Image from Science Photo Library

Image from Science Photo Library

Bonding with your unborn child is something that everyone says we should do. But in the early days when you just feel tired, nauseous, have sore boobs and a host of other unpleasant symptoms, it can be hard to even imagine you have a baby inside of you.

Once the symptoms have eased – hopefully by the end of the first trimester, but possibly not – then perhaps it is somewhat easier to try to connect with that little being in your uterus.

Some people find it easy to bond with their foetus. But some, like me, found it quite a strange idea to try to “bond” with something – sorry, someone – that will inevitably turn my life upside-down but in unimaginable ways. If you can’t even imagine the practical side of things how on earth are you supposed to do the emotional bit as well?

This post is to give you some pointers as to how to bond with your unborn child. When I sat and thought about how one interacts with the world (as after all, bonding is just a form of interaction), I realised it is through our 5 senses. Smell, Taste, Sight, Touch and Sound.

So here is Birthzang’s 5 sensational ways to bond with your unborn child.

1.Touch

Hand at 7 weeks Image from i-am-pregnant.com

Hand at 7 weeks
Image from i-am-pregnant.com

Touch is the first sense that a baby develops. According to Professor Allen Gottfried the foetus develops sensations around its mouth as early as 7 weeks gestation, with sensation over its whole head by 14 weeks! [1a]

Hard to bond with a tiny foetus that is only 8cm long (crown to rump). [2] In fact most women start feeling the kicks of their baby around 17-22 weeks, possibly earlier for a second child [3]. This sensation is often described as a fluttering one, getting stronger over a few weeks. (Babyzang #1, on the other hand, started with an almighty thud and carried on in that vein!)

Back to bonding, obviously it is hard to establish a bond with your baby before you can even feel them kicking, but once you can then it stands to reason that baby can sense YOU touching them through your tummy.

Lightly touching and massaging your tummy, whether it is you, or someone else, can establish a sensational link from the outside world to the inside. [4] Doing yoga will make the baby move around as will resting and doing exercise.

Touch also includes responding to heat and cold. Having a warm bath, or cold shower can also give the baby different sensations. Even the rhythm of your heartbeat gives baby a proverbial poke!

2. Taste

Mouth at 19 weeks Image from Science Photo Library

Mouth at 19 weeks
Image from Science Photo Library

Even more unbelievable is that the baby starts develops a capacity to taste also around 7 weeks, or at least the taste buds start to form. [1a] Actually being able to taste properly probably occurs around 14 weeks. [1b] The amniotic fluid acts as a conduit for tastes of things the mother eats and so when she is tucking into that Chicken Tikka Masala, fresh oranges or crates of Krispy Kreme Donuts, baby is getting to taste it as well!

The taste will take longer to reach the baby – possibly a couple of hours [5] – but it might even cause them hiccups!

Eating a variety of flavours gets the foetus used to different flavours which they also taste through breastmilk. So you can start that wonderful bonding over the dinner table right from the start!

Of course, if all you can stomach is dry toast and ginger tea then not much help – let’s move on!

 3. Smell

Image from New Scientist

Image from New Scientist

A baby’s nose develops at around 11-15 weeks [1b]. It was originally thought that a sense of smell was dependent upon air (therefore an unborn baby would not be able to smell), however it was later discovered that amniotic fluid is a great conduit for smell (and taste) and so babies can receive olfactory stimulation around the start of the second trimester.

In the same way that taste works, if the mother smells plentiful aromas then they can be transmitted to the baby. Essential oils, food, flowers – well any smell you enjoy can be used to create a bond to your unborn child. In fact, your diet of tastes and smells can have a lifelong impact on your baby’s future eating habits so a great idea to have a varied diet. [6]

Of course, by the same token, nasty smells – while also stimulating – can sometimes carry other nasty things that also transmit – fumes, cigarette smoke, etc. – so a bit of common sense should prevail. In the same way as you wouldn’t eat something unsuitable just to give baby a new experience!

4. Sound

Image from Science Photo Library

Ear at 20 weeks
Image from Science Photo Library

Back to more familiar territory. A baby starts reacting to sounds from about 16 weeks. [1b] And there are so many ways to bond with sound.

Your heartbeat, plus your bodily burps and gurgles all act as an endless background symphony for your baby.

Your voice will then be the next thing they will hear partly because it resonates through your body so there is probably some touch involved in this as well.

After about 27-28 weeks they will start to hear external noises. Low pitched at first, and then more high pitch after a few more weeks. [7]

Music is an obvious choice – and the rhythm and beauty of it, not to mention the lovely way it makes you feel (oxytocin alert!) will be a very pleasurable way to bond. And babies do remember music played in the womb.

Reading a story, poetry, or just simply talking to the baby about your days is a great way to form a connection. And they will hear all the activity of other members of the family (pets?) that is going on which helps them gain a sense of familiarity to their world and helps them settle once they have been born. [8]

5. Sight

28 weeks Image from birthease.co.uk

28 weeks
Image from birthease.co.uk

A baby’s eyelids stay closed until 26 weeks but they do seem to display some response to light and dark even before this time. [1b] Eyesight is poor at birth – just enough to focus on mum’s face while it is at her breast in fact. [1a]

By removing clothes from your bump and exposing yourself to light and dark can give your baby different experiences.

Perhaps this is the hardest way to interact, nevertheless I think the point is being made that any type of interaction with your baby can potentially enhance the bonding experience.

Connecting with your baby is a long process and feeling a “bond” is not necessarily something that will happen overnight.If something doesn’t work for you or makes you feel uncomfortable then don’t do it. Simple.

You can also learn how to connect with your baby during labour. Their experience during labour is just as important as yours and knowing how you can help them in their birthing journey can help you to achieve a positive birth experience. See www.birthzang.co.uk/activebirth for more info about the content of Birthzang’s Active Birth preparation workshop.

References

For this blog post I have not sought independent verification of the studies that the references use. Sorry. Life is too short and I am a bit busy this week.

1. http://www.parents.com/baby/development/physical/babies-developing-senses/

1b. http://birthpsychology.com/free-article/fetal-senses-classical-view

Touch

2. http://www.babycentre.co.uk/14-weeks-pregnant

3. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/pregnancy-weeks-17-18-19-20.aspx

4. http://www.wikihow.com/Massage-Your-Pregnant-Wife

Taste

5. http://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/your-baby/week-27/sense-something.aspx

Smell

6. http://www.ucdenver.edu/about/newsroom/newsreleases/Pages/Pregnantmother%27sdietimpactfetussmelltaste.aspx

Sound

7. http://www.babycentre.co.uk/x1049485/i-like-to-read-and-play-music-to-my-bump-can-my-baby-hear-anything

8. http://www.babysense.com/happy-days/swaddling/the-womb-world-holds-the-secret-to-a-settled-newborn

Sight