Weeks before her due date, Laura Hendrix already felt close to her daughter. "I'd tell the baby just about everything," says the first-time mom from Greenville, North Carolina. Hendrix relished the tiny kicks she often got on her afternoon drives home from work. Her morning and nightly routine of rubbing lotion on her swelling belly also helped her bond. "The baby would move to where my hand was," she says. "I could feel her bottom and her back. I felt like a mom even though she wasn't born yet."
Bonding with your baby-to-be can be as natural a part of your pregnancy as hormonal changes and weight gain. Indeed, a recent study indicates that these early connections can have a lasting effect, because memory develops in the womb. Our tips can help you set the stage for lifelong intimacy with your child.
Like most expectant moms, you probably find that your hands automatically gravitate toward your belly -- whether to rub away discomfort or soothe the tiny ripples inside. You can also use physical touch to send love to your unborn baby, as Melissa Kirgis, of Douglaston, New York, did during her pregnancy two years ago. "Sitting at my desk at work, I would often pat my stomach to let my baby know I was there. He'd kick me and I'd pat back," she recalls. "After delivery, it was wonderful to have him finally in my arms, but I also missed feeling him inside me and our being together every second of every day."
By the second trimester, your baby develops the ability to hear, and what she'll listen to most often -- besides the beating of your heart -- is your voice: In studies conducted right after birth, newborns exhibit a clear preference for their mother's voice over those of others. Marilyn Schlitz, a new mom in Sonoma County, California, says she often talked to her son, Skyler, during pregnancy. "Moments after delivery, when I got to hold him for the first time, I said, 'Hi, baby boy!' He seemed to look at me with a clear expression, as if to say, 'So you're the face that goes with the voice,' " she recalls. Dads can get in on the action, too, by leaning in close to Mom's belly to sing a favorite song or simply chat about the weather. At this stage, the words matter less than your upbeat tone.
Research shows that as a fetus's hearing develops, he will also respond to music. "Most babies in utero react very well to the slow movements of baroque-type music, such as Mozart or Vivaldi," says Thomas Verny, M.D., author of The Secret Life of the Unborn Child (Dell). "Musicologists seem to agree that these rhythms, similar to the mother's heartbeat, have the most calming effect." Low-frequency sounds cross the placenta best; babies will even react to the rhythm of a drum beat. Janet Zwergel often listened to music when she was pregnant with her son, Zachary, now 4. "My husband and I would play everything -- classical, country, jazz, and rock 'n' roll," she says. "It was a great way for us to wind down, and I was convinced that the baby could hear it. Now Zachary loves music."
To guide yourself through this enormous life transition and bond with your unborn child, write her letters or keep a pregnancy journal. Such a record can also be a wonderful gift for your child when she's older, notes Carista Luminare-Rosen, Ph.D., a San Rafael, California, counselor and the author of Parenting Begins Before Conception (Healing Arts Press). "Imagine the thrill of reading about your parents' deep desire for and commitment to your arrival," she says. Laura Kimpton, a mother in Sonoma Valley, California, filled a journal with favorite quotes, week-by-week photos of her growing belly, notes on the highlights of her pregnancy, and even an in vitro photograph of her daughter, Kiley. "I look forward to my being able to share the book with her someday -- when Kiley's old enough not to rip out the pages," she says.
Your mood -- reflected in such physical signs as your heart rate, hormonal levels, and breathing pattern -- influences your baby-to-be. Just sitting quietly or focusing on your breathing is a way to de-stress and connect. "If you can relax, you'll have a different mix of hormones in your blood," explains Peter Nathanielsz, M.D., Ph.D., a Cornell University researcher and the author of Life in the Womb: The Origins of Health and Disease (Promethean Press). Marcey Bergman, a Chicago mother of three, believes her youngest was such an easy baby partly because she was put on bed rest for her final month of pregnancy. "I was calmer," she says, "and the baby probably sensed that."
Christiane Northrup, M.D., an ob-gyn and author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom (Bantam), has often watched a baby's heartbeat on the fetal monitor slow down after the mother relaxed during labor. "As the mom became centered, her steady, calm heartbeat let her baby know that all was well," she says.
Take time out to reflect on the person growing inside you. "In the classes I teach on prenatal bonding, I ask expectant parents to close their eyes and try to sense their baby," Dr. Luminare-Rosen says. "Those miniature movements in the mother's belly help parents get better acquainted with someone they've already fallen in love with."
Copyright © 2001 Diane Goldner. Reprinted with permission from the February 2001 issue of Parents magazine.