The new mother's response to her newborn infant goes through phases, including the "taking in" phase and the "taking hold" phase, according to "Obstetrics and Newborn Care." The first several days of the postpartum period play a critical role in the mother-child bond. A strong bond, or attachment, can help the mother and baby develop a healthy emotional and physical relationship.
The process of bonding begins before the baby is born. Once the baby arrives, the mother begins learning to respond to the baby's cues to fulfill his many needs. As the mother provides care to her newborn through diapering, feeding and soothing her crying infant, a bond develops. This bond gives the child security and a feeling of closeness and serves as a stepping-off point for long-term feelings of self-worth. The initial bonding period also helps welcome the newborn into his new family and is the first step in providing the child with the innate knowledge that he is a vital, loved member of the family.
The taking-in phase of infant bonding occurs directly after the birth of the child. The new mother is aware of her baby and her needs but often focuses on getting her own needs met. The exhaustion from the labor process often leaves her in a physically vulnerable state. At the same time that she needs to begin caring for her baby, she also must recover physically. In addition to the physical process, she will desire to recount and discuss her labor and delivery experience. A skilled nurse can help the mother get the rest she needs, assist her with her physical needs and at the same time help the mother become acclimated to the needs of a newborn.
Taking the initiative for caring for her newborn independently while managing her own postpartum needs marks the taking-hold phase of infant bonding. The mother focuses on being able to provide food for the baby while also taking care of her physical needs and the baby's. She may be prone to moodiness and experience times of anxiety. Support from a caring nurse, her partner and other family members can give the mother the confidence she needs to step completely into the mothering role.
Postpartum depression, which can occur either shortly after birth or several weeks later, can make it difficult for the mother to care for her baby during the taking-hold period because she feels depressed, inadequate and overwhelmed. Good postpartum care includes monitoring the mother for signs of depression that may affect her ability to bond with and care for the baby. If a baby is born prematurely and the mother does not have the opportunity to move naturally from the taking-in to the taking-hold period, she will still be able to develop a healthy bond with her child as she participates in his care as he grows and she recovers, according to the Ask Dr. Sears website.