By Lauren McClain
From the moment we conceive of having a child, we are parents. We needn’t wait until our baby is in our arms to begin parenting.
We know from over 35 years of pre and perinatal research that unborn babies have an active intelligence. Though it may look very different than our own learning, our babies’ brains are developing life-long patterns based on their experiences in utero.
Babies can hear from about 22 weeks gestation. They perceive movement. Their bodies grow and their development thrives in respect to the hormones coursing through their mothers—and by extension, their own bodies.
They develop memories that will run in their subconscious for life.
Babies born to mothers who experienced famine, for example, are born expecting fewer calories. Their bodies have adapted. Babies who are born to mothers with highly stressful pregnancies are born expecting life to be stressful.
Babies born to parents who have bonded with them in utero, who talk with them, give them attention and love, are born expecting a loving environment.
Here are some exercises to try with your baby. Make them your own and find what makes you feel good. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.
Babies cry in their native language. The cry patterns of infants mimic the speech patterns of the adults who they have heard even before birth. This means that your baby is developing language and literacy before he is born. Talk to your baby.
Try: When you are driving home, talk to your baby about your day. At night, tell your baby the things you are grateful for today. End with expressing your excitement, love, and gratitude for baby.
Songs are another way to help language learning along. It’s one of the few cross-brain activities we do—both left and right brains required equally! Singing also lowers cortisol (stress) levels, raises the levels of endorphins, helps relax tense muscles, and improves blood flow. Singing is an act of self-care.
Try: Find (or write!) a special song for your baby. Sing it every day while you massage your belly and think about your baby. You may find that, after your baby is born, she relaxes or goes to sleep very nicely with that song.
Visualize your baby, packed into his uterine environment. Imagining his experience there, or visualizing possible experiences and qualities of your baby can help you connect. Forming this bond is calming.
Try: Imagine your baby’s spirit is a toddler and ask her questions. Tell your baby what you’re thinking and just sit and see if you can feel the answers or close your eyes and dream.
The only way your baby gets oxygen is if you get oxygen. When you’re tense and breathing shallow, your baby gets less blood flow from the tension and less oxygen from your incomplete breaths. A hearty supply of oxygen tells baby’s body that all is stable and removes restrictions on growth.
Try: Any of your favorite deep, slow breathing techniques! Imagine the breath going all the way to your baby. Inhale let your belly rise, exhale, release and imagine the force of the exhale pushing the oxygen to baby.
When Stressed, Tell Baby: It’s not you, it’s me.
Many pre-and perinatal psychologists suggest talking to baby in times of stress. Stress is a natural part of life. Reassuring the baby helps you and baby settle.
Try: “Mom is having a hard time right now, but you are safe and she is so glad to have you here with her.”
This is another aspect of visualization. Imagine your energy body is made of light. You can think of this as chakra energy, or electrical energy from, say, the heart. We know, for example, that the heart’s electrical energy is measurable up to 10 feet away. You can control where and how this energy goes.
Try: Close your eyes, breathe deeply, relax, and imagine that there is a shimmering light or energy field around your body. The longer and stronger your relaxation, the stronger the field. When you feel comfortable, send some of this energy to your baby, imagining a swirling light encircling and protecting her.
Whatever you love to do, do it with your unborn baby. If you want to keep doing it when your baby comes, let him experience it now.
Try: Whatever rocks your soul. Your baby will remember the rhythms of that movement postpartum.
Singing isn’t all! Any music you enjoy, play it with and for baby too. Your baby will recognize the kind of music you play and listen to from 22 weeks on.
Try: If you have a certain genre you love, that’s great. Your baby will too. If not, try experimenting with various kinds of music and movement to see if you can get a response. Maybe your baby loves reggae or samba. Maybe you do too, and you just didn’t know it.
If you are a big walker, your baby will recognize and be comforted by walking type movements. If you do a lot of kickboxing, baby will likely make those types of movements as well. Dance is especially powerful because it combines fluidity of movement with sound. Give your baby good rhythm!
Try: Pick a few songs that you like to dance to and do so a couple times a week in your third trimester. Partners can drum-pat on the belly.
Touching your belly in a loving way, giving yourself and baby a massage, will help you connect and de-stress.
Try: Nightly massage and chat sessions with baby. Ask about her day and talk about what’s been going on. Maybe recite a poem, sing, or just visualize your baby as safe, comfortable and loved.
Pregnancy is a time to treat yourself. You connect with your baby when you take it easy. Take it as a prescription for the beautiful and fill your life with fine things, good food, art, music, and love.
For more information, see the following articles in this issue of Pathways (#53):
Teaching Babies in the Womb (by Ellynne Skove, M.A.)
Bliss Before Birth (by Julie Le Gal Brodeur)