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Parents can connect with baby before they're born, and it is a good time to reflect on their own childhood and hopes for baby.

Building a connection with baby

Pregnancy is a time for parents to think about the kind of relationship they want with their new baby, their hopes for baby, and what their own childhood was like.

Soon-to-be parents can begin to build an emotional connection to pēpi before they're born.

Pregnant parents may differ greatly in when they begin to feel connected to their unborn baby, and in the strength of the connection. An unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, or difficulty in becoming pregnant, may affect how they feel towards her unborn baby.

The other parent may find it harder to build a connection as they don’t experience all the physical changes that pregnancy brings. It may also be harder for dads who haven’t consciously chosen to become a father.

Changing roles

Parents will be thinking about their new roles. If they’re first-time parents, they’re transitioning from being children to being parents. Parents' relationships with each other, their own parents and any older children they have are all changing. In fact, most of their relationships will be changed by their new role.

Supporting pregnant parents

At no other time in their life will a pregnant parent go through so much change in such a short time.

With the increased physical and emotional demands of pregnancy, they may become more dependent on the people around them. Although they may have times of feeling excited and happy, they may also feel overwhelmed and uncertain. These are very normal feelings.

The other parent, whānau and friends can all help them to have a healthy pregnancy by talking to them, listening and taking on some of their responsibilities. Relationships with whānau influence how they feel about pregnancy.

Supporting the other parent

The other parent also faces many changes and need a lot of support. They’re adjusting to changes in their partner and changes in their lifestyle, and may have increasing responsibilities as they help the pregnant parent out and plan the next stage of their life.

Some feel they are not given enough information to prepare them well for their new role. Their relationship with baby during the pregnancy and after birth may be strongly influenced by their relationship with their partner. The more satisfying this relationship is, the more likely they are to feel part of the pregnancy and be involved in raising baby.

This is also a time to reflect on early experiences. Relationship with their own parents can affect their attitudes about how involved they will be as a parent. Being involved during the pregnancy will help how the pregnant parent feels about their pregnancy.

Intergenerational parenting patterns

The way that parents recall their childhood experiences may influence how they connect with their unborn baby.

The quality of their attachment to their own parents affects not only how they connect with baby during the pregnancy, but the type of attachment they’re likely to have with baby after birth.

Often, patterns of attachment continue across generations. However, parents can start to become ‘conscious’ parents – thinking and talking about their own early experiences of how they were parented, things they want to recreate for their baby and things they would like to do differently.

Memories of and dreams about parenting

Based on memories of how they were cared for in their early years, parents are likely to form mental images of what sort of parent they think they will be, who their baby might be and their hopes and dreams for their baby.

Some of their memories may not be consciously recalled, but will still have influenced how they perceive themselves and how they behave in their relationships.

Although their memories and images may not always be positive, being able to reflect on them and make some sense of them will help build a healthy connection to baby before and after birth.

Caring for baby and whānau

Caring for baby in a loving way before birth gives baby the best possible start in life. Pregnant parents can do this during the pregnancy by taking good care of themselves. This means:

  • eating healthy food
  • exercising
  • staying away from cigarettes, drugs and alcohol, that can harm her unborn baby.

The other parent can support her and baby by also having a healthy lifestyle.

It’s also important for pregnant parents to keep stress to a low level. Although some anxiety and stress is normal, if stress is high or lasts for a long time, their stress hormones may cross the placenta and affect developing pathways and stress response systems in her unborn baby’s brain.

Baby’s developing senses

Touch is the first of the senses to begin working in the unborn baby. Parents can touch or massage the belly when they feel baby moving. Baby may feel the touch of hands on the puku, and respond by kicking or changing position. Relaxing and connecting with each other in a loving way may help parents feel calmer.

In the third trimester of pregnancy, baby can hear sounds in the outside world. If parents talk to baby often, baby is likely to recognise their voices after birth and respond to them more than any others.

Parents can also sing to baby. Baby may recognise a song parents sang often during the pregnancy, and be calmed and comforted by the same song after birth. Parents can build on and continue traditions by singing songs and lullabies that were sung to them as babies.

Attending appointments together

Both parents can attend the antenatal and ultrasound appointments. Seeing baby sucking a thumb, yawning, and turning or moving about inside the womb helps their connection with their baby become stronger.

Difficulty adjusting to changing roles

Some parents may find it more difficult to adjust to their changing roles as they approach parenthood. There are a number of experiences that may make it harder for some:

  • teen parenting
  • having parents with a history of mental health issues
  • drug use, trauma or abuse
  • living in poverty or having little social support.

Any parent who is struggling may benefit from professional support.

Summary

  • Parents can begin to build an emotional connection with their baby before birth.
  • Parent's own early attachment experiences affect how they connect to baby before and after birth.
  • Reflecting on early memories and making sense of them helps parent's form a healthy connection with their unborn baby.
  • The non-pregnant parent's connection to their unborn baby is influenced by the type of relationship they with the pregnant parent and their own experiences of being parented.
  • Smoking, alcohol or drug use and high or ongoing levels of stress can all harm baby’s developing brain.

Other resources

Drinking for Two? How Alcohol in Pregnancy Affects the Developing Child | Brainwave Trust(external link)