Babies’ emotional health and wellbeing begins before they are born, especially in the last trimester of pregnancy.
Feeling a connection with the ‘imagined’ baby during pregnancy is an important foundation for the parent’s later relationship with the ‘real’ baby.
Psychologically, the expectant mother prepares by becoming preoccupied with the unborn baby while at the same time acknowledging the baby’s separateness. This involves holding on to her own sense of self and imagining the baby as separate with his or her own characteristics, likes, and dislikes.
The relationship with the unborn baby
The developing relationship between parents and their baby in the womb, also known as maternal (or paternal) foetal attachment (MFA) typically begins in the second trimester of pregnancy. Research shows that higher levels of attachment between the mother and foetus are associated with a closer relationship after the baby is born. This is important because the closer that relationship, the more likely it is that the baby will have a ‘secure’ attachment.
This means that mothers to be who are finding it difficult to think about the coming baby as a person, or to feel close to him or her may benefit from extra support in pregnancy.
Although we know that the relationship between a father and their baby is as important as that between a mother and their baby, there is currently much less research on the topic of paternal foetal attachment and the impact of this attachment on later outcomes for the baby.
What we do know is that fathers too are biologically and psychologically primed to become parents and that it’s not about genes, but about Dads who ‘step up’ to the task (Machin,A. Presentation at AIMH UK Bristol Infancy Conference, September 2020).
A father’s bonding comes through interaction with the infant post-birth, whereas a mother’s hormones can give her a head start in pregnancy.
AiMH UK Best Practice Guide
Guide 1: Improving relationships in the perinatal period – what works. This first guide focuses on the Transition to Parenthood (TtP). It looks explicitly at why the TtP is important and what the evidence tells us about some of the innovative methods of working that have been developed over the course of the last decade to support the couple in the transition to parenthood.
Download “Improving relationships in the perinatal period: what works – AiMH UK Best Practice Guide 1, Spring 2016” aimh-best-practice-guidance-1-perinatal-period-spring-2016-2.pdf – Downloaded 199 times – 214 KB
‘Getting to know your baby’ – AiMH video
Bonding Before Birth – Imagining the baby. This video in the publicly-available series of videos by AiMH UK, shows the way in which parents begin to develop a relationship with their baby before he or she is born, and the way in which this can involve imagining what the baby will be like. The parents’ relationship with the unborn baby is important because it appears to be a strong indicator of the nature of the interactions in the postnatal period.
AiMH has also produced an information sheet for members: