your arms that you don't feel bonded to just adds to the emotional load.

Thankfully, there is wonderful information available to support bonding with your baby. Likewise, seeing a perinatal mental health specialist can be a wonderful way to get the support you need as you adapt to parenting.

There are people out there who can relate to what you’re going through. Not everyone loves the infancy stage. Parents may think, ‘What did I do? What did I get myself into?” Support groups are valuable in healing and can offer an extra support to a parent who feels overwhelmed and disconnected. They provide a community that sees you, hears you and reassures you. When facilitated by a knowledgeable leader, they provide guidance as well. I have a number of resources on my website:

One particularly great resource is Postpartum Support International online support groups (FREE) The infancy stage does end and is followed by a whole range of ages that each come with their own quirks, difficulties, and delights. Just because life is difficult now, and your baby seems more foreign than family doesn’t mean it will always be that way, but it is very important to let your medical provider know about your concerns. They may be able to put you in contact with a postpartum counselor, doula, early parent coach, local support groups or discuss medications, if needed.

Parenting may feel lonely at times. Know that you are not alone.


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