Transition to parenthood
Gaining an understanding of your baby’s brain development and the importance of a positive environment for your baby.
Did you know that how we respond to our babies
- Affects the development of their brains?
- Can help them to become happy and confident children?
- Affects how they respond to us?
In the first year of life the baby’s brain will be very much affected by the emotional experiences they have with those caring for them.
"New babies have a strong need to be close to their parents, as this helps them to feel secure and loved. When babies feel secure they release a hormone called oxytocin, which helps their brains to grow and helps them to be happy babies and more confident children and adults. Holding, smiling and talking to your baby also releases oxytocin in you, which helps you to feel calm and happy."
Baby brain development
Comforting and soothing our babies directly affects the development of their brains, helping them to cope with stress and develop emotionally. Attachment grows as we respond consistently to their needs, show them we care and have fun together. We can create a positive cycle: we respond more to our baby, our baby responds more to us.
The brain develops rapidly during the antenatal period and first years of life. During this time, early experiences determine the brain architecture’s sturdiness or fragility (Centre on the Developing Child, Harvard University, 2012).
Getting to know your baby in the womb and developing a closer relationship
Recent evidence about early brain development has highlighted the importance of building a bond with the unborn baby. Much emphasis is now placed on the "Transition to Parenthood” and encouraging parents to focus on not just the physical changes, but the psychological and social changes that the arrival of their baby will bring.
So why is the mother’s relationship with her developing baby so important?
Mothers’ who engage with and think about their unborn baby have been shown to bond well and encourages a stronger relationship with their "real” baby once he/she arrives.
What do you think your baby is experiencing in the womb?
Mother’s heart beat? When mum is awake/ asleep? What mum likes eating?
Consider alcohol, cigarettes, good food, drugs, other people talking/ shouting, talking to baby?
What can he/she hear?
How is your baby getting to know you?
We know that from as early as 20 weeks gestation the unborn baby can start to hear. The mother’s heartbeat becomes a soothing, constant, familiar sound along with parents’ voices which will be familiar to the baby. Louder sounds can make the baby startle and move about. Music can also be recognised by the new born from what they heard in the womb. For example: East Enders’ theme tune.
Activities to help your baby’s brain whilst pregnant
- Put on some of your favourite music and notice whether s/he seems more active or whether they go off to sleep
- Try playing gentle, soothing music while you are going to sleep. See if s/he remembers it and goes off to sleep after they are born
- Babies love nursery rhymes and songs – if no one is around why not sing a few songs?
- When you feel a kick, put your hand on your stomach and say its’ okay I am right here!
- Try sitting down and relaxing. Gently rub your ‘bump’ and ask your baby how he or she is
- Get your partner to do the same and have a chat with your baby
- As you go from one activity to another, talk to your baby as though she or he were right there in front of you. Say what you are doing. "Okay, let’s see what we going to have for dinner? Are you hungry?”
3 ways to enjoy closeness with your baby:
- The use of slings/soft baby carriers
- Skin to skin contact
- Infant massage
Babies who receive consistent sensitive care will usually begin to form a healthy secure attachment with their caregiver. Sensitivity and warmth in response to infants have been identified as crucial elements in healthy interactions.
Parents play a key role in helping babies to regulate their physiological, emotional and behavioural states during early infancy by recognising and reading their babies cues.
Slings / soft baby carriers
Using a baby sling or baby carrier enables the baby to be held close to the parent or caregiver whilst allowing them the freedom to continue with other daily tasks, particularly helpful if have other children to attend to.
Although it is considered normal practice in many non - western societies sling wearing is not as prevalent here in the UK. www.nct.org.uk/parenting/sling-safety
Skin to Skin
Try this with your baby, especially in the early weeks, and months.
Touch is important to our health and wellbeing. Dads too!
The touch between you and your baby brings you emotionally close together.
Place your baby on your chest, skin to skin. It can help soothe an unsettled baby, they calm on hearing the rhythm of your heartbeat and the warmth and familiar smell of your skin.
- Reduced crying
- Improves temperature regulation
- Improves parent-infant interaction
- Some pain relief effects
- Improves regulation of the infants’ body systems (so baby relaxes more easily)
Infant massage programmes have been identified as a beneficial intervention to support the early parent–infant relationship.
Research has shown a range of significant results including indications that infants who were massaged cried less, slept better and had lower levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol compared to infants who did not receive massage
Understanding your Baby
- Understanding your baby
- Baby Watching: Making sense of your baby
- 10 tips for staying active in pregnancy
- All about exercise in pregnancy
- Birth to 5 book - this book provides information on caring for children up to five years old and contact details for useful organisations. It is quite comprehensive
- The Pregnancy Book - you may have already received this or a link to it but this is another very helpful booklet for you to look at during pregnancy