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Tips for Bonding with Your Unborn Child

QUESTION: I am 17 weeks pregnant. I know the vibrations of my voice can be heard within the womb and my partner enjoys babbling to my belly. Is it possible to bond prenatally with your baby? If so, do you have any tips?

ANSWER: The ear is the most developed organ prior to birth. The ear appears in the third week of pregnancy, is functional by the 16th week, and your baby actively responds to sound in utero, usually by the 23rd week of pregnancy. So babble away. Your baby is not only listening, but learning, too. In fact, language lessons actually begin in the womb!

Research reported by prenatal music therapist Giselle Whitwell in her article, "The Importance of Prenatal Sound and Music" (www.birthpsychology.com), points to sound as not only stimulating language development, but also links prenatal sound stimulation (such as talking and music) to later development of thinking and IQ. (It is interesting to note that song birds hatched from silent foster mothers don't sing!) Your baby not only hears your voice, but is learning the foundations of language to boot!

Your baby can learn to recognize the sounds of your voice and daddy's voice in the last month of pregnancy. And when born, your baby will be likely to turn towards the sounds of your voices over others. Yes, indeed your baby is listening to you already..your conversations, inflections of your words, the cadence of your speech patterns are already being absorbed by ears that are hearing from within the womb!

Consider these prenatal exercises to promote your bond to your unborn child:

1. Talk to your baby
Massaging your womb gently and talking softly to your unborn child is not new. Mothers have done it throughout time. But dads, too, can get acquainted with their baby prenatally, by talking through the waters, while gently massaging skin cream or oils that help protect the skin from stretch marks, for example.

Many mothers report feeling silly , at first, talking out loud to their babies in the womb. But, in private, you will easily overcome your initial embarrassment. Save time to talk to your baby, in the bath, or before you go to sleep. Make it a habit once or twice during the day to say something loving out loud! And why not ask your partner for a "good night" massage and verbal expressions of love and encouragement to your little one on the inside?

(And by the way, continuing to talk to your baby after birth is just as critical to ongoing language and thinking skills!)

2. Push gently on your baby and you will likely get a push back!
While there is no need to prod and poke, do gently touch your baby through the womb. In the last month of pregnancy, you are likely to be able to see a heel which ripples across your abdomen. A father can also push gently, to find a foot or shoulder, and the baby pushes back, automatically responding to your touch. Feeling your baby respond to your touch, while in the womb, can be very thrilling, when it occurs!

3. Play music and sing to your baby!
Music is thought to be pre-linguistic and contributes to your baby's foundation for language skills. Listening to music yourself, and singing tunes you enjoy can provide healthy stimulation for your child's development.

Be aware, too, that noxious sound stimulation which creates anxiety and fear can be stressful. So stay away from continuously loud and obnoxious sounds that create stress for you, rather than pleasure!

The ear is an incredibly sensual organ and your womb is already rich in sound...the beating of your heart, the rhythmic swoosh of the placenta, even the gurgles of your stomach are music to your baby's ears. These internal sounds are comforting to your baby, too. Remember that the function of sound is also to soothe. Lullabies are an example of the way we are soothed through our ears.

Speaking, singing and touching your baby through the womb all provide ways to begin your relationship with your unborn child. You are creating a loving prenatal environment when you talk to, touch and caress your baby through the waters of your womb. Do not delay. Express your love in words. Your baby is listening!

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com and the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com/music/, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Berkeley, California and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother. 

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