Are you wondering how your behaviour during pregnancy affects your baby?
Well, I hope to be able to shed some light on that for you.
I know, I’ve been there… when you’re pregnant, you’re bombarded with so much information about what you should and shouldn’t do that it can be hard to have a guilt-free day when you can just think about what YOU want.
The last thing I want to do is to add to this cacophony of ‘recommended behaviour during pregnancy’, but I’d like to show you a slightly different perspective on things. This is NOT about all the usual stuff you’re likely to have come across. Instead, I want to share with you some of the more subtler ways that your behaviour during pregnancy can affect your baby.
Everything that I’m sharing with you is supported by research, but it’s information that rarely surfaces. It certainly didn’t in ALL the stuff that I read during both my pregnancies… and I read A LOT!
So today I want to share with you how your behaviour during pregnancy can affect your baby, in ways that you may not have fully appreciated.
If you like you might prefer to hear me talk through this blog post as a podcast. You can listen to that right here by clicking the play button below. You might also like to subscribe to the podcast and listen to it on your phone.
Here are the seven ways that your behaviour during your pregnancy will affect your baby:
1. Smoking & Drinking Alcohol
It’s widely known that alcohol and smoking are bad for the baby, and one effect is that babies who are subjected to a smoking and drinking mum are underweight and this is probably due to the fact that alcohol and cigarettes are known to suppress they appetite.
But, what’s not always known is exactly what happens to the baby when you drink. LIKE THE MOMENT that you’re drinking!
It can be easy to brush the comment “suppress their appetite” aside. We all lose our appetite sometimes, right? no big deal! But let me shed a bit of light on what is going on.
It might make you change your mind about that cheeky glass of wine…. and no I’m not one for piling the guilt on here, you know me by now… it’s about being conscious and mindful in our actions.
Alcohol causes a baby to stop liquid breathing
There was some research whereby mothers drank a shot of vodka. Once the mother had ingested the vodka, the baby stopped breathing. The baby would only start breathing again once the alcohol had cleared itself out of her system. For one shot this might be for just over an hour.
I never realised this when I was pregnant and I think if I had known that they STOPPED BREATHING (!) then I would have completely stayed off alcohol.
Who knows what kind of long-term impact it has on your baby if he or she not breathing for a few hours.
So now when we go back to that phrase.. suppressing the appetite.. perhaps it’s probably due to the fact that they’re no longer taking in nutrients through the amniotic fluid because they’ve stopped liquid breathing.
Smoking makes them breathe faster… probably so that they can get more oxygen from you. It also suppresses their appetite.
Alcohol can be pretty damaging around the time of conception too; If you’re drinking around the time of conception, then it can lead to an increased risk of malformations in the eyes, ears, lips, head and face.
2. What you eat… before you conceive
Diet is important when we’re pregnant. In fact, the healthier our diet during pregnancy, the better for both mum AND baby.
But what about just before you become pregnant?
There’s mounting evidence to support the idea that your diet before and around conception is also hugely important for your baby’s growth and development.
I came across two studies that shed more light on this; the Dutch Hunger/Famine study which shares the effect of famine on the mother and their babies, and more recently a British study in Gambia which shows the stark difference between babies born at differing times of year in terms of their life expectancy.
In the last study, one of the key reasons for the difference was the diet available to the mothers during their pregnancy due to them living off the land and eating seasonally available food.
3. What you listen to and hear
Researchers believe that babies start hearing at around the 18th week and by the 28th week the baby’s responses to sounds are so consistent that they’re extremely confident that interactive hearing is taking place.
There’s a story about a woman who went to a heavy metal concert and her baby kicked so hard in protest that she had to leave the gig and later discovered that she had a broken rib!
Another mum has shared that she had to leave the cinema when within a film about the Vietnam war, and another complained of intense kicks while watching Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Babies don’t like loud, thumping sounds; they like calming, gentle sounds
Your baby learns your TV and music habits. If you spend time watching the news, soap operas or listening to music when pregnant, then it will be familiar to them once earthside.
Singing to your baby. The lullabies you sing to your unborn baby have a remarkable ability to calm your baby post birth. I used this for my second baby and it definitely worked for me!
In one story from the book The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, a conductor shares how there were certain pieces of music that he was instantly familiar with on hearing for the first time… he later figured out that his mother who was a cellist had spent hours practising it when she was pregnant with him.
4. What you feel, they feel
If you feel anxious and fearful, so will they. The same goes for joy and happiness, they will feel it too.
If you’re mostly feeling the negative emotions then they will prepare themselves accordingly. From their perspective, they are about to enter a world that is fearful or stressful, so they need to prepare.
Physically, they are growing in a more acidic and toxic environment due to the high levels of cortisol that will be circulating your system. This can impact their growth and lead to a number of health challenges.
There is a lot of evidence that shows that stressed and anxious mothers are more likely to give birth to babies with eczema, asthma and hayfever and allergies. My mum was super stressed when she was pregnant with me and I had all three of those things! (I still do)
5. What you think
They know your inner thoughts. This doesn’t mean they think them, but they KNOW them. Your thoughts are like a radio for them; whether or not they adopt those thoughts is something else.
Let me just share a story with you of someone I worked with recently.
She came to me asking for help with her little 3-year-old daughter. Her daughter was a very fussy eater and when presented with food at home, would never eat it saying that she couldn’t. At the nursery, she would eat, but at home, she wouldn’t. Weird huh?
In my initial chat with the mum to try and understand the situation a bit better, I asked her about her pregnancy. She said that it was pretty good apart from the morning sickness. So I asked her to tell me a bit more about the kind of thoughts she would typically have in relation to the morning sickness.
“Oh well, I couldn’t eat anything!
It was horrible, it lasted ages in my pregnancy… but basically, I couldn’t face eating anything.”
Now isn’t that a coincidence? In the time that she spent in her mummy’s tummy, the little growing girl had learned that around mum, you can’t eat food.
As a fetus, she wouldn’t necessarily be able to compute the why. She would simply be aware of the constant thoughts flooding her mother’s mind.
This is where babies learn about the environment they are going to be born in, and they prepare themselves accordingly for survival. No wonder she didn’t eat at home, but ate at the nursery: there was no issue with food at her nursery.
Another aspect that I feel I ought to shine a light on here as it’s pretty important;
Your baby picks up on how you feel about them
So if your pregnancy is an accident as opposed to a deliberate act of conception, then they KNOW. If you keep thinking and saying things like I don’t want this baby… they will know.
If when you discover that you’re pregnant it’s a bit of a shock or surprise, and that you may have entertained those thoughts and feelings. Take some time to speak to your baby to let them know how loved and wanted they are; when you’re ready and able to of course.
It’s important that your baby is marinaded in love and desire. It’s these emotions that create an environment for them to thrive – whether inside or outside your tummy.
6. How you speak…
The other sound that is really important for babies is the sound of their mother’s voice, OBVIOUSLY!
French hearing pioneer Dr. Alfred Tomatis, explains that babies’ ears are more attuned to high pitched sounds than low pitched sounds. This is one reason why dads need to make an extra special effort to speak to baby – go up close the bump, speak a bit louder, raise the pitch of their voice etc.
But back to mum… it’s worth being aware that your baby hears your voice ALL the time. Dr. Tomatis advises mums to be aware of the impact their voice might have on their baby; if they have high, shrill, alarming voices, then the baby may learn to dread the sound of their own mother’s voice.
Whereas a calm, soothing voice will be much more pleasurable for your baby.
7. … and what you say
Given that your baby is aware of your thoughts and feelings, it’s not too far a leap of faith to accept that they will understand you when you speak to them.
Do you speak to your baby?
Speaking to your baby is a lovely way to connect and create a bond with your baby. And if you do so by assuming that they DO understand then it can help you to feel less silly.
I used to speak to both my babies while they were marinading in me and because I believed that I was being listened to and understood. It added a whole new dimension to the dialogue.
I say ‘dialogue’ because I would have conversations and my daughter’s responses would almost just show up in my mind… who knows where it came from but I never questioned it.
I hope that this list encourages you to think about your behaviour during pregnancy, but I certainly don’t want to lay a load of guilt down at your door.
Which of the things on this list surprise you? Are there any that have made you want to make a few changes to your behaviour during pregnancy?
If you’re interested in being conscious and deliberate about your journey to motherhood then you’ll love these posts;
Alexia supports families planning pregnancy and birth. She helps them to overcome their fears and feel calm and confident about birth and pregnancy.
Alexia also trains birth professionals in the Fearless Birthing, a unique approach to birth preparation that is ideal for those who have fears around birth.