New survey finds NICE guidance on bonding is not being followed

12 June 2023

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To mark start of Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, the Parent-Infant Foundation has published results from a survey of more than 1,000 women, which finds that NICE guidance on bonding is not being followed.

The new survey of more than 1,000 women from across the UK who have given birth within the last five years, finds that more than 1 in 10 (11.5%) struggled to bond with their baby in the first few weeks after birth. [i]

A strong bond between a baby and its parent is fundamental to emotional attachment and healthy child development.  So National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance recommends health and care professionals give information and advice to parents on bonding with their baby, throughout pregnancy. [ii]

But in practice, relationships and bonding is often overlooked during antenatal care. 73% of women surveyed said that information and advice about bonding or building a relationship with their baby was not given throughout their pregnancy, despite the NICE guidance.

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week aims to raise awareness of the importance of supporting parents who need help to bond with their baby.  Factors that can affect bonding during pregnancy include the mother’s physical and mental health, the parental relationship and past trauma, such as baby loss. 

Today, the Parent-Infant Foundation is urging all health and care staff who work with pregnant women and their partners, routinely to provide information and support on bonding and relationships.

Tamora Langley, Head of Policy and Communications at the Parent-Infant Foundation said,

“Our survey shows pregnant women are not getting the support they need to bond with their babies.  We understand staff are under huge time pressures, but checking on emotional wellbeing as well as physical wellbeing needs to become the norm. 

“With training, a wider range of professionals and practitioners should be able to have conversations about emotional attachment and bonding. Parents who are struggling may need specialist parent-infant relationship support, but they can only get that if they are confident to speak up in the first place.  We must challenge the myth of the ‘perfect parent’, so that pregnant women feel able to ask for help when they need it.”

Tim Loughton MP, Chair of The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Conception to Age 2 said:

“At the heart of the work of the Parent-Infant Foundation and the whole of the First 1001 Days movement is promoting the need for strong attachment between baby and parents from the very earliest stage, to give children the very best start in life. Getting it right from the outset – when a child’s brain is developing exponentially – is fundamental to setting a child on the right track to a successful and nurturing childhood and has lifelong implications.

“It is worrying that so many parents still feel that support is not being prioritised, when everyone agrees how important it is. It really is a false economy socially and financially that we are still missing this opportunity in too many cases.”

Over 80% of women surveyed attended five or more antenatal appointments, highlighting the number of opportunities to raise the topic of bonding. However, 64% said nobody talked to them about bonding, or building a relationship with baby, during their antenatal care.  Sometimes bonding was discussed, but late: 15% of women said bonding was only discussed after their baby was born.  71% of respondents would have liked more support during pregnancy to bond with their baby.

Commenting on the findings, Royal College of Midwives Chief Executive, Gill Walton said:

“Antenatal and postnatal care are vital to help new mothers bond with their new baby. Midwives and Maternity Support Workers are uniquely placed to identify, and help deal with, any postnatal mental health issues. But, because of chronic staff shortages they don’t always have the time they need to do this. A national strategy is needed urgently to recruit and train more midwives so that these vital areas of care become the norm across maternity services in the UK.”

New resources launched

Today, the Parent-Infant Foundation is launching a new short film and infographic to highlight the importance of ‘bonding before birth’ and the need to support parents. For all the details take a look at our dedicated Infant Mental Health Awareness Week page


[i] 1,015 women from across the UK who had given birth in the last 5 years responded to the survey. The online survey ran from 20th April to 31st May 2023, and was undertaken by the Parent Infant Foundation. For further details please contact [email protected]

[ii] NICE Antenatal care guideline [NG201] recommends – “Throughout the pregnancy, discuss and give information on… how the parents can bond with their baby and the importance of emotional attachment” 

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