|Posted on 25 August, 2018 at 14:40|
The importance of prenatal bonding.
Prenatal bonding supports attunement between the developing baby and the mother, and partner/father. In the womb, the unborn baby is sentient, aware, social and communicative in nature, and actively engages with the womb environment (Chamberlain 1994). McCarty, 2012 provides further evidence of the prenates’ nature and consciousness; she describes the prenates subconscious ability for taking a witness perspective, facilitating mutual mind-to-mind communication and perception of the emotions, thoughts and intentions of the parents. Therefore, parents’ attuned resonance with their unborn baby in thought, feelings, intention and a supportive, stimulating womb environment is important for the holistic and optimal development of the unborn baby.
Thomas Verny and Pamela Weintraub (2002) stress the importance for parents to balance management and nurturing during pregnancy. Specifically, its suggested parents aim to manage stress to balance with the nurturing of their unborn child, and work mindfully with active communication and partnership with the child. They stress that when babies are conceived within loving relationship and provided with optimal stimulation and nurturing within the prenatal period, the unborn child’s holistic development is enhanced and the foundation of secure parent/child attachment relationships established.
The feelings, emotions and intentions of the parents are communicated to the baby through what Verny and Weintraub, 2002, describe as molecular, sensory and intuitive communication channels. This view links to the view of the prenatal period in terms of prenatal umbilical affect, the transference of feeling states and toxicity through the umbilical cord and placenta (Appleton, M, 2017). The transference of feeling and emotional states is important for parents to understand because how they perceive the pregnancy and unborn child will influence the unborn baby’s developing belief structures. If the unborn child feels loved, accepted, welcomed and nurtured then, as Appleton (p100) describes, the unborn child will expand out with the expectation of being welcomed, having needs met, feeling pleasure and feeling emotionally safe to embrace life. A stressful womb environment however, as a consequence of parent’s stress, unwanted pregnancy, abuse, trauma and/or womb toxicity may result in the unborn child developing belief systems and structures based on the world as an unsafe, dangerous place, and therefore develop behaviours based on survival rather than growth. In cases of chronic stress the unborn child can become conditioned to contract away from the world, rather than expand out to being welcomed into the world, therefore, stress has a negative impact on the developing baby in the womb (Appleton, p100).
Ways parents can bond with their unborn baby:
The foundation of bonding starts before conception to ensure that the baby is wanted and welcomed, even if the baby is a surprise, he needs to feel the joy and a felt sense of being wanted and welcomed. How the unborn baby perceives the womb environment and the perceptions and beliefs developed in utero will reflect into life after birth, in his perception and felt sense of self, his parents and the world. In terms of prenatal bonding, Chamberlain, 1994, explains the importance of parents understanding and working with the unborn baby’s intelligence, receptivity and ability to communicate. Understanding of the baby’s integrative sensory awareness is important and will enhance successful and optimal prenatal bonding.
Chamberlain (2013, p179) describes bonding as simple but not always easy, with the foundation of bonding being the loving heart-connection between the parents and their heart-connection to the baby. In order for the heart-connection to open, expand and flow it’s important for parents to manage stress and address underlying relationship difficulties and previous trauma. This will reduce any adverse molecular communication of stress chemicals through the cord and placenta as well as reduce risk of development of adverse negative belief systems. Some moderate level of stress is beneficial though, because, as Myrna Martin, 2016, explains it provides the unborn baby with a felt sense of the parent’s ability to overcome and manage stress, which enhances the unborn baby’s feeling of emotional and physical safety and wellbeing.
The sensory communication channel as described by Verny and Weintraub, 2002, can be stimulated through touch and hearing. Babies develop tactile sensitivity from about 7 weeks gestational age, and an unborn baby will respond to the mother’s touch, caress and massage of the stomach with a full repertoire of movement responses, particularly during the 3rd trimester (Hill, G, 2017). Fetal listening is evident from about 16 weeks gestational age therefore, singing, reading and talking to the unborn baby with awareness, nurturance and empathy is also supportive of bonding. A variety of music is also interesting for babies and will support bonding as the baby will be listening and determining which music is reassuring and relaxing for the mother, and therefore, the baby himself. Myrna Martin, 2016, stresses that in the womb babies learn what helps the mother relax and become calm and what makes her happy, and they will respond in similar ways.
Intuitive communication is third channel of communication between mother/partner and baby. This relates to the parents understanding of the consciousness of the unborn baby, and through this channel the mother and partner/father’s thoughts, feelings, emotions and intentions are communicated to the baby. In the same intuitive way, the unborn baby can also communicate to the parents; this can often happen in the form of images and dreams (Verny and Weintraub 2002).
Schroth, G, 2010 describes an approach that facilitates deep intuitive bonding related to Dr Jenoe Raffai’s work on prenatal bonding during the 1990s. The approach requires the mother to lie peacefully with awareness of her breathing, feelings and emotions. The flow of images, feelings and emotions experienced create dialogue, a two-way communication between the mother and baby. Therefore, when a mother is encouraged to become peaceful, mindful and meditative, it is possible for her to become deeply connected to her unborn baby, his needs and emotions. In turn, the baby develops a felt sense of being seen, heard and validated, the foundation of trusting relationship and secure attachment.
The role of partners, fathers and siblings also play an important role in prenatal bonding because the baby has an awareness of the mother’s environment and relationships. According to Schroth, 2010, fathers or partners can play an important role in developing and enhancing the “social womb”. Partners/fathers can be empowered with the understanding of their role in supporting physical and emotional safety for the growth and expansion of the mother and baby bond during pregnancy, as well as expanding relationship between themselves with the unborn baby through touching, singing, talking and reading to the baby. Siblings can also be involved in bonding activities and the expansion of the social womb, promoting the unborn baby’s felt sense of empathetic and attuned resonance and relationships, as well as physical and emotional wellbeing and safety as foundations for optimal relationships after birth.
Ultimately, calmness and relaxation of the mother and partner/father is important for bonding. Myrna Martin, 2016, suggests mothers take “3 love breaks” each day. Love breaks involve slowing down and relaxing, tuning into and talking to the baby, and allowing time and space for the baby to respond and communicate. Martin stresses that a calm, relaxed pregnancy increases the chances of having a calm and relaxed baby.
Benefits of prenatal bonding.
Prenatal bonding can be evaluated in terms of benefits for the individual baby/child/adult, parents and family, and society.
The unborn baby’s experience within and of the womb will reflect into his life after birth influencing how he perceives himself, his relationships and environments throughout life (Ludwig, J 2002). The unborn baby builds a felt sense of his foundation for life, the blue print. As Grille, R, 2005, p285 describes, the most primal emotional competences are learned early in life. With optimal bonding, the baby’s feelings of belonging, his “right to exist” becomes established based on his perceived felt sense of the right to be recognised, heard and validated, which underlies the developing belief structures, attitudes, behaviours and therefore drives optimal development and potential.
Chamberlain, 1994, discusses outcomes from prenatal bonding programmes. Prenatal programmes have typically resulted in positive outcomes in terms of easier births and significant higher ratings in maternal and parent/baby bonding, as well as higher success rates in breastfeeding. These outcomes concur with outcomes from Dr Jenoe Raffai’s prenatal bonding programmes as described by Schroth, 2010. Schroth describes outcomes which include the mother and baby experiencing less anxiety and pain during birth due to enhanced synchronicity, there were fewer birth complications, less obstetrical interventions required and a higher incidence of natural vaginal births reported. The incidence of birth trauma was much reduced indicated by insignificant rates of excessive infant crying.
The benefits of prenatal bonding for parents and families are considerable; Myrna Martin, 2016, explains that the biggest predictors of calm, relaxed babies are a calm, relaxed pregnancy, flowing into a calm and relaxed birth. Schroth, 2010, concurs, concluding that after birth, babies of families who had established prenatal bonding had longer and deeper periods of night sleep, were more settled and experienced less crying. Bonding was also easier as parents experienced easier communications with babies, as babies demonstrated a deeper intuitive knowing and understanding of parents’ intentions and feelings as well as enhanced self-awareness and confidence. Postpartum depression rates were also very low at just 1% for the mothers within the programmes.
With enhanced bonding outcomes, lower crying rates and more consistent sleep, parents are more likely to feel empowered and fulfilled in their parenting. The parents’ empowerment and confidence will naturally continue to cycle to the baby and child’s felt sense of emotional security, self esteem and wellbeing, reinforcing the belief structures developed in the womb.
In terms of life long outcomes, prenatal bonding can provide the foundation for optimal development of human potential. Emerson, 1996, stresses that the individual is at his most vulnerable within the womb, and that prenatal events and experiences are most influential to how individuals respond to and experience future life events. Particularly significant is Emerson’s view that adverse prenatal and birth experiences impact on bonding, and can then recapitulate resulting in higher likelihood of violence and aggression in later life. Therefore, prenatal bonding can act as a protective factor in terms of preventing violence and aggression and promoting enhanced compassion and human potential within society.
The benefits of prenatal bonding for society reflect on the potential of reduced rates of caesarean section and interventions required at birth, reduced postpartum depression reflecting into reduced healthcare costs. Prenatal bonding also enhances mental and emotional health of mothers and families holistically. Prenatal bonding is more likely to enhance an individual’s felt sense of belonging, connection to self, family and community, and therefore, reduce rates of violence and aggression within society.
Implications and conclusion
Prenatal bonding has positive outcomes for individuals, families and society, therefore there is a need for focussed support for parents in preparing for and during pregnancy, and prenatal bonding programmes to support parents understanding of their developing baby’s abilities and needs to support optimal bonding, attachment and potential.
In relation to infant sleep and sleep consulting, a focus on enhancing prenatal bonding can prevent sleep difficulties and enhance sleep quality and length for new families. In synthesis, research outcomes also indicate a need for awareness and in-depth investigation of sleep difficulties which may have their roots in adverse early experiences.
Prenatal bonding provides the foundation for the unborn baby’s life experience, supporting relationships, development, life chances and human potential.
Appleton, M. (2017). Prenatal umbilical affect: The great prenatal conundrum. In Wilks, J. (Ed). An integrative approach to treating babies and children: A multidisciplinary approach. Philadelphia, PA and London, England: Singing Dragon.
Chamberlain, D. (1994). The sentient prenate: What every parent should know. Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, 9 (1), 9-31.
Chamberlain, D. (2013). Windows to the womb: Revealing the conscious baby from conception to birth. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Emerson, W. (1996). The vulnerable prenate. The Journal for Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health. 10 (3) 125 - 142.
Grille, R. (2008 ) Parenting for a peaceful world. CP publishing: Croydon, UK
Hill, G. (2017). A Mother’s Touch may help to Bond with Unborn Babies. Retrieved from: www.medicalxpress.com/news/2017-05-mother-bond-unborn-babies.html
Ludwig, J. (2002). Impact of pre and perinatal psychology on society and culture. Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, 16 (3), 237-247.
Martin, M. (2016). Healing early developmental trauma video series.
McCarty, W. A. (2012). Welcoming consciousness: Supporting babies’ wholeness from the beginning of life. An integrated model of early development. Santa Barbara, CA: Wonderous Beginning Publishing.
Schroth, G. (2010). Prenatal bonding (BA): A method for encountering the unborn. Introduction and case study. Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, 25 (1), 3-16.
Verny, T. R, & Weintraub, P. (2002). Pre-Parenting: Nurturing your child from conception. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Resources for parents:
Edwards, M. (n.d.) Five Fun Ways to Interact with your Unborn Baby: retrieved from: www.disneybaby.com/blog/fun-ways-to-interact-with-unborn-baby
Mudie, C. (n.d): Seven Brilliant Ways to Bond with Your Bump. Retrieved from: www.motherandbaby.co.uk/pregnancy-and-birth/pregnancy/pregnancy-week-by-week/7-brilliant-ways-to-bond-with-your-bump
Virtue Baby: Bonding with your Unborn Child. Retrieved from: www.virtuebaby.wordpress.com/2015/08/13/bonding-with-your-unborn-child
Ann Caird. Copyright. 2018