As a certified HypnoBirthing® Practitioner, I encourage my students to listen to their babies early on. In class we practice bonding with our unborn babies through a series of relaxation exercises and guided visualizations. Because nine months? That might as well be an eternity for some. It's the space and time standing between you and your sweet little one. Or is it? Perhaps you're like many women and you find yourself dreaming of those special first moments when you're holding Baby in your arms and how you'll bond as a new family.
Why wait to feel that closeness? Mounting evidence indicates that babies in the womb are alert and aware. The mother's and father's voices are heard and become recognizable. So, too, is the case with music. Unborn babies also respond attentively to touch and other outside stimuli. Imagine then the rich bond that can be developed further if only parents were aware that such a connection is ongoing and does, in fact, exist.
Prenatal bonding exercises
One exercise in particular that I teach my HypnoBirthing® students in class is called Be the Baby. For this one, once moms and dads are comfortably relaxed, I ask them to switch places with the baby. Imagine themselves as the baby in the womb. What kinds of things do they perceive from that viewpoint? What conversations can they hear? What emotions are they absorbing? How do they feel as that child who will be born into the family? The messages they receive from their babies during that exercise are powerful.
There are many other ways to bond with the baby-to-be. Some examples are but certainly aren't limited to:
- Play soothing music aloud (no headphones put directly onto belly necessary) Baby can feel the vibrations. Or sing! Sing to your baby your favorite songs. Baby is listening.
- Play with Baby physically — rub your belly, gently squeezing and pressing and patting. Create a pattern of movements and notice if Baby responds. Baby feels your love through touch.
- Talk to Baby. Tell Baby about your day. Read aloud a story or say aloud healthy pregnancy or labor and birth affirmations. Again, your baby is listening.
- Start a blog. Take photographs. Write letters to your baby and save them for him or her. Feel good as you're doing it. Baby responds to your positivity.
- Relax in warm water. When you are relaxed and calm, so too is Baby. When you lessen your anxiety, you lessen it for Baby as well. Send the message to Baby that you are creating a loving, peaceful environment for him or her.
Moms share their stories about pre-birth communication
Micah, a mom of two, communicated with her daughter before birth to help make for more comfortable labor and birth. "I was prepping her during labor and in all of our ultrasounds; her little hands were up by her face. And because my backup practitioner happened to be a high-risk OB, I got a lot of ultrasounds. Also, I consistently felt her little hands down low. Well towards the end of the pregnancy, as I was doing my daily labor visualizations (her getting into position, turning her head, going over the pubic bone, etc.), I would ask her to put her little hands down. And she did! What a helpful little girl I have!"
Lara, a yoga instructor, describes what she's observed in teaching prenatal yoga classes, "In teaching prenatal yoga, I invite the mamas to sing 'om' at the beginning and end of class to their babies as an opportunity for them to connect with their babies and for their babies to hear, feel and connect with the vibration of their mama's voice. (This also serves as a way to center and ground themselves, and find comfort in their own voices, which is great practice for labor and delivery!) Also, my Indian students wear multitudes of metal bangles on their wrists, which they explained to me is so their babies will hear it in utero and then identify it and be comforted by it in association with their mamas after they are born. I love that tradition.
Mom Mindy recalls that she enjoyed dancing with her babies in utero. "I remember having some verbal conversations with them, too, and they would kick in response. Sometimes, I would push different parts of my belly to talk to them, too. And my firstborn named himself. We were trying to decide on names and he'd be really still for all these different names but flip and dance when I said his name."
Heather explains how connecting with her daughter via music in the womb may have helped her daughter cope in the NICU. "We had a wind-up stuffed giraffe that we played for our little girl before she was born. After a few weeks of playing it for her, she started kicking to the sound every time. When she was earth side, we knew she recognized the music because during her NICU stay the nurses noticed playing it would soothe her if she was crying."
Likewise Stacie's son used sound to help him once he was born. "I used a sound machine to fall asleep while pregnant with L. I always listened to the ocean sound. We took the machine with us to Hopkins when he had a really long stay and was going to be in traction. He always settled when he heard it. Could've just been the white noise, I guess, but he seemed to recognize it."
Mary Kathryn, mom of one and expecting another, describes her relationship with her second baby. "I've been a lot more aware of communicating with the baby during this pregnancy than I was during my first, even though it wasn't a totally foreign concept the first time around. As an outgrowth of my HypnoBirthing® experience, I found a hypnosis CD that is about connecting with your baby before birth. I've also been a lot more aware of "internal" communication with the baby, and remembering that he/she feels my emotions. Whenever I get angry or frustrated, I try to remember to stop and talk to the baby and say essentially, 'it's not you, it's me.'"
A word from the expert
Pam Yenawine, a Diplomate Certified CranioSacral Therapist practicing in Louisville, Kentucky, suggests that pre-birth parenting is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to pre-birth communication. Conscious, deliberate, loving interaction as soon as you know you are pregnant is vital, yes. But Pam explains how so much happens even before conception. "The womb is not a static receptacle. The womb is part of the whole person who is the woman, who becomes a mother. Therefore, everything that the woman has ever experienced is contained within the cells of her body. For example, if the woman has had disease, trauma, sexual molestation or an accident — at any time in her life, just to name a few — the baby in the womb "receives" however that trauma is stored within the body. The baby "knows" everything about the mother's body/life."
We now know that whatever a mother physically puts into her body crosses the placenta in some regard. So too it is true of emotions. For better or worse emotions — in the form of endorphins and stress hormones — do cross the placenta. Pam says, "A growing fetus is part of the whole system of the mother's body. The aches and pains, the memories and the emotions that the mother carries are shared with the baby. The baby has already begun to learn about pain, and compensation, about emotional tension, and happiness, peace, serenity, etc. and the very unique chemical/biological factors that accompany them. The baby's nervous system is being 'trained' inside the mother."
In her practice, Pam works with pregnant mothers to promote healthy bonding and to heal past traumas. "When I have the privilege of working with a pregnant mom, we also take the time to allow any 'holdings' from her own gestation, birth and childhood on to shift. While we cannot change what actually happened in the past, the body can change the 'charge' of that memory and how it is held in the body. Once a child is born, if there are any challenges, and especially if there were challenges during pregnancy and birth, then I work with Mom, Baby and Dad, if at all possible, to guide them in shifting any patterns or behaviors that are outcomes and to consciously create more 'health' together."
By being aware of the prenatal connection with our babies — we offer them positive feelings. We are telling them they are wanted. They are loved. We are telling them they are coming into a world where they can feel secure in knowing those two things. From that standpoint, pre-birth communication couldn't be more important. How will you use your nine-month — give or take — window of opportunity?
^ For more information on pre-birth parenting, visit Birth Psychology: The Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health.