"Both the pregnant mother and her partner may worry that it's wrong to have fears about the labour and birth. But when it comes to feelings, there's no right or wrong." – An interview with child psychologist Ingrid Svensson
Do you sometimes meet expecting parents who feel no bond with the unborn baby?
"As a psychologist in prenatal and postnatal care, I frequently meet expecting mothers and fathers who express concern because they feel no emotional bond with the unborn baby. Of course the reasons vary. For instance, the pregnancy might have been unplanned and the parent is not ready to face thoughts of parenthood. Or the parent might be worried that something will go wrong with the pregnancy or with the unborn baby. These worries can prevent the parent from developing a bond with the foetus."
What advice do you give expecting parents who are worried about their feelings for the unborn baby?
"I usually start by talking to them about the possible cause and encouraging them to put their thoughts and feelings into words. After that, we might talk about the baby. I try to help them see the foetus as a real living person. I might suggest they give the baby a nickname, talk to it about what's going on, write it a letter or imagine it in different future situations. Based on the baby's movement habits, we might imagine what sort of personality is inside there - calm or lively? Buying things and preparing the home for the infant's arrival can also make it seem more real. Sometimes I point out that the parents are already doing things that suggest a caring or emotional connection with the baby. For instance, the mother might put a hand on her belly when the baby kicks, or the parents might have found out what kinds of food pregnant women should eat."
Can you suggest ways of developing an emotional bond with the foetus?
"New parenthood is a time of radical changes, and many new parents feel particularly sensitive during this period. It's common for new parents to start reflecting on their own upbringing and childhood. Don't be afraid of any feelings that come up. Try to treat them with curiosity. Use them as an opportunity to reflect on your own childhood and what upbringing you want for your child. Do want him or her to grow up in a similar way to you, or differently? Addressing these questions is a step in developing an emotional bond with your unborn baby. By thinking about parenthood, you'll start thinking about your future child."
What is your advice to help parents feel as involved as possible in the pregnancy?
"My main advice to pregnant couples is to talk to each other. Voice your feelings, fears, expectations and worries about parenthood. Tell your partner what support you want and need from them."
Are there any sensitive topics that parents-to-be are reluctant to talk about during pregnancy?
"Fear of labour and childbirth is a topic that often gets avoided, both by the expecting mother and - perhaps most commonly - her partner. Studies have shown that many expecting fathers have strong fears and anxieties about the delivery. For instance, many fathers worry that something will happen to the mother or baby. Others fear being inadequate and not living up to expectations. Both the pregnant mother and her partner may worry that it's wrong to have fears about the labour and birth. But when it comes to feelings, there's no right or wrong. If you have fears or worries, it's crucial to talk about it. This goes for both of the expecting parents, not just the pregnant one."
Do you have any advice to parents on how to deal with their fears?
"Again, my first advice is to talk to each other. Share your concerns. Put them into words. It's normal to feel worried, but if the fear takes over there are various techniques for dealing with it, such as observing your thoughts. Worry often manifests in the form of thoughts such as 'What if...'. Next time these thoughts arise, write them down, and also write down where you were when the thought arose, what triggered it, how long you worried for and what the consequence of the worry was (what you did). In this way, you can start to take control of your worry. Often, worry is a way of dealing with difficult emotions. And as mentioned before, pregnancy can stir up strong feelings, which can be unsettling if you're not used to it. Mindfulness, or conscious presence in the moment, is a way of handling feelings. You can find more information on 1177 . There are many useful apps offering mindfulness exercises for parents, which you can download for your phone. You can also read books on the subject, such as "Vem är det som bestämmer i ditt liv" (Who's Boss In Your Life?) by Åsa Nilsonne. If your worry gets unbearable or at risk of getting out of control, you can speak to your midwife or contact a psychologist specialised in prenatal and postnatal care.
Is there a difference in the way the two parents are treated during pregnancy? Does this affect their transition into parenthood?
"Studies of heterosexual couples have shown that the mother and father are treated differently by those around them. Women have a much more structured transition into parenthood than men in Western society. Today, pregnancy is managed within a set framework by medical science. Alongside this medical framework, which divides pregnancy into clearly defined stages with regular examinations and visits to the midwife, there are also social processes that structure women's transition into motherhood. She gives up alcohol, stops smoking, wears new types of clothing and, if she works, makes preparations for going on maternity leave. Men, on the other hand, are left to structure their own transition to parenthood to a greater extent. Visiting the midwife and attending parent groups together are two ways of sharing the transition to parenthood. Others include preparing the home for the newborn's arrival, talking about the baby and talking to it in the womb."
Can the unborn baby hear when you talk to it?
"Yes. Studies have even shown that newborns recognise the voices of family members such as siblings and parents. They seem to respond best to siblings' voices, perhaps because young siblings speak at belly height so the sound travels straight into the womb. It may also be because young siblings have high-pitched voices, and research has shown that babies prefer high voices to low ones. Because of this, the partner might want to speak close to the bump and use a lighter tone of voice, something adults often do naturally when speaking to infants. Some parents tell me that the baby calms down and moves less when they sing or play certain types of music."
"When we refer to emotional bonding, it's important to distinguish between infants and parents. It's the infant that bonds with the parent, not vice versa.”
What is meant by bonding with the baby?
"When we refer to emotional bonding, it's important to distinguish between infants and parents. It's the infant that bonds with the parent, not vice versa. A newborn can't survive on its own. Its survival depends completely on being cared for and nurtured by others. If the infant feels in danger, its bonding mechanism kicks in and it seeks the protection of someone in its vicinity. The bonding mechanism has been likened to a thermostat that switches on when the infant feels in danger and off when it feels safe. In order for an infant to feel safe, it needs love, closeness and somebody to satisfy its basic needs for sleep, food, nappy changes and shelter. It's impossible to spoil a baby.
Prenatal bonding is the scientific term for establishing a relationship or emotional bond with an unborn baby. The term refers to the process in which the parent experiences feelings and behaviours directed towards the foetus, connects emotionally with the foetus and prepares psychologically for parenthood. However, it is technically incorrect to talk about bonding with the foetus, since it's not the parent that bonds with the infant but vice versa. It's the infant that needs to bond with the parent. Prenatal bonding can be more correctly described as a process designed to develop the nurturing instinct. Immediately after birth, the infant does everything to kick-start our nurturing system by demanding our attention, for instance by screaming and crying. It's no coincidence that we find babies cute. Just like kittens and baby rabbits, babies benefit from being cute and sweet because it makes us want to take care of them."
Can an expecting parent feel nurturing towards the foetus?
"Our nurturing system can only be triggered once we've got someone who we care about and want to nurture. Those around us can help by treating both parents as expecting parents, even though only one of them is physically carrying the baby. One study of fathers' emotional bonding with the foetus showed that they felt a stronger emotional bond when seeing the baby on ultrasound. The bond also increased when the father touched the mother's belly, although to a lesser extent than when viewing the ultrasound."