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Bonding with the unborn baby

Bonding can be defined as an emotional tie from parent to infant. Bonding and attachment are often used interchangeably but they are different. Mothers ‘bond’ with their babies but the baby forms an ‘attachment’ to the mother.

The process of bonding may be stimulated by the mother feeling her unborn baby move during the second trimester. Fathers can begin bonding too as they begin to connect with their baby in-utero, watching and feeling the baby move, and ‘kick’ as he or she develops.

During the antenatal period pregnant women build up maternal representations or images of their developing foetus, and of themselves as a parent. This is particularly apparent between the fourth and seventh months of gestation, when foetal movements can be felt by the pregnant woman. These representations are affected not just by biological changes but also psychological and social factors, including the environment and relationships that the mother-to-be is experiencing. For example, research has shown that women experiencing domestic violence have more negative mental representations of their developing foetus, and that their babies are more likely to be insecurely attached.

This research highlights the need for the identification of factors that may be associated with problematic mental representations such as unplanned pregnancies, substance abuse, and domestic violence, so that women can be supported using early intervention, which we discuss in more detail in the final week of the course.

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This article is from the free online course:

Babies in Mind: Why the Parent's Mind Matters

The University of Warwick

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join:

  • Why babies need experiences
    Why babies need experiences
    video

    Watch this video. Professor Jane Barlow introduces the concepts of experience-expectant and experience-dependent brain development.

  • Interview with Tessa Baradon: Part 1
    Interview with Tessa Baradon: Part 1
    video

    In this interview Professor Jane Barlow talks to Tessa Baradon who is a parent-infant psychotherapist and Clinical Director of the Anna Freud Centre.