Interacting with baby—even during pregnancy—benefits you both for years, says study

For many mamas today, one of the greatest joys of pregnancy is the ability to chart baby's growth in comparison to the size of fruit. As silly as it sounds, realizing that teeny baby that was once the size of a poppy seed is now the size of something like a papaya (hello, 22 weeks!) is an incredible experience.

Now research is proving that those comparisons don't only provide moments of joy—and some interesting context during your next grocery shopping trip. It turns out that parents who have appropriately balanced views of their babies during pregnancy experience better connections with the child for years to come.

According to a study published this month in the journal Developmental Review, the connection between parents and their developing babies can be a big predictor of how attuned the parents will be to the child's needs after birth. Call it the power of positive thought, but the meta-analysis of more than 1,800 parents found that those who were optimistic about their future parental relationship and/or recognized the baby as a unique individual were primed to have more positive experiences in the coming years.

There was also a greater association between mothers with positive connections to their unborn children and their willingness to practice healthy habits, such as quitting smoking and attending all of the recommended prenatal appointments.

On the other hand, the researchers from the University of Cambridge determined parents—and especially mothers—with distorted, idealized or incomplete perceptions of their developing babies were not as sensitive to their infants' needs.

"Studies have shown that parent-child interaction is crucial for a child's development and learning, so we wanted to understand if there were prenatal signs that might predict a parent's behavior," says Dr. Sarah Foley, the study's first author, who carried out the research as part of her PhD. "This is a relatively new area of research, but could have important implications for children's development."

Although Foley says the data is limited at this point, she hopes the research will prompt others to explore how the prenatal connections between mamas and babies can affect their relationships long-term. This also underlines the importance of providing mental health resources to women, as prenatal depression or anxiety is the most under-diagnosed pregnancy complication in the United States.

By doing more to support our pregnant mamas, we're doing more to support children—this study proves it. So let's not (just) think about how big baby is in relation to fresh produce, but also how moms are doing as they prepare for this big life transition.

You might also like:

In This Article