Wholeness Healing Today

Attachment during Pregnancy

I have been thinking a lot about attachment during pregnancy as I recently learned that I will be a grandma in June and in August! So with the news came an overwhelming awareness of all those important details that matter for the baby during pregnancy. I thought it would be fun to follow the process a bit with covering some of those important points.

Remember that attachment is critical to the baby for survival. It is through attachment that the baby is taken care of, protected, and develops in a healthy way. Through attachment the child develops trust and then also the ability to be self reliant. This is the first stage of development to be accomplished after the baby is born.

It may surprise you to realize that during pregnancy, the unborn baby is already responding to the mother (and the father) in utero. One might ask, how that can be? Consider the fact that the baby is very much one with the mother, very much aware of how mommy is feeling, what mommy is thinking, and how mommy is responding to her environment. And the mother is very much aware that the baby is growing, moving, and changing in her body. The baby knows mommy’s smell through the amino fluid, experiences mommy’s preferences for foods, and is part of mommy’s environment, whatever that may be.

Pregnancy is the beginning of this process of attachment. And it is an important first step in the forming of attachment. First, as the fetus begins to develop, parents start to imagine what their new little baby will look like, what sex it will be, what name they may call their baby, and how the child will change their lives. They start to imagine their child, get excited for the child, and begin to think and talk about their dreams. They begin to get to know their child through this connecting time.

The relationship during pregnancy is different than after birth as the mother’s body is feeding the baby all the necessary nutrients needed while the mother’s body changes physically to provide for the developing baby and the mother’s hormones change to allow her to carry the baby successfully.

It is critical during pregnancy that the mother takes care of herself as this has a significant impact on the developing fetus. Taking care of herself is taking care of the baby. So as the mother: taking care of her mind, body and spirit is also taking care of the growing baby inside of her. And this filters down to the baby who feels loved and cared about. The baby is in tune with the mother and can feel that love and care being given.

Events that happen during pregnancy can affect the way the mother feels about the baby, which impacts the relationship before the baby is ever born. Consider the pregnancies that are not wanted or are ignored due to being in denial, or the mother continues to drink and smoke and how this impacts the baby. The mother is not acknowledging the growing fetus or is not caring about the child enough to give the unborn baby what is needed. Part of the process of attachment in utero is that the mother realizes that the baby is there and is an integral part of her body and the second task of the mother is to realize that the fetus is a separate individual. (Klaus, 1976)

As the mommy, take time to connect to your baby. One exercise is to sit in a cross legged position and get comfortable. Then place one hand over your heart and one hand on your stomach. As you inhale and exhale through your nose, focus on those positive feelings you have in your heart for your baby. And let the daddy join in this process by holding his heart and touching the mommy’s stomach to send those positive thoughts from his heart to the baby.

Evidence shows that the unborn baby does respond to thoughts. So that should tell us how important it is that the baby hear good thoughts about the anticipated birth, the dreams of having the baby in the mother and father’s life, the plans, the expectations, and the joy. The baby is being washed with the thoughts, so it is important to remember that at this time, baby and mom are one and what the mom thinks, the baby thinks.

Because of all our high tech ways now we know so much more about the fetus and its development than ever before. We know that the fetus hears and responds to voices and sounds in the room, reacts to light as it is moved from place to place, tumbles as mom switches positions and even tastes the foods mom has just eaten.

To take this one step further, experts now believe that these sensory experiences affect brain development and are necessary for the process in utero. We know it affects our young children after birth and this information is still new in its discovery so there is much more to really learn about the impact of all of this on the fetus. But what we do know is that the unborn baby can hear sounds as early as 20 weeks and will be startled by sounds at about 25 weeks. Some studies have shown that a newborn baby will be comforted quickly by a story read to them repeatedly in the womb or by a particular song (like theme songs from favorite TV shows watched during pregnancy). The baby is able to hear sounds so becomes aware of mommy’s voice, daddy’s voice and the environmental sounds. So we want these sounds and these conversations to be soothing and comforting to the child.

And although we really don’t know if more stimulation of the sensory experiences for the unborn fetus increases neural connections in the brain and enhances brain growth, we do know that it won’t hurt for the parents to be aware, attentive, and interactive to the unborn child. I talked about brain development for the young child in a previous issue. We discussed how interaction is important for attachment, talking to the child, and giving the child sensory experiences. These interactions and experiences do connect more neurons in the brain. Now we are hypothesizing that the same thing happens in utero. And it does make sense that if this is how it works after birth, it could very well matter before birth as well.

So if you are pregnant, listen to yourself and your needs as you are beginning the process of becoming a mother and being in tune with your baby and his/her needs. Take the time to interact with your unborn child. Talk to the baby, let him/her hear your voice, give him/her some soothing, tender, loving care. And pay attention to the environment. If you feel comfortable, then probably your baby is hearing and feeling comfortable as well. Play some music that is soothing on a regular basis, touch your baby, get dad involved in developing this relationship as relationships are what make the baby grow and develop. Specifically, the relationship with the baby and his/her parents, as this first relationship-with mom-will set the pattern for relationships to follow. And don’t forget to visit grandpa and grandma so that they can talk to the unborn child as they want that attachment too! And the child will have the benefit of “knowing” family before he/she is ever born.

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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