You don't need to wait until your baby is born to bond with them. Pregnancy can be the perfect time to start forming an attachment with your baby, which is very important for their development once your baby has actually arrived.
What might babies experience in the womb?
At around week 18 of your pregnancy, your baby will begin to hear the sounds of your body, such as your heartbeat and your stomach rumbling. At 26 weeks, a baby may react to noises both inside and outside the mother’s body, and may be soothed by the sound of her voice.
The outside noise your baby hears inside the uterus is about half the volume we hear. However, unborn babies may still startle and cry if exposed to a sudden loud noise.
After 32 weeks, your baby may start to recognise certain vowel sounds from your language. Some research suggests that very early language development may begin before birth.
As well as remembering certain sounds from their mother’s language, babies may remember certain music played to them in the womb.
After around 18 weeks, babies like to sleep in the womb while their mother is awake, since movement can rock them to sleep. They can feel pain at 22 weeks, and at 26 weeks they can move in response to a hand being rubbed on the mother’s belly.
Ways to bond with your baby during pregnancy
Here are some things that might help you and your baby to start forming an attachment before birth.
- Talk and sing to your baby, knowing he or she can hear you.
- Gently touch and rub your belly, or massage it.
- Respond to your baby’s kicks. In the last trimester, you can gently push against the baby or rub your belly where the kick occurred and see if there is a response.
- Play music to your baby. Music that mimics a heartbeat of around 60 beats per minute, such as lullabies, is useful. You can also search online for relaxing or calming music.
- Give yourself time to reflect, go for a walk or have a warm bath and think about the baby. You may like to write a diary or stories to the baby about what you are experiencing.
- Have an ultrasound. Seeing your baby moving inside the womb can be a poignant experience for parents, and can help them to bond with the baby since it can suddenly seem ‘real’.
- Relax, look after yourself and try not to stress. Evidence shows that if a mother feels less stressed during her pregnancy, the health outcome for the baby is better. Your partner or a close friend may be helpful if you need someone to talk to.
How dads and caregivers can bond with the baby
If you are the baby’s father or other significant caregiver, here are some things you can do to help you become attached to the unborn baby.
- Massage the baby bump if the baby’s mother is happy for you to do so.
- Feel the baby kicking as often as you can.
- Attend ultrasound appointments with the mother.
- If you’re planning to be a support person at the birth, go to the prenatal classes, as well. Understand and discuss the birth plan with the baby’s mother and meet the maternity team. The more confidence you have in the pregnancy and birth process, the easier it will be for you to bond with the baby.
- Read and talk with the baby so they get used to your voice.
- Talk to other parents. Share your thoughts and feelings, and allow them to share theirs about their pregnancy and birth experience.
Older siblings can bond too
By preparing your toddler or child for the upcoming birth, you can help them to bond with the baby. This may involve talking to them about the baby, reading stories about pregnancy and babies, allowing them to touch your belly to feel the baby kicking, and preparing a gift together for the baby.
You could involve your child in preparation for the birth by taking them shopping for baby supplies or setting up the nursery. Your child may also like to put a piece of their art on the wall of the baby’s room.
Your feelings and the baby
You may find that instead of being excited about the birth of your baby, you are feeling stressed and confused. Your feelings during pregnancy can affect the baby too. For example, if you are feeling stressed, the baby’s heart rate will respond to this and potentially increase.
Talk to someone about your feelings and ask questions when you see your maternity team. Try to increase your support network and meet other expectant mums to share your experiences. Try to look after your own health and wellbeing, and make sure you get enough rest and relaxation.
If you have had a mental health issue before, or you are experiencing feelings that differ from those you usually have, you should visit your doctor as soon as you can. A range of treatments can help, including psychological therapy and certain antidepressants that can be used safely during pregnancy for moderate to severe depression. Your doctor will tell you which ones are safe or suggest another way to help you.
If you were already taking an antidepressant before you became pregnant, your doctor may advise you to stay on the antidepressant. You and your doctor may decide this is the most effective way to help your baby get the best start in life and it may give you the best chance of bonding with your baby.
Where to go for help
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Last reviewed: February 2021