Whilst pregnancy is an incredible feat of physiology and a deeply personal, sacred phase of motherhood, the pragmatics of playing human incubator can certainly make it a less than magical time for many. Morning sickness, weight gain (cankles are my personal fave), stretch marks and hormones gone to crazy town…it can be tough in even the most routine of pregnancies to bond with the faceless being whose existence makes itself primarily manifest through your physical torment.
For all this, a new study reveals that cultivating the maternal relationship before birth – before you finally behold that squishy visage, making all your pains a mere memory – is integral for healthy infant development once outside the womb.
Cue all-encompassing guilt if you’ve not yet become besties with your unborn child.
According to a Queensland study, a link exists between an expectant mum’s low attachment to her babe-in-utero and certain infant developmental delays.
Researcher Grace Branjerdporn from the University of Queensland studied more than 700 mother and child relationships, and explains that the findings suggest an absence of connection between mum and baby during pregnancy could lead to difficult infant temperament (aka crying marathons ad infinitum aka a giant chunk of babies the world over).
“People may think a bond between a mother and child begins when the mother cradles their newborn in their arms, but it begins well before they have met face-to-face,” Ms Branjerdporn says.
The research largely illustrates a correlation between prenatal attachment and baby’s personality; it remains unclear what effect the bond has on the mastery of skills such as gross motor and speech.
So there’s always that silver lining.
Ms Branjerdporn maintains, however, that — “Early findings from our study suggest that mothers with a stronger bond to their unborn babies were more likely to have babies that were proficient in a range of skills.”
“The research provides the foundation for looking more closely at assessing and improving maternal-foetal attachment and giving kids a head-start before they are born.”
But before you have a meltdown over the implications of your less-than-cuddly feelings towards your foetus, the research paper emphasises that it’s the extremes of this type of disconnect – particularly experienced in those who have previously gone through perinatal loss (e.g. miscarriage) and are thus plagued by anxieties and fear of bonding – that are the more likely instances in which developmental effects are observed.
In short, it’s totally normal to not feel some spiritual oneness with your bubs prior to actually meeting him, and there’s likely little effect to be had on his ultimate wellbeing; yet if you feel as though you’re holding back from feeling something for fear of what might happen, you need to seek help – not just for your child’s future psyche, but for your own peace of mind.