How to Bond with Your Baby When You're Struggling with Postpartum Depression

After going through all the ups and downs of pregnancy, the struggle of birth, and holding that beautiful baby for the first time, most mothers are emotionally exhausted. Yet, the hard work has only just begun with healing, a new level of exhaustion, and the never-ending feed-soothe-diaper cycle.

70-80% of new mothers feel depressed or anxious within a few days of birth, while 1 in 7 new mothers develop postpartum depression (PPD) (source). Though the baby blues will shake off as a family settles into their new schedule, PPD persists and makes bonding with the new baby challenging.

PPD is brutal, so it is crucial to understand what it is, how much it affects your baby, and what you can do about it. You can take care of yourself and your precious little one by learning the signs, taking baby steps to deal with it, and allowing your support team to help you.

What Is PPD (Postpartum Depression)?

Postpartum depression is an unfortunately common type of depression that occurs after giving birth. It can develop within weeks or months after delivering your baby and is characterized by feelings of sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion.

PPD is as common as it is due to the slew of dramatic changes and pressures that happen with a newborn: hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, stress from newborn care, stress on the relationship with your partner, healing fatigue, and the pressure of making everything work financially, physically, and emotionally.

Symptoms of PPD may include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, and worthlessness, as well as changes in appetite, sleep patterns, and energy levels. It feels like you are in a void where nothing you do matters or gets you anywhere, but you're exhausting yourself trying to keep up with everything.

What Causes PPD?

The causes of PPD and the baby blues are sometimes due to the changes that a newborn brings, as mentioned above. However, the risk of PPD is higher if you or anyone else in your family has had depression or postpartum depression before.

You are also at a higher risk for PPD if any of the following are true (source):

  • You had medical complications during childbirth.

  • Your baby was born with medical problems.

  • You had a stressful life event happen during pregnancy or around the time you gave birth (car accident, major illness, job loss, death of a loved one, unexpected move, domestic violence, witnessed a tragedy, etc.).

  • You had mixed feelings about the pregnancy.

  • You don't have much emotional support from your partner, spouse, family, or friends.

  • You struggle with alcohol, smoking, or drug abuse.

If you have a history of depression, have had PPD before, have family members who have struggled with depression, or have experienced any of the above, talk with your doctor for guidance.

How Is PPD Different from the Baby Blues (or is it)?

PPD is different from the "baby blues," which are a milder form of mood changes that affect the majority of new mothers at some point. The baby blues usually last for a few weeks after delivery and usually go away on their own.

PPD, on the other hand, can last for months or even years if left untreated. Here are a few symptoms of the baby blues that typically start in the days and weeks after delivery:

  • mood swings

  • suddenly feeling sad, overwhelmed, or anxious

  • poor appetite

  • trouble sleeping

  • crying randomly

If symptoms like this last longer than a couple of weeks or grow to feelings of anger, worthlessness, desperation, or intense guilt, reach out to your OB/GYN, primary care physician, or another healthcare professional. There is a lot of support out there; you just need to reach out.

Will Postpartum Depression Go Away Eventually?

PPD can be treated with therapy, support groups, self-care, medication, or a combination of these. It is crucial that you seek help from a healthcare provider if you suspect you have PPD. With proper treatment through a plan tailored to you, PPD can go away eventually.

Here is a breakdown of some common PPD treatment options (though treatment is not limited to these items) (source):

Treatment Type



PPD patients typically work through talk therapy with a mental health professional to understand and learn to cope with emotions and challenges.

Support Groups

Sitting in a room with others suffering from PPD can alleviate the loneliness and guilt associated with PPD. Working through it with others can provide much-needed comfort and understanding from other mothers.

Social Support

Reaching out and letting friends and family help you or give advice in this season can alleviate some pressure.


You need to take care of yourself, even when you don't have the energy to do so. Eat clean food instead of junk to set your gut right, get your hair done, walk outside each morning, put on nice clothes---do whatever you need to not feel gross and pathetic.


Sometimes, doctors prescribe medication to help manage symptoms. Antidepressants relieve depression symptoms after a few weeks of regularly taking them, but you won't stay on them forever. Your doctor will put together a plan for you and adjust as needed.

Don't wait to treat PPD. Untreated PPD can result in your inability to parent well, long-term fatigue, and other health issues, and could even affect your baby.

Will My Depression Affect My Ability to Bond with My Baby?

Yes, PPD, like depression in general, causes a mother to focus inward on her own shortcomings, incompetencies, pain, loneliness, and guilt rather than on healing herself and nurturing the baby. 

PPD is a vicious emotional cycle that affects the home environment, family relationships, and the mother-baby bond. However, it is essential to remember that bonding is a process that takes time. PPD is not your fault; it doesn't mean you are a terrible mother.

Will My Baby Be Affected By My Depression?

Yes, your baby will be affected by your depression if you don't do anything about it. The first year of your baby's life is a time of unbelievable growth and development cognitively, emotionally, and physically, so mommy's depression will affect that growth (source).

When you are fixated on depressed thoughts or just trying to slough through the things that have to be done, you are not bonding with your baby. Babies need and crave that attention and affection from their mothers because it creates a stable attachment for growth in every way.

Some studies have suggested that PPD in a mother can increase the chances of the following (source):

  • Behavior problems

  • Extra crying

  • Problems with bonding

  • Delays in language development

  • Problems in learning

  • Struggles with stress and adjustments socially and environmentally

Again, it is crucial that you seek help from a healthcare provider if you suspect you have PPD. Acting now can help reduce the risk of slowing or affecting your baby's development.

What Can I Do to Bond with My Baby Even If I'm Struggling with Depression?

Instead of focusing on all the ways you fall short or on feelings that nothing you do matters or lasts, focus on the bond that lasts for a lifetime and contributes to your child's current and future well-being. 

Here are some ways you can bond with your baby, even when feeling down:

Baby Bonding Activity


Skin-to-skin contact

Cuddling your baby against your bare skin can release oxytocin, which is your body's feel-good hormone. It also regulates your baby's breathing, temperature, and heart rate while helping your milk supply (source).

Eye contact

Making direct eye contact with your baby can help establish a connection.

Talking and singing

Talking and singing gently to your baby can help promote bonding, communication, and language development.


Wearing your baby in a carrier can help you feel closer to your little one and help you get some stuff done around the house or outside for a walk.

Don't forget to allow your partner or support system time to bond with your baby, too. This time is good for your baby's social development and a break for you.

If your baby's father is struggling to connect with your baby, read Bonding with Your Baby: Why Dads are Just as Important as Moms for ideas.

Will My Depression Make It Harder for Me to Breastfeed or Care for My Baby?

PPD can make it difficult to breastfeed or care for your baby. The relentless waves of sluggishness, frustration, annoyance, sadness, and hopelessness make staying on top of your baby's needs feel impossible. There are things you can do to help keep up your milk supply and press on through the chores.

Seeking help from a local lactation consultant or a healthcare provider can help you overcome feeding challenges. Breastfeeding hurts like heck for those first weeks. When trying to push through PPD, that pain makes it even more tempting to push off feedings or give up on breastfeeding entirely.

Your lactation consultant can help you adjust your baby to a less painful latch. If your milk supply has already been lessened, try spending more time holding your baby skin-to-skin for naps or rest. Skin-to-skin contact works wonders for boosting your mood, bonding with your baby, and stimulating your milk supply.

What Can I Do For Myself to Manage PPD?

You can take care of yourself by consistently getting enough sleep (even cat naps), eating healthy food, and taking time for yourself to manage stress. It's okay to ask trusted family and friends for help. PPD is not your fault, and you need to rest for the sake of sanity.

Sleeping when the baby sleeps is one of the best pieces of advice I got for managing exhaustion. At first, I tried to get things done while the baby napped. But I learned to let less important things slide with the second baby. I took a lot of short baby naps in those first few months.

Newborns don't give you much time to think or hang out with friends, but arranging a time to get out and talk to another adult is incredibly helpful. Whether you leave your baby with them for a short time or take your little one with you, connecting with other adults, especially other parents, is amazingly helpful for beating back loneliness.

Going for walks outside in the mornings while wearing your baby or pushing a stroller is helpful for getting exercise, Vitamin D, and fresh air. Confiding in a friend or family member about depressive thoughts or feelings is also beneficial.

One last thing I will say here is this: avoid making major life decisions while going through PPD. Enough has changed recently, and you've got a journey ahead of you for raising your baby, healing from birth, and beating back depression.

Sometimes, big changes cannot be avoided, but if you can focus on this season now, save yourself the extra stress.

How Can I Involve My Partner or Support System in Bonding with My Baby?

It turns out that dads can get the dreaded postpartum depression, too. It looks the same and happens from similar backgrounds or causes, but it may happen later in that first year or after mommy has had it. 

Men tend to conceal their feelings more, and they have less social support, so involving your partner is helpful to your sanity, his bond with the baby, and the baby's development.

Some ways to involve your partner or support system include:

  • Have them hold the baby while you take a break.

  • Encourage them to sing and talk to the baby.

  • Ask for help with tasks like diaper changes and feedings.

  • Task them with the naptime or bedtime routine.

  • Set up a regular baby playtime for them.

Communicate your needs, thoughts, and feelings with your partner or support system and ask for help when you need it. You probably won't get anything you don't ask for.

Parenting as a team is a skill. It takes communication, self-control, and empathy despite exhaustion. Here are a few ways you can make parenting more sustainable for your relationship: 9 Sustainable Parenting Hacks for Busy Moms and Dads.

In a Nutshell

Bonding with your baby as you battle PPD is a struggle, but it is possible. Seeking help from your healthcare provider and involving your support system makes a significant difference. However, the way you take care of yourself and insist on spending time with your baby really makes or breaks your bonding success.

Be patient with yourself and your baby, and don't feel ashamed to ask for help. PPD is common yet kept under wraps more often than not. YOU are not the problem. Your BABY is not the problem. PPD is the problem. Get the help you need and be faithful to that precious baby. It's worth the fight.

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