I was brought up with a constant dose of Ramayana and Mahabharata stories. My maternal and my paternal grandmother fed me all their learnings from the holy scriptures in the form of epic stories, mythical characters, and sometimes anecdotes. One such tale had a strong impact on me- The Tale of Abhimanyu. Most of us would know it, but for the benefit of what I’m about to share, I am going to give a short retelling. When Subhadra, Arjun’s wife, was pregnant with a child, Lord Krishna was having a conversation with her about warfare. He was explaining to her about the military formation called the Chakravhyu known to be the unbreakable formation, and while listening to this, she fell asleep. Then Lord Krishna heard the sound “hmmm” “hmmm” that her unborn child was making, signifying that he was listening to the warfare tactics. When the Lord realized this, he stopped at once. Years after this incident, during the war of Mahabharata, Abhimanyu successfully entered the Chakravhyu Formation, but he did not know how to get out of it and was killed. So goes the tale of Abhimanyu!
Most of us know Abhimanyu as someone who learned warfare in his mother’s womb. But how many of us believe it to be true? How many of us have thought of creating Abhimanyu ourselves? Of course, I am not referring to the mystical “Hmmm” that Lord Krishna heard from Subhadra’s womb or the fact that he learned half of the art of breaking the Chakravhyu and then got killed. I am referring to the fact that we as individuals start learning while in the mother’s womb. Did you, as parents, think that you can influence the personality of your unborn child? Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, fathom that you can make a positive impact on the mind of a baby that has not even breathed on his own?
When I got to know that I am going to have a baby, I put myself into a rigorous regime of a healthy diet, prenatal medicines, exercise, resting, and questioning every experienced person I know about what I should I to keep the baby healthy. Often my mother would say to me, “stop worrying so much”, “keep a calm mind”, “do things that make you happy”, “talk to the baby,” and “your happiness will affect the baby.”
“How?” I often wondered. I didn’t see how my mood and the fetus would be connected. Since I was on the mission to be the best mother ever, I did what every first-time mother would do. I googled! And to my astonishment, Dr. Google came back with a boatload of research about prenatal psychology and bonding with the unborn child, the effects of antenatal bonding, and lots more. There is so much to understand and learn as a parent.
As I spent my time understanding the week-by-week growth of the baby, I understood the importance of diet, folic acid, vitamins, proteins, and minerals on the growth of the baby. I kept myself updated about the tests and scans that we have to go through to monitor the growth and development of the fetus, who was now rapidly developing into a baby. And to my astonishment, a lot of the neurological circuit was in place even before the actual nervous system is completely developed. A primitive heart and brain were in place as early as just a few weeks into the pregnancy. Also though the baby could not listen or taste or see, it was still alive. This means it had some superpower to be connected to me, drawing everything from nutrition to nurturing from me – his first point of contact! Just in a few weeks, the baby had a heartbeat that would increase when I felt anxious. This is amazing.
It took me a great deal of research to come to terms with the fact that as much as a healthy diet and exercise were important, it was also imperative to be mindful of my thoughts, moods, and attitudes. This is because my heartbeat wasn’t the only thing my unborn child would mirror. Once I realized this, my research went up a notch, and I started scavenging the internet for more information about prenatal bonding. The concept that had echoed in the tale of Abhimanyu was staring at me in the face with research and facts. Mythology was backed with scientific proof, and suddenly, I was alert of every thought I have had since then. I, too, want a healthy and happy baby. So here is my understanding of prenatal bonding.
What Is Bonding and Why Is It Important?
The most relevant meaning of bonding is ‘to join or be joined securely to something else’ or ‘to establish a relationship or link with someone based on shared feelings, interests, or experiences.’
In the case of expecting mothers, it means to establish a connection with the life inside of you. It means to be prepared to welcome a new human into your world and be able to express your feelings to the unborn being. It means to identify this part of you as an individual with emotions and understanding.
To try and reflect, one of the more creative adaptations of the concept of “BOND” is
- B – Being There
- O – Offering yourself to the cause
- N – Nurturing and Nourishing
- D – Dedication and Determination
Keeping in mind the implication of the parents’ behaviour (I say parents because the father is as important as the mother) on the baby’s development, the fact that their thoughts and emotions also affect the development even before the baby is born remains a truth. For example, a particular psychology association admits that they get cases of stress and depression as early as at the time of the baby’s birth. Where does this stress come from? Many children grow up with a feeling of being unwanted. It is common with the parents who did not want a baby or who wanted a girl but had a boy or where the family had a stressful environment throughout the journey of conception to birth. It is a fact, a rather scary one! If you search for it, there are many research projects across the world that show us why a positive and happy attitude is so important. We have some tools to battle this!
I was in a fix. How can you talk to someone who isn’t physically visible? It takes a lot of effort to train yourself to communicate your thoughts, even to the people around you. Then how can you open your heart and mind to someone you haven’t even met? I found that it was really difficult for me because I couldn’t even feel the baby yet. How was I to talk to it? But I was determined to try and do my best. So here are some things that I feel we can try to do to,
Read quotes or books that have a positive message :
Typically, I have been asked to read The Ramayana aloud. Easier said than done, I say! I am not too religious and would not want to read anything religious aloud or not! However, it is a popular belief that The Ramayana helps you have a baby like Lord Ram – the Ideal One! That’s what people from my grandmother’s generation believe. This knowledge is proven by research by a leading university. They got a group of pregnant women to read a particular passage to the unborn children throughout the gestation period. The children responded to the passage even after they were born. Their expressions changed as they heard the same words. If words can make a difference, why wouldn’t the child imbibe the positive emotions that the mother has when reading it or narrating it. Maybe it forms the base of their early memory.
Choose your words wisely :
Language is one of the things that the baby can learn even as it floats in amniotic fluid. Research proves that the child learns the language he hears in uterus much quicker than other languages. He responds to the words most frequently used by the mother and the father (after 20 weeks when he can listen to them). Hence, if you use a lot of positive and soothing words, it develops the base of a positive vocabulary for the baby. An unborn child in a nuclear family typically listens to around 5000 words every day. Imagine how many words te baby will hear when the mom is working or living in a joint family. Hence, it is really important to train your tongue before it lets out any edgy words!
Your voice is like music to the baby’s ears :
The very first sound an unborn child hears is that of the mother’s heart and intestines. Then it’s his mother’s voice. MRI and Ultrasound Scans say that the baby cringes when he listens to a high-pitched sound from the mother and post 20 weeks, from people around her as well. So using soothing tone while talking, in general, is a good idea. In my case, I cannot talk to the baby come what may! I am a talkative tortoise otherwise, but how do you talk to someone you cannot see? The simple way to overcome this challenge came to me as I was listening to this song, and I started humming it. It occurred to me that I can sing to the baby whenever I listen to these songs. It has words, it has a positive feel, and no matter how bad I am at singing, it has my voice! That was my first attempt to bond with my baby!
Music helps :
Introducing the baby in the womb to music is an excellent way to help them calm down later. For a developing brain, every day is a challenge. Many times, it will be shadowed by anxieties and worries that you have about innumerable challenges of parenting. At such times soothing tunes and rhythmic beats might help. Mozart was my first choice owing to the beats mirroring the mother’s heartbeat. The music you play should not be loud or too heavy. That might make the baby cringe. Personally, I feel having a few lyrics in the preferred language should help more. My nephew would calm down at a few days after birth listening to Vande Mataram – our national anthem. It was cute, but now I understand why! Verses and mantras are a handy choice too! Yoga and meditation with light music also help.
Talk about food :
When eating, describe what you eat. The baby is known to taste the food you eat post the 5th month of pregnancy. Don’t believe me? Well, in a study, a group of women was asked to consume carrot juice during pregnancy, while others had water as usual. Post-birth, the children of carrot juice drinking moms preferred cereal with carrot juice as compared to the children of water drinking mothers. In my mind, food is one of the best ways to introduce the baby to your culture. Describe the colour and taste of things you eat. Use safe spices so that the baby can get used to your palate. I agree that some foods cannot be a part of your diet, but most foods are nourishing. When you add positive thoughts to the cooking, presentation, and eating these foods, they also become nurturing. Help the baby experience your choices.
Apart from these small things, you can also indulge in art and explain the stuff you do. Engage them in every activity you have. I, for one, listen to and repeat a lot of positive affirmations. I don’t know if it helps him or her, but I enjoy saying good things to myself and in turn to him or her. It’s a calming experience, and for someone who cannot sit up in one place for meditation, a few minutes following the guided commentary is not a bad idea.
Having said all of this, I have to say that it is not an easy task. But even the awareness about this concept helps to prepare for a wonderful soul who is going to imitate everything you do. It helps train your mind to be calm and patient – qualities needed for the challenges to come. What we do and say, reflects in the baby, even before they are born.
I am no expert in psychology, prenatal workshops, or mommyhood, but I think there is a lot to be done to create my little Abhimanyu!
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