Bonding with bump
Learn how to connect with your little one
With antenatal appointments to attend and books to read before you make your birthplan, it’s easy to forget what a life-changing journey you’re on right now. And as your baby grows, he increasingly shares your experiences and reacts to what is going on in your life, says Dr Nadja Reissland, associate professor of psychology at Durham University, specialising in foetal development. “Babies can be very expressive in the womb,” says Nadja, who studies prenatal mother-infant interaction from 12 weeks of pregnancy. “Once you’re aware of just what he might be up to, you can start to connect with and get to know the person who is on the way.”
Using 4D scans to capture babies’ reactions in the womb, Nadja has seen some incredible sights. “I have observed babies between 32 and 36 weeks moving their hands towards their ears when white noise has been played for them,” she says. “This is really exciting as it suggests that the baby is already learning about his body and possibly making the connection between hearing a sound and his ears. At 36 weeks, we found that a growing baby makes very definite mouth movements in reaction to different frequency levels of sound played, and these movements appear to specifically relate to the sound he hears.”
So while you’re already responding to your baby’s actions – your sleepy smile that follows a kick in the middle of the night – you might not yet have realised just how much your baby reacts to what you’re up to.
Practise being aware
To build a bond with your baby, your first step is to discover what your baby responds to, and learn about his reactions. “To connect with your unborn baby, simply be aware of how he reacts to your daily activities,” explains Nadja. “What happens when you exercise, for example? Does he seem to go to sleep when you do yoga, perhaps, or does he become very active? What happens when you’re stressed, and how does he behave when you’re truly relaxed? Being sensitive to what both you and he are feeling will mean you begin to relate to your baby as a real, living person, rather than a slightly abstract concept that you cannot see. Just as you would at the beginning of any other new relationship want to nurture, this is all about finding out about what makes your little person tick.”
Stimulate his taste buds
You baby’s digestive system is separate to yours, but he can taste what you eat. Particles of food are transmitted to your amniotic fluid, which your baby starts swallowing early in the second trimester.
“Sweet foods and drinks can often wake a baby up and get him moving around. But what does your baby do when you eat something spicy?” asks Nadja. “And what about when you eat something that’s not on the normal menu? Does he have a little dance around if you have a sip of cola? Be aware, and you will get a little window on his likes and dislikes.”
The scent as well as the taste of food is carried in your amniotic fluid, so he might enjoy the smell of bacon, too. So have a taste-testing session tonight with your baby. “It’s fun and it might help you learn something about him,” says Nadja.
Introduce him to the family
“It’s a good idea to get your partner and other family members to speak and make sounds around your bump,” says Nadja. “And you should do it, too. Your baby will begin to recognise these voices and build attachments. And once you’re used to sitting quietly and chatting or singing to your growing baby, try to notice if he
Bonding with your unborn child is all about being aware of him and managing your feelings about how you are changing
reacts. Parents often tell me that, at times, their baby has a stronger reaction to certain voices, and they really feel that the baby is reacting directly to that voice. This really helps them relate to their baby.”
Talk him through your day
The bonding process is a two-way street: just as you want to know about your baby’s movements, it’s OK to tell him about yours, too. So give him a running commentary on your day. If you’re already having little chats with your bump, this is a great way to make your connection more constant.
There will be moments when you go blank, or feel silly, but these will be the times that you should tell yourself that this is a real person you’re growing, so it’s perfectly normal to be having a chat. It will also create memories that you might recall once he’s born: perhaps you’ll be dressing him in an outfit and remember chatting to your bump when you were washing it in preparation, feeling excited at the idea of him wearing it. These ‘shared’ experiences will cement your emotions towards him.
Visualise your baby
It’s easy to see your bump as just a big round belly. But spending time picturing your baby inside your womb can help you strengthen your special connection. As he gets bigger, start every morning by having a gentle feel for his limbs and see if you can work out where his head is nestled. When he kicks, make a mental note of just where that kick was and try to figure out which way up he might be.
“Take time to wonder what he is doing right now,” says Nadja. “Is he peacefully sleeping? Might he be smiling? Picturing his body reminds you that he is real and reinforces how special it is that you’re cocooning him.”
Record what you learn
As you try out the different ways of connecting with your baby, keep a journal of what you learn and how you feel as you progress through your pregnancy. Bonding with your unborn child is all about being aware of him and managing your feelings about how you are changing. Exploring those feelings via a journal – written or filmed – is a great way to focus on your growing child and to see him as a human, with reactions and feelings, just like you. Record your thoughts as if they are letters or messages to your baby, and this will further aid the bonding process. You will imagine him as a boy or man, reading or hearing your words one day, and realising how much you loved growing him. You could even set up a separate email address, and send him regular messages, which he can access one day.
Cradle your bump
Touch is a fundamental part of what makes us human and helps us form bonds with each other, so there’s every reason to use it as a way of connecting with your baby right now. “When studying growing babies during pregnancy, we know that twins will purposely touch each other in the womb and this helps cement their bond,” says Nadja. “We also know that single babies hold onto the umbilical cord, probably because it pulses and this gives them that human connection. Your baby will enjoy feeling you holding your bump. And he may well be able to feel the difference in touch between you and your partner, so spend time together letting your baby get used to your touch.” You can use touch to interact with him further from 18 to 20 weeks, when you’ll begin to feel some definite nudges from him. “Very gently, push carefully back when he fidgets or kicks and see if he reacts,” says Nadja.
As soon as you start interacting with your growing baby in this way, he’ll stop being just a bump. When he’s born, you’ll already have a relationship with him, and feel a far stronger bond. And he’ll be attached to you, too!