Parenting Starts in the Womb
By Brigid Godwin
You may remember or may be eagerly awaiting your baby’s birthday. Undoubtedly an incredible day when you have successfully manoeuvred the transient states of pregnancy and birth and finally it is Day One of your baby’s life! You may have missed a few of the early milestones like the moment of conception. Usually by the time you’ve found out you are pregnant your baby already has a beating heart and is quite a way along making most of her organs. You have your 12 week dating scan that puts baby’s expected 'due date' in the diary (I can still remember my first baby’s due date, 19th September. She didn’t arrive until the 27th but there it still is, burned into my failing memory 15 years later).
From that point you may start taking a new interest in the comparative size of fruit and have a whole range of new apps on your phone. Another scan at 20 weeks and you may have found out what style of baby you are having. Your baby is considered ‘viable’ at 24 weeks. She can open her eyes to the darkness at about the same time that she starts to hear at 27 weeks. With relief she reaches ‘full term’ at 37 weeks and at 42 weeks she is annoyingly branded ‘overdue’.
But what these milestones don’t acknowledge is how much your baby is learning about the world whilst still in your tummy and how her in-utero experiences and the birth itself will have a fundamental impact on how she develops and on her wellbeing all the way through her life. This may sound like a huge pressure to take on, but once you know this, you can take some really simple steps to help lay down the very best foundations for your baby. Parenting starts in the womb.
There are several communication channels through which your baby gains information via you about the world he’s about to be born into:
Sound: From about 27 weeks your baby is listening. The womb is not a quiet place. There is the sound from your digestion, your heartbeat, your breath and the muffled sound from outside. Your baby not only listens to your voice but moves in response to it, beginning to lay down the foundations of speech. So it’s really beneficial to talk to, sing to or read to your baby and get your partner to do the same as baby will recognise their voice too. You may well find that they are soothed by the songs they are used to hearing.
If you use hypnobirthing then baby will also be hearing the scripts. They will learn that those sounds induce a state of relaxation, as they share your emotional state through the hormones you are releasing. If you listen to the scripts during labour not only will that help you to stay relaxed but it’s possible that they will also help your baby to remain more calm too.
Movement and Touch: Many times in a day you may find you reach for your belly in a nurturing and protective gesture. As your baby gets bigger they will be able to feel the touch of your hand and you may find yourself playing a game of ‘poke-kick’! Your baby’s birth is one huge intense massage. A vaginal delivery has a number of benefits: It stimulates your baby, making them more alert when they are born and quicker to feed. The squeeze through the birth canal helps to expel the amniotic fluid from their lungs helping them to take their first breath more easily. In many parts of the world massage is an integral part of the new borns’ daily regime. Babies that are not touched and held can fail to thrive. Gentle touch, movement and massage not only stimulates circulation and proprioception but are also the most perfect way to show your baby love and reassurance.
Once your baby is born, two of the most important developmental stimulus are movement and touch. Naturally we know this as we automatically rock, cradle and cuddle them. Why not start this stimulus while pregnant? Yoga, swimming, walking and dancing are all lovely ways to connect to, soothe and stimulate your baby through movement.
Hormones: All the hormones produced by you are shared with your baby. If you are in a calm, positive and engaged state of mind then you will be producing hormones such as oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. If you are in high states of stress then you will be producing high levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Babies who are exposed to high levels of stress hormones in utero can have a lower birth weight, be more fractious, unsettled, clingy and more sensitive to stress. For most of us a certain amount of stress is a normal part of life, but long term and chronic stress can have a detrimental affect on your baby. If you are having a very stressful time at work, it might be worth considering taking early maternity leave. If your stress is being caused by something you can’t change, then try balancing your stress with meditation, mindfulness and relaxation techniques to bring down the stress and lift the calm in you and your baby’s lives. Gentle exercise such as Yoga, swimming and walking can also help to stimulate happy hormones.
Nutrition: Your pregnant body prioritises your babies nutritional needs so it’s obvious that eating well is a primary concern so you both get what you need to stay strong and healthy. Your baby is gaining a lot of information about the world she’s going to be born into via your nutritional health. Your baby will have a certain pre-disposition due to genetic factors but there are variables that can affect whether these genes get switched on or switched off. In a study available on the Primal Health Database, a group of adults who’s mothers experienced famine while they were pregnant, were found to be twice as likely to choose a high fat diet. This showed that the nutritional environment of the pregnant mother has a direct affect on dietary choices made by those babies when they became adults.
Mums who have digestive problems during pregnancy or who have antibiotics during labour or early postnatal which can upset the good gut bacteria are more likely to have colicky or unsettled babies. This is due to the microbiome in mums gut being passed onto her newborn who’s digestive tract was previously sterile. So baby gets bad bacteria and not good as a foundation. Poor gut health can cause problems like wind, tummy ache, and poor absorption of nutrients and a classic colicky baby. Taking a very good probiotic in the third trimester and postnatally can really help both you and your baby too if you are breastfeeding. A probiotic can be added to your baby’s formula if she is bottle fed.
Psychic: We’ve all had that feeling of knowing when someone is looking at you even though you can’t see them. It’s the same part of you that can pick up on an ‘atmosphere’ in a room or get a ‘funny feeling’ from someone. How many times have you been thinking about someone and out of the blue you get a phone call or message from them. We are tuned in to other information that is beyond the physical. It’s this connection that can become very strong during pregnancy and birth as our sense of intuition communicates information about our babies. Our babies are also communicating with us in a very basic way.
Parents very often express an extra special psychic connection with their children so why not take the time during pregnancy to harness this connection. Send your baby messages of love and excitement at meeting them. Creating positive thoughts around being a parent and birthing can also affect how you feel about things. How you feel about things changes how your body responds on a hormonal level. As we looked at before, your hormones can affect the functioning of your other body systems which can have implications for your state of health and wellbeing.
Hypnobirthing and relaxation at this time are fabulous ways to tap into this connection. There is a lot of research proving the success of hypnotherapy for pain relief during surgery, dental procedures and childbirth and for greater physchological stability. This illustrate the very powerful connection between mind and body and how empowering these practices are for mums preparing for a gentle birth.
So looking after your physical and mental health during pregnancy is the best way you can start being a fabulous mummy. Stay active, eat well, practice relaxation and do things that make you happy. That advice becomes even more important once you have your baby in your arms, but that’s a whole other blog!
Primal Health Database - Michel Odent
The Microbiome Effect - Toni Harman and Alex Wakeford
The Biology of Belief - Dr Bruce Lipton
The Secret Life of the Unborn Child - Thomas R. Verny and John Kelly
Developmental Baby Massage - Peter Walker
Pyschic Research by Dr Rupert Sheldrake - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YWiR6TRr4o
Hypnosis for Pain Relief Study - https://www.apa.org/research/action/hypnosis.aspx
Calming Colic - Christian Bates