How to bond with your child during illness

Macmillan psychologist Dr Jonnie Raynes explains how to maintain your relationship if serious illness keeps you apart

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Dr Jonnie Raynes shares his top advice

Being separated from your children and spending long periods of time in hospital can be one of the hardest emotional aspects of an illness for a parent.

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Mums who have suffered serious postnatal depression may also feel they’ve missed out on vital bonding time, or that their child behaves differently around them because they’ve been too unwell to carry out their usual parenting duties.

Macmillan psychologist Dr Jonnie Raynes explains what you can do to in this situation to maintain a healthy, loving relationship with your child…

“From the age of six to nine months a baby may have developed an idea of how his or her world works and will be more aware of a dramatic change. If he no longer feels safe this can manifest itself in different ways, from rejecting a parent’s cuddles, seeming angry or defiant, having more tantrums or frequent bedwetting.”

“The parent can feel a range of emotions too – anger that they’re ill and have to deal with a situation that isn’t their fault, feeling they’ve failed as a carer, anxiety that their illness will affect their child, and guilt that they’re not spending enough time with their family.”

“It’s important to remember that if you’re an ill parent, you can still form a healthy, strong bond with your child. Children are adaptable and babies aren’t restricted to bonding with just one individual as they can attach to a number of care-givers. it’s about the quality of the time you spend with them, not the quantity.”

Dr Raynes’ top bonding tips:

1. Manage your feelings

If you’re overwhelmed with strong emotions, like anger, guilt or feeling upset, you’ll find it difficult to cope with the reality of looking after a baby, and it’ll also mean you’ll find it harder to enjoy the time you do have with him. Trust that you’ll be able to bond and talk to your partner or a close friend about it.        

2. Make the most of the time you have

It’s the quality not the quantity of the time you put aside to bond with your child that’s most important, so pick a time when you have the most energy. It’s important to respond to your baby’s needs, so let him steer how you interact and he’ll gradually become more comfortable around you.

3. Get help

It’s useful to have two or three people helping with your baby over the year than one person every three months, as your child needs stability. See if any close friends or family would help out, especially in the evenings, as a lack of sleep can make it feel much harder to cope, and don’t be afraid to ask for help in other areas of your daily life such as shopping, cooking, and doing the laundry too.

4. The power of cuddles

Some mums are unable to breastfeed during treatment and can find it distressing, but you can still have physical intimacy with your child, a close cuddle with skin-to-skin contact can work just as well. Little ones find gentle cooing or baby talk comforting too, and make sure to keep eye contact and smile lots. If you find it hard to get out of bed, ask someone to place your baby next to you so you’re face-to-face.

5. Find a quiet place

It’s unlikely to be helpful if your child sees you upset, so if you need a good cry find a space where you can be on your own. When you do spend time with your baby, it’ll then only be a positive experience for you both.

6. Ask your partner to step back

If your partner’s used to comforting your baby when he cries you may not have the same immediate effect when you comfort him, and your hubby may try and step in. Ask him to kindly step back so you can find your own way with your child.

7. Don’t suffer alone

If you’re feeling low you might be at risk of depression, speak to your GP about seeing a counsellor or psychologist as soon as possible.

Cancer charity Macmillan recently launched the Not Alone campaign, to give emotional support to people battling the life-threatening disease, no matter what they need help with. For more information or to donate, visit Macmillan or call 0808 808 00 00.

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