Baby bumo

How to bond better with your baby

It’s not something many of us like to admit, but sometimes you have a baby and well, you just feel a bit awkward.

Yes you love your child because you have created them out of a usually loving relationship and your instinct tells you so. But from time to time and for varying reasons, you (and indeed your partner) might just not be able to bond straight away (and if this has happened to you, you’re normal by the way!).

However, the clever clogs at the University of Hull have developed an antenatal programme which focuses on emotional health which significantly improves expectant and new mothers’ psychological wellbeing and bonding with their babies. Hurrah!

The 12-month study evaluated the impact of the ‘Welcome to the World’ programme run by Family Links, and monitored 131 parents (96 women and 35 men) nationwide.

The programme focuses on topics such as empathy, loving attentiveness, infant brain development, healthy choices, managing stress, promoting self-esteem and confidence, and effective communication.

The study’s principal investigator, Catriona Jones, Senior Research Fellow at the Faculty of Health and Social Care for the University of Hull, said: “Family Links’ Welcome to the World programme appears to play an important part in preparing parents for parenting and brings significant benefits.

“For example, many new parents are not aware of the importance of forging a connection with their baby even during pregnancy. The programme increased their awareness of how to start to connect with their baby while still in the womb, by talking or encouraging other family members to feel the baby’s movements. In turn, this led to stronger connections which characterise the bonding process once the baby was born.”

The antenatal programme is offered by national emotional health charity, Family Links. It has been accessed by over 2,600 parents since 2015 and runs in children’s centres, schools and nurseries around the UK.

The study identified specific improvements in five areas: bonding and attachment, parental wellbeing, breastfeeding, practical care and improvements in attunement.

Attunement is the art of a parent being present and responsive to their baby through behaviour such as eye contact and mimicking behaviour. This helps to validate a child’s emotions, helps them to feel special and increases their safety and self-worth.

Dad can do it too

Researchers found that the programme had a positive impact on relationships with partners and increased couples’ understanding and empathy for each other. Women who attended the course suggested the programme helped their partners understand how having a baby would affect their relationship.

The programme highlighted the importance of “not side-lining men” in the process of pregnancy. Several women who attended the course said it helped their partners understand what they were going through.

 “The fact that parents engaging with the programme experience positive communication between each other, an understanding of their baby’s needs, an understanding of their own emotional health needs, a greater understanding of their roles as parents, and an increased understanding of the benefits of breastfeeding is extremely beneficial.

“Our hope is that more parents will be encouraged to take part in ‘Welcome to the World’ and antenatal programmes like this – so that they can also enjoy the benefits.”

The art of connecting

Family Links Director for Programmes, Sarah Darton, commented: “We have learnt a lot from this study and are delighted that the Welcome to the World programme is showing formative evidence of impact. The early relationship between parents and their baby provides strong foundations for the baby’s future development.

“Observing the way in which parents’ relationships grew with their babies during the programme was extremely rewarding, and emphasised the importance of bonding and attunement even during pregnancy.

We’ll be implementing learning from the study and planning the next phase of evaluation.”

Be wise to wellbeing

Julie Jomeen, who is Professor of Midwifery at the University of Hull and has an international reputation for research into maternity care, said: “We know the importance of parents bonding well with their baby – not just to the successful development of the child but to the wellbeing of both parents too. By evaluating the ‘Welcome to the World programme’ we have been able to establish that there are significant benefits to this antenatal initiative offered by Family Links.

“As a University, we conduct high-calibre research into maternal wellbeing, reproductive and sexual health, with a particular focus on psychosocial health and wellbeing. We are committed to making a difference by driving improvements to healthcare in the region and in the UK as a whole, as well as influencing international practice and service development

“It is research like this – which will bring real benefits to mothers and their babies as well as the wider family – which will be at the heart of a new health campus at the University.

“We are making major investments to enable us to deliver research and teaching that will have an impact on the lives of those living in Hull, the surrounding area and beyond. We are delighted to be able to work with Family Links to improve emotional wellbeing, self-esteem and support positive family relationships.”

Case in point

Louise Hawthorn, 24, is a parent who participated in the study with her partner. They have three children including a 10 month-old baby girl.   

Louise commented: “The programme definitely helped me prepare for having my baby. It was my third baby and I definitely feel like my partner and I have bonded better with this child.

“One thing I particularly took away from the programme the confidence to breastfeed,” she said.

“My partner was concerned about not being able to do as much as me, but because of the programme we’ve both bonded more with her.”

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