Was mom actually on to something when she gently instructed—over and over—to think happy thoughts? As it turns out, positive thinking during pregnancy might actually play a role in your baby's development.
Pregnant women have a lot on their minds. Should you switch your afternoon pick-me-up to decaf? Can you get your favorite sushi roll from the place downtown without raw fish? Should you give up your morning runs and do yoga instead? Are you eating enough? Are you eating too much? But the experience of expecting a child is about more than your physical health. In fact, a study published in the journal Developmental Review suggests that how a mom thinks about her unborn baby during pregnancy could potentially impact the way she interacts with the little one after they are born.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge were interested in finding out definitively if there is a connection between the way moms and dads think about their children during pregnancy and the way they treat them after they’re born. In other words, is it possible that these electrochemical reactions in our brains really do impact how our babies develop?
For their meta-analysis, the study’s authors looked at data from 14 studies involving 1,862 mothers and fathers. This research examined the parents' thoughts and feelings about their child during pregnancy through interviews and questionnaires, and then observed the interactions between the parent and child after birth. One of the measures they looked at was how sensitive the parents were to their child’s needs. Previous research has shown that attachment, or an infant’s ability to be comforted by its caregivers when it’s upset, plays an important role in the child's development and adjustment.
After combining the results from all 14 studies, the authors found “a modest but significant association” between a mom’s positive thoughts and feelings about her baby during pregnancy and her later interactions with her child. The same was not found for dads, which supports other findings that fathers take a little longer to bond with their kids, probably because of the lack of physical connection.
Sarah Foley is the study's first author; she carried out the research as part of her Ph.D. program. In a statement, she said this is a fairly new area of research that could help new moms better connect with their children. "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. Although we found a relationship between a mother's attitude towards her baby during pregnancy and her later interactions, this link was only modest. This suggests it is likely to be a part of the jigsaw, rather than the whole story."
While the research is limited, it certainly can’t hurt to spend some time bonding with your tiny human by simply meditating on what type of person they’ll become when they get older. That’s a better way to spend your time than worrying too much about whether or not you’re going to get a listeria infection from the deli meats you ate at your company’s holiday party.