As an expecting mom, you’ve probably dreamed about what it might be like to feel a baby inside you, to watch your belly bump grow as you imagine life with your future child. Along the way, sharing the excitement and challenges of pregnancy with friends and family has always been considered a big part of this experience. How could we ever imagine that such a normal part of life would become so deeply cherished…and so painfully missed?
According to an article in The New York Times, researchers are now realizing the serious health effects of Covid-19, as well as pandemic life conditions, on pregnant women and babies. One study is currently tracking more than 200 women through pregnancy and for 18 months after childbirth, gathering data on the health of these women and infants.
Lead investigator “Dr. Jelliffe-Pawlowski and her team have analyzed the data from the first group of women, and they are finding ‘absolutely incredible’ levels of stress and anxiety…. ‘Sixty percent of women are experiencing nervousness and anxiety at levels that impede their everyday functioning,’ she said, citing preliminary data.”
In these strange times, when so many people are feeling isolated and lonely, pregnancy can feel especially difficult. Physical and emotional changes are being experienced in a vacuum. The social network of friends and family that have traditionally provided strength and support for pregnant women has been removed. Supportive hugs from friends and relatives that would normally be abundant are now completely absent. It’s natural to experience anxiety in such conditions. Yes, you are incredibly grateful to be expecting a baby, and of course you truly appreciate the amazing blessings in your life, but damn, this is hard!
Mama, it will get better. We promise. And you are doing the right thing by staying home and safe, as challenging as it may be. It’s true you’re missing so many of the joys that pregnant women have always taken for granted, but you are going to be okay. You are brave and strong, and we want to help you celebrate your pregnancy with a few little gifts that you can enjoy from the comfort of your home. Here are some treats that are not just fun but also important ways to support your emotional and physical health.
- Would you like a pregnancy spa day? Of course you would! Here are some fun and easy ideas from Everymum for creating a relaxing, soothing, pampering atmosphere right at home: DIY Prenatal Spa Day.
- Aromatherapy has been proven to reduce stress and create a feeling of well-being. Why not add a prenatal aromatherapy self-massage to your spa day? Here’s a recipe from Nikole at Health Nut Nutrition that’s safe to enjoy during pregnancy: DIY Belly Oil for Pregnancy and Postpartum.
- The stress of the pandemic is leaving many of us with a need for a cocktail. Here are some fun and easy mocktail recipes from Casey at DIY Playbook that are even better than the real thing: Refreshing Mocktails for Pregnancy.
After your spa day you might be in the mood for some decadently delicious treats. FittaMamma shares some extra healthy dessert recipes created just for pregnant women. Each of these yummies offers the extra nutritional boost you need right now, but they’re so incredibly delicious you won’t realize how good they are for you: Healthier Pregnancy Treat Recipes. Also be sure to check out the variety of mouth-watering healthy recipes developed by Victoria at Preggie Veggie.
- We all know about the powerful benefits of meditation. This beautiful guided meditation from Yogi Candi will help you to relax and bond with your expected little one: Guided Meditation for Prenatal Bonding.
- If you’re in the mood for learning more about how to bond with your baby prenatally, we’ve discovered some informative and interesting podcasts that highlight discussions with experts in the field. (Shameless plug: Jackie and Susan are special guests on the Stork Storytime podcast, all about reading to babies in utero!)
- Finally, if you’d like to connect with your baby by reading, you can start with Belly Books, written specially for the purpose. And then try singing the lyrics as a lullaby! As you know, research shows that talking, reading and singing to your baby prenatally creates a beautiful bond that strengthens and enriches your relationship with baby when he or she arrives.
So if lockdown has got you feeling like a fairytale princess locked in a gloomy castle tower, we invite you to turn that tower into a cozy sanctuary. Look at this extra time as a gift, and use it to connect even more closely with your baby without the distraction and noise of the outside world.
The more you can relax, the more your baby will relax inside you. The more you talk, sing and read to your baby, the more he or she will become accustomed to your voice. You can build memories and share love now, in this quiet time before the world returns to normal. When baby arrives, you’ll know in your heart that you helped each other survive and thrive during these months, and your bond will be all the stronger for it.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the ordinary little miracle that is happening right now. You’re pregnant. Countless women (and females of all mammal species) have been in this condition for eons. Today 4.3 babies are born on earth every second!
But no one else is carrying your baby.
And no one’s experience with this amazing process is quite like yours. So indulge yourself for a minute and really feel the wonder of it. Breathe a sigh of gratitude. You’ve been caught up in the excitement and the worries, the preparations and shopping, the fascinating new shapes your body is taking and all the strange (sometimes overwhelming) new sensations you’re feeling. Meanwhile, this little being is riding along inside you, enjoying the bounces and the taste of your breakfast . . . and (by the third trimester) eavesdropping on everything you say!
Yes, you are already communicating with your baby. He knows the rhythms of your body and your sleep cycles, your movements and stillness, and, most important, the sound of your voice. Compelling research shows that their mother’s voice plays a crucial role in babies’ growth and development in the womb. Long before you hold your baby in your arms, you begin nurturing him through the power of your unique voice.
Deepak Chopra writes about this connection in his beautiful book, Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives: A Holistic Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth:
The process is one that is called neuro-associative conditioning. Your nervous system anchors your emotional well-being to the vibration of the sound. . . . The rhythm and pitch of human voices are clearly perceptible in the womb. . . . An unborn child becomes familiar with his mother’s voice long before he emerges from the womb.
This early connection, which expectant and new parents sense intuitively, is now being proven by science. Research shows that babies in the third trimester can hear, recognize, and even remember sounds—especially their mother’s voice—and this stimulation plays a vital role in their development.
Studies also show that reading to babies in utero is particularly powerful. Newborns have been found to respond to rhythmic, rhyming stories that were read to them regularly in the last weeks before birth. When your newborn baby cries, you can read him a poem or story you’ve practiced repeatedly during pregnancy and he will be stilled by the familiar beat and the beauty of the voice he has been listening to for months.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have one more way of comforting your new baby when he gets fussy? If you start talking, singing, and reading to your baby in the womb, you’ll see his face light up when he hears you in person! Until then, you can know that he is already loving, and learning from, the sweet sound of his mother’s voice.
“If we aim to create a nonviolent world,” says Deepak in his book, “we must begin with love and nourishment in the womb.” In other words, if you foster calm and peace in your baby’s environment even before he’s born by communicating with him consciously, the effects can last through his childhood, perhaps carrying that deep-seated feeling of well-being throughout his life and sharing it with the world.
Imagine a world where all babies experienced this “magical beginning”! It could become a reality, starting with you. Now, that opportunity is a lot to be thankful for.
We at The Reading Womb are so grateful to all of our readers, and to everyone who has supported Belly Books, the first board books specially created to read to the baby in the womb.
It comes so naturally for an expectant mother to bond with the baby who’s sharing her body. For the expectant father, it might take a little encouragement. If you’re a new family in the making, right now is the perfect time to celebrate Daddy-to-be and his very real connection with the baby in the womb.
To experience this connection is deeply moving during pregnancy and amazing to witness after birth. And the effects can last for years to come!
- This study by the American Psychological Association found that patterns of bonding established before birth affected parents’ and children’s levels of stress and anxiety into the toddler years.
- This study found that fathers who took an active role in the early stages of their babies’ development led to their children performing better in cognitive tests by the age of two.
- And this one demonstrated that fathers who embrace becoming a parent from their child’s infancy are less likely to have children with behavioral problems before teenhood.
Talking to the baby in utero is one of the first and best ways for the father-to-be to start loving, caring for, and teaching his baby. From the third trimester or earlier, a baby’s ears are developed enough for her to hear both of her parents’ voices. It will help, of course, if Daddy gets close and speaks, laughs, and sings directly to the bump.
And reading aloud is an especially powerful way for him to share his voice. Numerous studies have shown that babies in utero can recognize and remember stories read aloud to them, especially in the last trimester of pregnancy. Newborns then respond to those same stories, especially read in the familiar voices they heard from the womb.
To get started, Dad-to-be can:
- Designate a special time every day (bedtime is great!) to snuggle up with Mom-to-be and take turns reading to baby.
- Choose a story that’s rhythmic and repetitive; the research says that babies respond best to stories with an inherent beat.
- Read the same few stories or poems every time so they—and Daddy’s unique voice—will become familiar to the baby.
- Watch the magic begin when the baby is born! The newborn will be calmed by the voices of both parents and will listen attentively to the story she’s already come to love.
Happy Father’s Day!
Give voice to your love and read to the bump! Your baby can hear you by the third trimester, and there is no better way to bond than through your unique voice and its loving vibes.
Emily LaPierre, children’s librarian on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, shows how much fun it can be to read aloud to your baby in utero!
A little over a year ago, we met with this dynamic and enthusiastic young woman who launched the Belly Babies Storytime program at her library when she learned she was pregnant herself and realized that expectant mothers, who can feel isolated on an island, needed a regular way to connect. We were bowled over by her dedication to both community building and the power of prenatal literacy. Read more here.
That beautiful baby, Aurora, is now 10 months old! Here’s how Emily recently responded to watching this video:
I teared up at this amazing video because it took me back to this time, that felt simple compared to now. Remembering how Aurora was moving around in my belly while I was reading this story, brings a smile to my face! Now, as she was moving around and leaning on my lap, with the same mirroring smile I had, she watched and listened to the video of me reading the story. Almost as if she remembered that moment! We read the story often, as repetition is key for babies to learn language, and she indeed LOVES it!
We’re so grateful to Emily and others like her who are making such great contributions to the cause of family bonding through preliteracy. If you haven’t yet tried reading to your baby in utero, please give this sweet and snuggly practice a try!
When Susan’s youngest son was around three years old, he made a pronouncement that is beautiful music to any teacher or mother’s ears. He had been sitting among a pile of his favorite titles, Polar Bear, Polar Bear by Eric Carle, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff, Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel, and the classic Pat the Bunny. Engulfed by books, with his favorite, an oversized Richard Scarry book called Busy, Busy Town open on his little lap, he announced “I love books!” Then, holding the book close up to his face, he added rapturously, “They smell so gooood.”
Although this same little fellow had been known to chew and lick books during his toddler years, we should not dismiss the message in his innocent wisdom. For children, reading is without a doubt a multisensory experience.
In this age of digital books and e-readers one can’t help but wonder, will the children of the future ever know that wonderful smell of a new book, the sturdy feel of a hardcover novel, or the soft sound of turning pages? Will the clichés “that was a real page turner” or “he always has his nose in a book” become obsolete? And what will become of the scratchy Daddy’s beard and soft bunny fur of Pat the Bunny? It’s just not the same, is it? The image of Susan’s young son smelling a Kindle comes to mind. Hmmm.
Think of the books you loved when you were a child. Do you remember reading One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish over and over, always finding something new in each whimsical Dr. Seuss illustration? And what about Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, with its full-spread illustrations, artistically placed text, and adorable ducklings marching across each page?
Every children’s picture book has its own unique design and reflects the thoughtfulness and inspiration of its author and illustrator. We are left wondering what the result will be when these well-loved titles are transferred to a digital format. Will the tangible, tactile, and multisensory qualities get lost in translation?
Chris Van Allsburg, author and illustrator of many favorite children’s books, including The Polar Express, said “on a digital platform they all get ground into the same thing.” He is referring to the uniformity of text and illustration on an e-reader, which imposes a standard font and page size. The thought of each picture book illustration being the same shape and size, shrunk or stretched to fit a standard screen, is a little unsettling for any children’s book enthusiast, or for anyone who treasures the idiosyncrasies each author and illustrator bring to a story.
Now, I’m sure you’ll agree that all reading is good reading, and that there may be times when an e-reader is appropriate for children. When traveling, for example, it might not be practical for a family to bring a child’s collection of favorite books. An e-reader would make it convenient to continue an established reading routine even on vacation. The future of digital reading in classrooms is also an exciting possibility; volumes of books could be made available to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to read them. And if you’re reading to your baby in the womb, she won’t know the difference! From inside the womb, an e-book sounds just like the traditional one. Uploading a fun selection of rhyming and rhythmic stories to share with your expected child would be quick and easy, and if this is what you need to get started, then go right ahead.
But once the baby is born, and she’s snuggled on your lap to hear that familiar story, your Kindle or Nook is just going to look like a rectangular hunk of plastic. Of course, the familiar story read by your unique voice will calm and sooth your baby, and that’s always a good thing. However, by sharing a real book with your newborn, a book with turning pages and bright illustrations, you will get both her auditory and her visual attention. You’ll also be setting her up with those prereading skills that we mentioned in earlier blogs, such as holding a book right-side-up and reading from left to right, to name a few.
Again, all reading is good reading. But if you want the very best reading experience for your baby in the womb or your newborn, there’s no substitute for a real, touchable, hearable, smellable book. It’s the total sensory experience that just might lead your child to joyfully exclaim someday, “I love books!”
We talked recently about Deepak Chopra’s beautiful book, Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives: A Holistic Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth. Another thing we love about this book is that Deepak devotes so much attention to bonding with your baby, both before and after birth. For example . . .
“Use all five senses to connect with your baby and create a nurturing environment for both of you.”
In our August post, we mentioned the very real sensory connection mothers have with their babies in the womb that researchers have been discovering over the years. For instance, this fascinating BBC article delved into research that “supports the idea that babies learn taste preferences before they are born” and why this link between mother and baby (human and animal) likely developed to enhance newborn survival. This Science Daily article cites earlier studies that showed that babies’ sense of smell also develops in the womb.
What about the sense of touch? Well, a recent study, “Fetal Behavioural Responses to Maternal Voice and Touch,” reinforced findings of earlier research that found that “Newborns preferentially respond to maternal voice hours after birth, suggesting that the fetus is able to detect stimuli in utero and form memories of them.” Yes! We never get tired of hearing our message corroborated by experts!
This study is especially interesting in that it also measured (through ultrasound) fetal response when pregnant mothers touched their
baby bump. The researchers conclude, “Overall results suggest that maternal touch of the abdomen was a powerful stimulus, producing a range of fetal behavioural responses.” We love how they put their findings into a family context:
Mothers, fathers and other family members talk and even sing to the fetus throughout pregnancy with communicative intent. Many report changes in the fetal behaviour as a response to such communication. . . . Similarly to talking to the fetus, most mothers and even fathers attempt to communicate with and regulate the behaviour of the fetus via stroking of the mother’s abdomen as a response to the kicking or positional movements of the fetus. Even the expecting mothers’ mood is affected by massaging the abdomen. . . .
And this brings us back to Deepak’s important advice. We know now that babies can hear, taste, smell, and feel from inside the womb, and scientists also find that they’re sensitive to light as early as the fourth month. But you also create a “nurturing environment” for yourself and your baby in utero simply by connecting to your own five senses.
Revel in the flavors of your breakfast, your fruit, your tea. Feast your eyes on the kaleidoscopic colors at the farmer’s market. Moon around the florist’s shop taking deep, ecstatic breaths. Luxuriate in the bliss of a warm ray of sun slanting through the window. And lie back in the comfiest chair in the house and let your sweetie give you and baby-to-be some loving touch. All this (plus the resulting release of endorphins, or feel-good hormones) will
communicate to your child, “All is well and calm and safe. Rest, relax, and grow, and soon you’ll join us in this beautiful world.”
If you foster calm and peace in your baby’s environment even before he’s born, the effects can last through the birth, the newborn weeks, the first year, and on into childhood. A “magical beginning” indeed!
Now please forgive a shameless plug for our book, Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, which takes you through a journey of the five senses with your baby in the womb. Read aloud these words that let you indulge your happy anticipation, and enjoy the colorful nature-inspired illustrations, and you’ll truly be connecting with your senses and your unborn child.
Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be
Reading to your baby in utero is a beautiful way to bond, relax, dream, and share the magic of storytime! By the third trimester, babies’ ears are fully developed and they are able to discern and remember their mother’s voice (and father’s, too) and recognize rhythms and speech patterns — then respond to the familiar story after birth! While you read the sweet verses and page through the gorgeous illustrations, not only will you be practicing the new skill of reading aloud, but you’ll be basking in feel-good hormones from bonding with your baby-to-be.