How can I support the development of my unborn child?
One thing to be aware of is that as parents, we affect our baby’s development from the moment they are conceived. As a dad, your attitude and support throughout pregnancy can directly affect how your baby grows and develops in the uterus. It’s a pretty overwhelming idea, but one thing is for certain, all parents should give consideration to how they can make their influence on their unborn child as positive as possible
There will be different levels at which you can support your unborn baby’s development, and these will depend quite a lot on your individual relationship with your ex-partner.
However, whatever kind of relationship you do have, and however much contact you have with your ex, there will be ways you can support your baby’s wellbeing before they have even been born.
Mum and baby are one
When your relationship with your ex is not very amicable, or they do something to hurt you, or you blame them for the ending of the relationship, then it is not unusual to end up in the situation where you may want to retaliate or punish them, so that they have to also experience the kind of things you feel they have put you through.
However, when your ex is pregnant with your baby, and you care about your baby, this kind of behaviour is not helpful and in fact, can cause your baby who is an innocent part in all of this, issues.
It is common knowledge that mum can pass to baby things she takes into her body – alcohol, medications, bacteria in foods- they can all cross the placenta to baby. In the same way, the hormones and natural chemicals which travel around her body also pass through the placenta to baby. This means that any stress during pregnancy, can increase the production of stress hormones, which can easily cross the placenta to the unborn baby. Everyone experiences some stress in day to day life, and in moderation, these hormones cause no problem to your baby’s neurological development, but in excess they can have an adverse effect. Your role in not creating any additional stress and giving her as much support as you feel able to have a calm and stable pregnancy is really important. Creating a calm, stable home environment is integral to the physiological development of your unborn baby.
Without doubt, this is all much when you have a good relationship with your ex-partner, but regardless of the kind of relationship you have, if you are putting baby first it will mean recognising that for now, mum and baby are not separate, and to look after your child’s wellbeing means at least being mindful of your ex’s too.
Thinking about what your baby hears
By the time your ex is just over half way into the pregnancy, by around 24 weeks; your baby can hear sounds from outside, which includes music, day to day sounds, and voices.
Something which is useful to also think about it that this means they will be able to hear YOUR voice.
This is a great time to start talking to your baby if you have the kind of relationship with your ex which makes it possible. Doing this would allow your baby to learn who you are and bond with you.
This learning also forms the building blocks for what happens postnatal. Once baby is born, when you talk to her, she will recognise and respond to your voice from the times she heard it during pregnancy. Therefore, the more she has heard you during pregnancy; once she is here your voice will be more familiar to her. This is brilliant in terms of being able to calm her when she arrives – you can almost see it as putting in time now with your baby, to allow her to get to know you. This will make it easier for you to calm and soothe her when she is here in your arms.
See How can I prepare for becoming a dad for more ideas on how to bond with your unborn baby to support their development.
If your relationship with your ex is not that positive, it is a time when you might want to think about whether you are both able to agree and find a way to put arguments to one side. As already discussed above, your ex getting stressed is not beneficial for your unborn baby.
In addition to this, think about things from your unborn baby’s perspective – do you want the sound of your voice that they get to know, to be one which is shouting or arguing? Of course, there may still be times you have disagreements, everyone does and this is nothing to feel terrible about, but making an effort to also avoid these where possible, will have lots of benefits for your baby.
Of course, it is also important to be aware that there are numerous ways to directly impact on your baby’s physical development, and this can be a significant one to really think about if you are a smoker.
Passive smoking has been found in studies to have a serious potential impact on babies, even though the pregnant women are not smokers themselves.
Research from the University of Nottingham found that pregnant women exposed to second hand smoke, meant their risk of a stillbirth increased by 23%, and the risk of their baby having birth defects increased by 13%.
In addition to this, pregnant women exposed to passive smoke are more prone to give birth prematurely, and the baby is more at risk of low birth-weight and cot death. There is also some evidence to suggest a correlation with developing childhood cancer before the age of five, as well as other types of cancer later in life.
Certainly, this is a lot of information to seriously consider if you are a smoker. For the benefit of your baby, never smoke around your pregnant ex-partner, and be aware that you can also pass on the harmful chemicals through your clothing, your skin and anything else around you when you do smoke.
The safest way to make sure you do not cause your baby any issues through second hand smoke is to quit. To find support to stop visit NHS Choices.