Antenatal bonding: What is it and what’s the point?
When does a man become a dad?
Those who read my last blog carefully will see that I referred to becoming a father on the day that my son was born. My own discussions and surveys with men show that I am not alone in feeling this – on an emotional level, men tend to be anything up to a full 9 months behind, not really fully bonding with their baby and seeing themselves as a father, until the birth.
Antenatal Bonding is simply about making a connection and bonding with your baby before they are born. So don’t panic if you are not feeling connected to your unborn baby, but do make the conscious decision to bond with your baby before they are born. Dad’s antenatal bonding for most of us is not a natural process, it takes a conscious decision to do so.
Why Does This Matter?
We affect our baby’s development from the moment they are conceived. That’s right Dads, your attitude and support throughout pregnancy, can directly affect your baby. Through music and talking you will already be developing your babies learning skills. Through creating a positive calm environment, you will be supporting your baby’s emotional development. Dr David Chamberlain a renowned psychologist who has researched prenatal development, psychology and bonding refers to the time baby spends in the womb as, “an intense learning period in ones life and time to establish patterns for a lifetime.”
Dad’s, helping create a calm & positive environment is integral to the physiological development of your unborn baby. Any stress which mum might feel during pregnancy increases the production of neurohormones. According to Doctor Verney author of ‘The Secret Life of the Unborn Child’ these neurohormones easily cross the placenta to the unborn baby. In moderation, these are beneficial to baby’s development, but in excess can have an adverse effect. So a calm, stable, home environment is important, not only from birth, but throughout pregnancy.
Your unborn baby has an ear by just three weeks (so probably before you even know you are expecting!). Their ear is functional by 16 weeks, and at 24 weeks they can hear sounds from outside. This means for most of the pregnancy, your baby can hear your voice! They will know who you are, and already be bonding with you. Once baby is born, when you talk to them, they will recognise you and respond to your voice. This will pay dividends for you when baby arrives, as their bond with you, and your voice, will be calming for them.
Antenatal bonding is also important for your own confidence. You will find that you will be more at ease with your newborn, and you will be more comfortable with them. Baby will also sense this inner-confidence, and feel more secure and safe with you too as a result, which again will help keep them feeling calm and bonded with you.
A dad that is successfully bonded with their baby, will be better able to support their partner. For those that have chosen to breastfeed, it will also help tremendously in establishing feeding.
Finally now that it is generally accepted that fathers too can suffer from Post Natal Depression (PND), antenatal bonding can also help reduce the chances of PND. A common cause for PND in men is that they feel guilt when they don’t instantly feel bonded with their baby. To compound this further, men can end up feeling excluded and isolated in their own family. These are common feelings, but ones that can be avoided. Some men are fortunate to feel an instant bond at birth, but for most that bond establishes over time. It is harder for that bond to establish in amongst all the additional pressures of becoming a family, so why leave it until the birth to start bonding with your child?
For you all as a family, you will feel less stressed and more harmonious.
Ok, its important… so how do I do it?
There are some very simple things you can do… you don’t need to them all, just choose to do those you feel comfortable with, but make the decision to do something.
1) If you have scan pictures keep them on show, look at them often and start to visualise your baby. As men we find it hard to attach to things we can’t see, hear or touch. This will help you start to think of your baby as a little person and start the bonding process.
2) Each time you greet or part from mum, talk to your baby as well. Say Hello to your baby, maybe even give the bump a gentle run or pat at the same time.
3) Give baby a name – this will make them more of a real person. It doesn’t have to be the name they will have when born, it can just be a pet name.
4) Spend time together as a family. Talk to baby, if you comfortable sing to your baby or maybe recite a rhyme or read a short story. Ideally pick one thing, and read or sing it each time. Your unborn baby will start to recognise and attach to that song or story. It will connect it to a time of feeling loved and content, and once born, singing this song or reading the same story is a great calming method, especially at bedtime.
5) At around 20 – 24 weeks you will be able to feel your baby move or kick. This is a great opportunity to become physically connected and bonded to baby. Take time to feel their movements, as the pregnancy progresses, you will be able to visualise their growth as you feel the movements become stronger.
6) Start a blog or write letters to baby. Talk about the preparations you are making for their arrival, about the scans or appointments which you go to. How you are both feeling. This will all help reinforce the fact your baby is another person in the family already.
7) Play music to baby, pick songs that mean something to you or pick relaxing pieces. Again, your unborn baby will start to recognise the music if you play it regularly during pregnancy. Once baby is born, when it hears the music it will connect it to a time of feeling loved and content – another great calming method!
Doing all or some of these things will have a huge benefit – for all of you as a family now, in those all important first days and crucially for the rest of your baby’s life.
It is worth the effort, so ask yourself, what are you going to do today to bond with your baby?