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“Bonding Before Birth” - what expectant parents should know

Posted on: 21 June 2023

The theme for this year’s Infant Mental Health Awareness Week (12-18 June 2023) was “Bonding Before Birth”.

Research shows the experiences and relationships we have in the earliest years of our lives, including before birth, impact the development of our brains. Stress and adversity experienced during pregnancy can have a negative impact on babies’ physical and mental health as they grow, but this doesn’t have to be the case. The services in place to support mums, birthing people, partners, and families in pregnancy can make a huge difference.

Care Group health visitor Hannah Spiring has written about the importance of bonding before birth.  Read on for more on this important topic.

Sensitive, nurturing relationships between parents and their babies are fundamental to emotional attachment and infant mental health. These relationships begin during pregnancy, but this fact is not widely understood or recognised. This early bonding also helps parents to be responsive to their babies after birth and helps to get breastfeeding off to a good start.

The quality of the parent-infant relationship during pregnancy can be a predictor of the relationship once the baby is born, and therefore is an important factor for children’s future mental health.

Pregnancy is a period of physical and emotional sensitivity, and there are strong expectations of how things “should” feel. This can make it hard for mothers, fathers, or partners to seek help when they are struggling to bond with their baby.

Bonding before birth is also a key area in the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) standards for Health Visiting, which the Health Visiting service was audited on to gain our BFI accreditation. Bonding has the benefits of helping the brain develop as well as building future relationships with parents and extended family.

Mums can respond to her baby moving, using this time to touch her bump or speak to her baby. Mums can also involve her partner, children, and any other members of the family they are comfortable with being part of this. If this relationship begins in pregnancy, evidence also shows that it allows parents to be more responsive to their baby after they are born and have more success with breastfeeding.

Further information

The Parent-Infant Foundation ask for action to support, strengthen, and repair parent-infant relationships from the very start. This can have a positive impact on our children’s lifelong wellbeing, mental and physical health.

To mark Infant Mental Health Awareness Week, The Parent-Infant Foundation have published the results of a survey of over 1000 women, which finds the NICE guidance on bonding is not being followed. The results can be viewed here.  

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend parents are given information throughout the pregnancy on how to bond with their baby and the importance of promoting emotional attachment. 

Parent-Infant Foundation has also put together a video which can be viewed on YouTube  and an infographic about a case study named ‘Bonding Before Birth’ which can be viewed below here

elearning for healthcare have created a new module called supporting parent infant relationships that can be accessed for free by searching their website and it takes around 30 minutes to complete.