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11 Ideas to Share with Families that Encourage Father-Baby Bonding

June 12th, 2014 by avatar
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With Father’s Day right around the corner, now is a great time to check in with your curriculum and confirm that you share lots of information on how fathers can connect with their new babies.  In the early days and weeks after birth, mothers spend a lot of time with their newborns, getting breastfeeding well established and recovering from childbirth with their babies by their side.  And this is as it should be.  Fathers often can feel left out or excluded, simply because of frequent nursings and the comfort that babies get from being close to their mothers.

It is good to share with fathers that there are many ways to connect and bond with their newborns and young infants.  I like to cover many of these topics throughout my childbirth education classes, so that the fathers leave feeling excited and positive about connecting with their children in these very special ways.

1. Early interaction

Connecting fathers and their newborns early in the first hours can help cement the bond between a father and his child.  Dr. John Klaus and Phyllis Klaus, in their book, “Your Amazing Newborn” state that when a father is given the opportunity to play with his newborn in the first hours after birth, and make eye to eye contact, he spends considerably more time with his child in the first three months than fathers who did not have this intimate connection in the first hours.  When the mother gets up to take her first shower is a wonderful time for fathers to share this early bonding time with their newborns.

2. Skin to skin

The benefits of skin to skin with a newborn are well known; temperature regulation, stress reduction, stabilization of blood sugar, release of oxytocin (the love hormone), comfort and security.  Fathers can and should have skin to skin time with their newborns as soon as it makes sense to do so.  Getting a new father settled in a comfortable chair, with his shirt off, a naked baby on his chest and both of them covered by a cozy blanket is a wonderful opportunity for both of them to benefit from the oxytocin release that will occur.  And is there really anything better than the smell and touch of a just born baby?

3. Singing to baby

Penny Simkin has written here before on the benefits to singing to your baby in utero, and then using that familiar song once baby has been born to calm and sooth the newborn.  Fathers can choose a special song or two and sing it to the baby  frequently during pregnancy, and then that can become his special song to sing to the baby on the outside. A wonderful opportunity for connection and bonding between the two.

4. Bathing with baby

New babies love nothing more than taking a bath safely cradled in the arms of a parent.  While most newborns don’t require frequent bathing, having the father take a bath in body temperature water with the baby on their chest is a wonderful way to relax and bond.  The baby feels secure and comforted and the father can enjoy a relaxing bath while focusing on enjoying time with their newborn.  Remember, safety first!  Always have another adult available to hand the baby off to when entering and exiting the tub.  Babies are slippery when wet.

5. Paternity leave

While the United States is hardly known for its generous leave for parents after the birth of a baby, both mothers and fathers are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off in the first year after the birth (or adoption) of a child according to the Family and Medical Leave Act and still have job protection.  Fathers can plan to utilize this benefit and even consider using some of this leave when (and if) the mother returns to work, taking the opportunity to be the primary parent for a period of time. Planning ahead for this leave both from a financial and workload standpoint would be helpful.

6. Reading to baby

Fathers can make time everyday to read to their baby.  Certainly, when very young, the baby is not understanding the words, but nevertheless, newborns and young infants are fascinated with the sound of human voices and are very comforted by being held close and listening to the voice of their father, safe and familiar.  In the beginning, it is not even important what is being read, just that time is set aside to do so.  Read your favorite novel, magazine or newspaper if you like!  As the baby gets a bit older, you can start reading more age appropriate books with pictures that are attractive to infants.

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7. Babywearing

Babywearing offers a great opportunity for fathers and babies (even newborns) to connect and bond.  Most babies love to be worn, and when a father does so safely it is a chance to further strengthen the bond between a father and his child.  Additionally, wearing a baby makes it easy to be out in public or doing tasks and chores around the home, or even working, depending on what type of job the father may have.  There are many types of carriers on the market and families should always make sure they are using a carrier safely and responsibly, and that it fits both father and baby well.  In my classroom, I have several different types of baby carriers hung on a wall, for families to try and I provide a weighted doll so that folks can get an idea of what it really feels like.

8. Exercising

Fathers can find ways to get their much needed exercise in while also spending time with their baby.  When their baby is very young, talking the baby for a walk, in a baby carrier or a stroller, is a great way to get out and burn some calories while being with their child.  As the baby gets older, putting them in a child seat on a bike, using a jogging stroller, or a bike trailer, is another alternative allowing dad to pick up the pace.  Consideration should always be taken to follow the instructions and age/weight guidelines that come with the equipment to prevent injury to the child.

9. Establish returning home rituals

Returning home from work after a long day offers fathers a chance to connect with and bond with their baby.  Encourage fathers to have a clear transition from work to home and taking a deep breath before getting ready to be fully present with their baby when they walk in the door.  Have a special ritual of greeting, welcoming the child into your arms and taking a few minutes to reconnect after a day (or night) of separation can make for a lovely opportunity for bonding and easing back into being home with those you love.

10. Father-child traditions

Fathers may want to continue traditions and special activities that they did with their fathers when they were children or consider starting some new ones of their own.  Going to the donut shop for Sunday morning goodies, Friday night family movie night, attending certain community activities and sporting events all offer quality time for children to further connect with their fathers.  Encourage the fathers in your class to recall the special traditions they had with their fathers or male role model, and continue the activities with their own children, or create their own new ones.

11. Parenting – not babysitting

One of my pet peeves is when I hear parents (both mothers and fathers do this) talk about how the father is “babysitting” or “watching” their children.  In my mind, a father no more babysits their child than the mother does.  They parent their child and sometimes that means being alone with the child and sometimes that is jointly with the other parent.  I model this speech by using the term parenting vs the other alternatives that imply that spending time with their children is not something that fathers regularly do.

It can be easy to forget, especially in the sometimes chaotic first weeks and months of welcoming a baby, that fathers have a lot to offer to their new child and it benefits both the parents and the baby to establish this connection and enhance bonding early and often.  Do you take the opportunity to share ideas with the families in your classes on the importance of father baby time?  In honor of Father’s Day this upcoming Sunday, recommit to encouraging these and other appropriate activities to the families in your class.  Please share other suggestions that you have for helping fathers to bond with their new babies.

Please note: I recognize that not every family is made up of a mother and a father, and that families all look different.  Today we honor the father in celebration of Father’s Day.  But a hearty thanks goes out to all the parents who work hard everyday to love and protect their children.

References

Klaus, M. H., & Klaus, P. H. (1998). Your amazing newborn. Da Capo Press.

 

Childbirth Education, Infant Attachment, Newborns, Parenting an Infant , , , , , ,

Texting While Driving And Texting While Feeding The Baby, Two Sides Of The Same Coin?

September 19th, 2013 by avatar

By Jodilyn Owen, CPM, LM

Earlier this week, I had the honor of attending a full day workshop on breastfeeding, presented by regular Sceince & Sensibility contributor, Kathleen Kendall-Tackett.  In one of her presentations, Kathleen discussed how breastfeeding is a right brain activity and when we give mothers lots of instruction and detailed information, rather than supporting the dyad in laid back breastfeeding, (thanks Suzanne Colson for this concept) we may interfere in the normal and natural process.  Then, the very next day, I read this post written by author and midwife, Jodilyn Owen, CPM, LM and I knew wanted to share it here. Both topics are about keeping infant feeding as a right brain activity.  Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility
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© mochamanual.com

I recently read some research on texting and driving that immediately made me flash to the reactions of a group of new moms,  when I asked them what it looks like when they are nursing or feeding their babies.  Almost all of them mimicked holding the baby in one hand and frantic thumb movements on an imaginary phone in the other.  That image has stuck with me over the past week as I try to sort out the connection between these two seemingly different vignettes—driving and breastfeeding. 

The fact is that mothers and babies now have a third party in their relationship—technology.  This is not new news.  It’s just that there tends to be a pretty rigid opinion from many professionals that moms who allow this third party to enter are neglecting the needs of the primary relationship between mother and baby.

In today’s world we have to know that technology is ever-present.  And then we have to work with it.  It’s terrifically difficult for a woman who may have spent her entire adult life in the work force tracking progress and time-to-target goals, explaining her work to others through the use of spreadsheets, presentations, and lectures with sources cited, and full color graphs and charts, to not bring that into her new life as a mother.  It is not unusual to show up for a postpartum visit and be handed a notebook full of information about a baby from a mother who is very skilled at recording data.  It’s easy to look at this and point out everything wrong in this approach.  But guess what?  This mother is just bringing what has worked really well for her in the past forward with her into this new relationship.  And that’s why we are here—midwives, doulas, nurses, childbirth educators, doctors, lactation consultants, postpartum help, support group leaders—all of us.  We are here to allow her to shine and to introduce different ways to be with baby.

It is an un-plugging that is as much a learned, and learn-able skill, as how to use Excel. We know that a mother who has learned to do everything she has to be successful in the workplace, can learn everything she needs to know to be successful with her baby.  It can be hard, and confusing, and there’s no “Help” button in the upper left corner of the baby.

Each mother will find her way, and it will be her own way, and it will not always look like some of the pundits think it should.  There’s no one prescription that works for everyone.  It really helps a new mother to sit with other mothers and hear their stories, and it really helps to have a professional in the room who does little more than nod and affirm a mother’s experience of her baby and her new life.  Hopefully she finds what works for her and her baby, and hopefully she is surrounded by people who celebrate and have awareness of just how enormous an accomplishment that is.

Now back to the frantic thumbs and feeding the baby.  Here’s what research is showing—that as we humans text, a few interesting things happen physiologically  Our breathing becomes rapid, shallow, or non-existent (we hold our breaths until we must breathe).  Our pulse increases.  Our temperature goes up.  Sound familiar? Many of us will recognize the physical symptoms of “fight or flight”, or the human body in the sympathetic state.  To be super basic about it, there is a massive release of several hormones in our body that prepare us to act to save ourselves.  And it’s contagious.  We share our hormonal responses, breathing and heart rate with others who are near us.

In all of the research and work I have done with kangaroo care with preterm babies and skin-to-skin with healthy babies, science and observation have taught us that this principle holds true.  A mother will help regulate her baby’s temperature, heart rate, and breathing just by being close to him.  One of my favorite moments in my professional life was the first time I placed a pulse-oximeter on a newborn and took him out of the incubator and put him on his mother’s bare chest, then wrapped them up together in a sheet.  I got to watch as the little machine confirmed what so many others had discovered before.  The system works.  Moms work.  Babies work.  Moms and babies work really well when they are together.  It was thrilling.

The connection between texting and infant feeding and driving is all about the physiological consequences of these activities.  We all know that if mothers are catching up on Facebook, they are not eye-gazing with their babies or talking to them, important emotional tending-to that babies need.  Now we know there is something just as powerful happening in the mechanics of mothers’ bodies when they use feeding time to get things done online.  But as any mother in the first year of mothering will pointedly tell you—there’s not very much time other than those times to catch up.  And socializing—even social media socializing—is critically important to many mothers so that they can maintain a sense of connection with people who speak in full sentences.  This is the world we live in.  Do many of us wish it wasn’t so?  Yes.  Do many of us wish mothers had the time and resources to unplug totally and just *be* with their babies?  Of course we do.  But we have what we have.

The real question is how to work with it—how to create a balance that works for mom, baby, and the mother/baby relationship.  So here’s my simple proposal.

Suggest to the mothers you work with the following:

Mothers, if you find yourself catching up while you are feeding your baby, take intentional, slow, deep belly breaths while you do it.  Keep yourself out of “fight or flight” and in the state so appropriately dubbed “feed and breed” or “rest and digest”.   Your body can actually only be in one or the other state at any given time.  Simple deep breathing will keep your heart rate and temperature down, and your baby will reap the benefits of your biologically soothing presence.  If your baby is awake for the feeding, take a chunk of the time spent feeding or nursing— even if it is only 3 or 5 minutes, to eye gaze, to talk gently, to tell your baby the story of your day so far, or a funny story from your childhood.When you are ready, take a deep breath, tell your baby you are going to catch up on some work or social stuff while she continues to nourish herself and then hit the Facebook, email, or spreadsheets (while continuing to breathe well).  Babies are really understanding people.  Just like everyone, babies do best when we communicate with them and help them make sense of their stories.”

If you are a professional—take a moment to teach the mothers you work with, in prenatal visits, private sessions, groups, or classes, this simple lesson:  that humans breathe too fast and shallow, and that our temperatures, pulses, and breathing rates rise when we are texting or using technology while trying to do something else that shifts frequently and requires a lot of attention. Teach them to intentionally take slow cleansing breaths while nursing.  Talk about taking some of the time while nursing to tend to their emotional health and connection with each other.  Tell them it is not about right or wrong, this way or that way, my way or the highway.  It is about balance. Finding the right balance for them, their family, their baby, and their relationship with those they love.  And oh, of course, no texting while driving, please.

References

Lin, I. M., & Peper, E. (2009). Psychophysiological patterns during cell phone text messaging: A preliminary studyApplied psychophysiology and biofeedback34(1), 53-57.

McLeod, K. (2011, August 04). Texting while driving: targeted for extinction. Retrieved from http://www.edmunds.com/car-safety/texting-while-driving-targeted-for-extinction.html

Park, A., Salsbury, J., Corbett, K., & Aiello, J. (2013). The Effects of Text Messaging During Dual-Task Driving Simulation on Cardiovascular and Respiratory Responses and Reaction Time.

About Jodilyn Owen

Jodilyn is co-author of The Essential Homebirth Guide, a guide for families planning or considering a homebirth.  She is a practicing midwife at Essential Birth & Family Center in Seattle, WA and is a wife and mother.  Jodilyn is passionate about bringing babies into the arms of healthy mothers.  She is a co-founder of Girl Sense, lectures for midwifery students, and gives talks to high school students about midwifery, birth, and babies. She enjoys hiking, camping, boxing, and watching her kids on the basketball court.  Jodilyn welcomes your comments and questions and can be reached through her website

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Newborns, Parenting an Infant, Uncategorized , , , , , ,

Remembering Dr. John Kennell and His Great Contributions to Mothers and Babies Worldwide

September 5th, 2013 by avatar

It was with great sadness that I read about the death of Dr. John Kennell on August 27, 2013 in Cleveland, OH.  Dr. Kennell, a pediatrician and researcher, had a long history of contributions to the field of maternal infant bonding and attachment, especially at birth and in the early postpartum period  

Every time a mother opens her arms to receive her newborn baby on her chest (in line with Lamaze Healthy Care Practice #6) at the moment of birth it is a credit to the work of Dr. Kennell and his colleagues, especially his longtime collaborator,  Dr. Marshall Klaus.  Dr. Kennell examined and researched the connection (both physiological and emotional) of the newborn and its mother.  As a result of his research, the practice of separating mothers from their babies for hours or even days after birth has all but disappeared in the USA and many places around the world. Prior to Dr. Kennell’s work, little was understood about the newborn’s innate need to be close to and kept with its mother as it made the transition to life on the outside.

Our results reveal suggestive evidence of species-specific behavior in human mothers at the first contact with their full-term infants and suggest that a re-evaluation is required of the present hospital policies which regulate care of the mother and infant. (Klaus, 1970)

Additionally, Dr. Kennell helped clarify the importance of families connecting with their babies who did not survive or died shortly after birth.  Suggesting that time to hold, examine, and say goodby to a baby who passed away was helpful in processing grief and coming to terms with their loss,  has changed how stillbirth and neonatal death is handled in our hospitals.  For babies who are in the neonatal intensive care unit, the importance of promoting mother-infant bonding and attachment is now recognized as a critical part of the care plan.

Dr Kennell’s research has caused hospitals to completely change the methodology of the birth and postpartum experiences for the babies born in there facilities, supporting contact during the first hours and instituting a “rooming-in” policy that allowed mothers and babies to stay together during the postpartum stay.  Even NICU facilities are accommodating parents with couches that turn into beds right on the units, near the babies needing care special care.

These observations suggest that there may be major perinatal benefits of constant human support during labor. (Rosa et.al. 1980)

Dr. Kennell was one of the very first scientists to research and investigate the benefits of continuous labor support for birthing women, and along with Dr Klaus, Penny Simkin, Annie Kennedy and Phyllis Klaus, founded Doulas of North America, which later became DONA International, a well respected, worldwide doula organization committed to training both birth and postpartum doulas and providing a doula for every woman who wants one.  Since being established in 1992, DONA International has certified over 8000 birth and postpartum doulas and has members in over 50 countries around the world.  Many, many thousands of women have birthed with the support of doula, enjoying the benefits observed by Drs. Kennell and Klaus when they first started their research, and documented again and again since then; shorter labors, lower cesarean rates and reduced interventions. (Kennell, et. al. 1991)

If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it. – John Kennell, M.D.

 

© http://flic.kr/p/tvZYD

Dr. Kennell was the co-author of several books, including ”Bonding: Building the Foundations of Secure Attachment and Independence” and “The Doula Book: How a Trained Labor Companion Can Help You Have A Shorter, Easier and Healthier Birth.” as well as a goldmine of research papers.  He was known for his gentle, caring and compassionate nature as well as his brilliant mind and wonderful sense of humor.

Please join me in extending the deepest sympathies of birth professionals everywhere, to Dr. Kennell’s wife, children and their families during this time of loss.  The memory of this esteemed doctor will live on in the work we all do to improve the childbirth experiences of women everywhere.  I am grateful that I have the chance to continue in some small way, the legacy of the brilliant contribution that Dr. Kennell made to women and babies worldwide.  Dr. Kennell’s family has requested that in lieu of flowers,  donations be made to DONA International or HealthConnect One. Dr. Kennell’s full obituary can be found here.

Please share  in the comments section, the impact that Dr. Kennell’s work has had on you.  He was very important to all of us.

References

Kennell, J., Klaus, M., McGrath, S., Robertson, S., & Hinkley, C. (1991). Continuous emotional support during labor in a US hospital. JAMA: the journal of the American Medical Association265(17), 2197-2201.

Klaus, M. H., Kennell, J. H., Plumb, N., & Zuehlke, S. (1970). Human maternal behavior at the first contact with her young. Pediatrics46(2), 187-192.

Sosa, R., Kennell, J., Klaus, M., Robertson, S., & Urrutia, J. (1980). The effect of a supportive companion on perinatal problems, length of labor, and mother-infant interaction. New England Journal of Medicine303(11), 597-600.

 

 

He is a featured speaker on this DONA International video. In it, Dr. Kennell

“If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.” 1998
The Essential Ingredient: Doula

shares his great respect for the doula’s role in establishing a strong foundation for mothers and babies.

 

Our hearts go out to Dr. Kennell’s family, especially his wife Peggy. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to DONA International or HealthConnect One, which were his passions. Further details about how to make donations in his honor will be available on our website soon.

 

Rest in peace, Dr. Kennell. Thank you for all of the gifts you offered up to the world. Our lives are transformed because of you.

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Doula Care, Evidence Based Medicine, Healthy Birth Practices, Healthy Care Practices, Infant Attachment, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Newborns, Transforming Maternity Care , , , , , , , , ,

Parents’ Singing to Fetus and Newborn Enhances Their Well-being, Parent-Infant Attachment, & Soothability: Part Two

February 26th, 2013 by avatar

Regular contributor Penny Simkin discusses the research around parents’ singing to their babies in utero and the post birth benefits.  She also shares how birth professionals can encourage clients, patients and students to start this practice during pregnancy.  Part one of this two part series can be found here. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

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What is the research evidence for postnatal benefits to parents or babies  of singing to the baby before birth?

• Fetuses can sense audio vibrations and rhythms early in pregnancy. Later in pregnancy they hear and distinguish various sounds. (4)
• They recognize their parents’ voices after birth (1)
• Newborns prefer their parents’ voices over the voices of strangers (1)
• Repetitive prenatal reading of one story by one parent every day for weeks results in the newborn’s recognition of and preference for that story. (2)
• Fetuses respond to music by calming, becoming active, changes in FHR (depending on the music) 5,6)
• Premature babies are calmed by calming music. (7)
• Newborns and young babies are calmed by familiar music, as demonstrated by the universal use of lullabies.

Combining these findings, a proposal

In light of all that has been learned about babies, I think we can combine it all into a simple approach to enhance bonding, soothe the baby, empower parents with their own unique tool that no one else, even the experts, can do as well as they. (8) I propose that we who provide care and education for expectant parents urge them to do the following at around 30-32 weeks’ gestation (or earlier or later):

Simple steps to singing to the baby in utero and after birth

1. Choose a song that you like and is easy for you to sing. It might be a lullaby or a children’s song, but it does not have to be. It can be one of your favorite songs or a popular song of the day.

2. Sing it every day. Both parents can sing it together, but each of you should also sing it alone much of the time. It can be played with a musical instrument some of the time, but it also should be played without an instrument much of the time.

3. When your baby is born, after the initial lung-clearing cry, sing the song to your baby. The baby can be in your arms or with a nurse in the warmer. If your baby is crying, try to sing close to his/her ear or loud enough that he/she can hear it at least during the pauses to take a breath.

4. Continue singing it every day, especially during times when your baby is crying (and has been fed; don’t use it as a substitute for feeding!)

5. Sing it when bathing or diapering your baby, when soothing or helping your baby go to sleep.

6. Sing it when your baby is upset and you can’t pick her up, such as when driving in the car and you can’t stop or take the baby out of the car seat; or at a checkup if the doctor is doing something painful.

Maia sings to her sister in utero ©Penny Simkin

If parents feel they can’t sing or are too embarrassed to do it, I suggest choosing a poem that has a nice rhythmic meter, and recite that to the baby. I recommend Mother Goose Rhymes or poems in books by AA Milne, such as “When We Were Very Young” and “Now We Are Six;” or Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and others.

Film clips showing baby’s reactions to familiar songs 

Recent students in my birth class took my suggestion to heart, singing “Las Mañanitas,” from their Mexican culture, to their unborn baby frequently. The dad would lie with his head on the mother’s pregnant belly as they sang. They even videotaped sessions while the mother was having a non-stress test that showed the baby’s heart rate steadying when the dad was singing, and rising when he was not.  We also see the dad singing to their sweet little daughter right after the birth. Though she cries pretty hard when being suctioned and rubbed with blanket, she calms down with his singing.

I’ve just completed a film for children (9). In the film, we see 4 year old Maia singing  ”Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to her baby sister before birth and again right after birth. Neve, her sister, calms down when she hears Maia singing the familiar song.

Enjoy these heartwarming scenes in the video below.

Conclusion

Maia sings to her newborn sister ©Penny Simkin

In conclusion, when parents sing one (or possibly a few) songs repeatedly to their child, before and after birth, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to build a unique, meaningful and fun connection with their baby. The child already knows and loves the song as sung by his/her parents more than any other song, sung by anyone else. Parents always have their voice with them and can use it to comfort, soothe, and play with their child for years to come. Parents have the opportunity prenatally to give their baby a gift that becomes a gift for them as well.

Singing to the baby before and after birth is a lovely and very special thing to do. Would you consider introducing this ritual to your students, clients and patients?  Have you already done so?  How has it been received?  Do you have any stories about parents who have practiced this connection? Please share in the comments section, I would love to hear about it.  If we all get the word out to expectant families, it could have a very positive impact.

References:

  1.  Brazelton B. Cramer B. (1991)The Earliest Relationship: Parents, Infants, and The Drama Of Early Attachment . Da Capo Press Cambridge, MA.
  2. De Casper A. 1974, as described in Klaus M, Klaus P, Kennell J. 2000. Your Amazing Newborn. Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA..
  3. Odent M. 1984, Birth Reborn. Pantheon Books: New York
  4. Klaus M, Klaus P, Kennell J. 2000, Your Amazing Newborn. Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA.
  5. Verny T, Kelly J. (1982)   The Secret Life of the Unborn Child. Dell: NY
  6. Chamberlain D. (2013) Windows to the Womb. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, CA.
  7. Lubitzky R, Mimouri F, Dollberg S, Reifen R, Ashbel G, Mandel D. 2010. Effect of music by Mozart on energy expenditure in growing preterm infants. Pediatrics 126;e24-e28. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-0990.
  8. Simkin P. (2012) Singing to the baby before and after birth.  International Doula 19(3):30-31
  9. Simkin P. (2013) “There’s a Baby: A Children’s Film About New Babies.” PassionflowersProductions: Seattle.

 

Babies, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Newborns, Parenting an Infant , , , , , ,

Parents’ Singing to Fetus and Newborn Enhances Their Well-being, Parent-Infant Attachment, & Soothability: Part One

February 19th, 2013 by avatar

Regular contributor Penny Simkin shares her experiences with parents who sing to their baby in utero and then continue after birth and looks at what the research says about this practice in this two part blog piece.  Part two can be found here. Join me in reading about some unique situations that Penny shares as she explores this opportunity for parents to bond with their unborn child.  - Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

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People have sung to their babies forever. Every culture has lullabies and children’s songs that are passed down through the generations. New ones are written and shared and the custom goes on –a rich part of the fabric of human civilization. These songs are designed to relax babies, calm their fears, or entertain and amuse them throughout childhood. As we have learned more about the life and capabilities of the fetus, we have realized that the fetus can hear clearly for months before birth, and also can discriminate sounds and develop preferences for some sounds over others. Furthermore, at birth, newborns respond to familiar sounds by becoming calm and orienting toward the source of the sound, and even indicate their preferences for familiar voices and words over the unfamiliar.

Newborn babies prefer their parents’ and other familiar voices over those of strangers (1), and they prefer hearing a story that their mother had read frequently in utero rather than an unfamiliar story or the familiar one read by someone other than their mother (2).  Fetuses hear, remember, have preferences, respond to, and discriminate among differences — in sounds, music, voices.

These exciting findings have inspired educators to advocate prenatal learning through recordings played through a mother’s abdomen (of languages, music, and other things). They have inspired birth activists and baby advocates to provide a safe enriching environment for the fetus. Advocates of prenatal bonding emphasize communication between parent and unborn child as a powerful way to strengthen the bond.

I’d like to offer my take on this phenomenon and urge everyone who works with expectant parents to tell them about some unique and heart-warming benefits of singing or reciting rhymes to their unborn babies.

I think my interest in parents singing to their babies prenatally began in the 1980s when I first read Michel Odent’s book, “Birth Reborn”(3). Odent is a French physician who has always been ahead of his time. He had a unique and original maternity care program at his hospital in Pithiviers, France. His book had a great influence on my understanding of normal birth, and the book is still worth reading today, along with all his subsequent ones. One lovely aspect of his program is particularly relevant to the topic of this blog post. The program included a weekly singing group at the hospital, attended by pregnant women, their partners, families with young babies, the midwives, and Odent himself. The group was led by an opera singer who believed singing to be important for fetuses, babies and those who care for them. Odent’s account inspired me to invite Jamie Shilling, a folk singer who had recently taken my birth class, to bring her guitar and her baby to my classes a half hour early each week and sing with the expectant parents. That went on very successfully for several class series, then the groups decided to combine and carry on in a monthly sing- along for expectant parents and new families, in a private home –Although the groups  eventually disbanded, they provided many parents with opportunities to sing together and connect with their babies and each other in relaxing and peaceful surroundings. A high point during that time was when Michel Odent came to Seattle to give a conference and he agreed to come to one of our sing-alongs. See the photo of Jamie leading the group of expectant and new parents, with Michel Odent and myself participating. He taught us the song, “Little Black Cat” in French.

© Penny Simkin

I couldn’t help but think during those times, how the unborn and new babies must love hearing their parents singing. Seeing the parents caressing the mother’s belly as they sang was heartwarming. That happened  in the mid- 1980s, when much research on the capabilities of the unborn and newborn baby was beginning to be published. Recalling those special gatherings, I have always suggested to my students in childbirth class that they sing to their unborn babies, or play their favorite recorded music, with the thought that the baby will remember it and be soothed by it after birth.

But it was one couple, whom I served as a birth doula, who took my suggestion to another level, and showed me much more about the value of singing to the unborn baby. They were having their second child, hoping for a VBAC. When they discovered that they were having a boy, they decided to give their baby the song, “Here Comes the Sun” and sang it to him often during pregnancy. The VBAC was not possible, and as the cesarean was underway, and the baby boy, crying lustily, was raised for the parents to see, the father began belting out the baby’s song. Though the mother didn’t have a strong voice under the circumstances, she also sang. The baby turned his head, turned his face right toward his father and calmed down while his father sang. Time stopped. As I looked around the operating room, I saw tears appear on the surgical masks.

It’s a moment I’ll never forget, and it was that event that taught me the value, not only of singing prenatally, but also, singing the same song every day. Not only does the baby hear his or her parents’ voices, not only does he or she hear music, but the baby also gets to know one song very well. Familiarity adds another feature to this concept, because we know that fetuses have memory and prefer the familiar. Think for a moment about what this might have meant to our cesarean-born baby –suddenly being removed from the warmth, wetness, and dimness of the womb with its mother’s reassuring heartbeat, into the cold bright noisy operating room. The baby’s transition to extrauterine life is hectic and full of new sensations. He cries reflexively, but perhaps also out of shock and discomfort. Then he hears something familiar – voices and music and the sounds of words that he has heard many times before – something he likes. He calms down, and seeks the source of this familiar song. Everyone present is moved by this gift to the baby from his parents.

I’ve become passionate about this idea as a way to enhance bonding between parents and babies, but also as a unique and very practical measure for soothing a fussing baby or a sick baby who can’t be held or breastfed. Please join me on Thursday, for Part Two on this topic when I will continue the discussion including research evidence that supports this concept: practical suggetions for childbirth professionals to share with expectant parents; and some very endearing film clips of families singing to their babies.

References:

1. Brazelton B. Cramer B. (1991)The Earliest Relationship: Parents, Infants, and The Drama Of Early Attachment . Da Capo Press Cambridge, MA.

2. De Casper A. 1974, as described in Klaus M, Klaus P, Kennell J. 2000. Your Amazing Newborn. Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA.

3. Odent M. 1984, Birth Reborn. Pantheon Books: New York 

Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Doula Care, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Newborns, Parenting an Infant, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) , , , , , ,