Psychology has so much to offer parents and parents-to-be to help them prepare for, welcome and nurture their children. Psychologists are interested in people’s behaviour and what goes on in their minds. In its infancy, psychology concerned itself mainly with people’s problems, but now it also promotes and celebrates their successes. Modern psychologists work in sport, business, and education as well as in health. We focus on proactively preventing problems, rather than waiting for them to happen. This was never more important than with parents and their children’s development.
There is now a wealth of information on how babies begin to develop their emotional wellbeing from being in the womb. They can hear parents' voices, and at birth will prefer and follow them. We know that babies can feel stress and that cortisol, the stress hormone, is involved in the transmission from mother to baby. So try to keep calm during pregnancy. Everyone has different stressbusters: choose one what works for you: a walk in the park; listening to music; a warm bath. Connect with your baby, stroke your bump, talk to your baby, and start imagining a new life with him.
Psychology has so much to offer during labour, as well. It is normal for first-time mums to feel a bit anxious at the prospect of birth. Any new experience is a bit stressful, but most are not as new as delivering a baby. Part of the fear is not knowing the boundaries of the experience and how you will cope with it. There are many techniques to cope with pain, and one of the most effective is to have a visualisation to channel and manage it. For example, many women find that as a contraction tightens, imagining themselves striding up a hill helps to harness the pain by focusing their attention on something both distracting and positive. As the contraction relaxes, imagine you are going down the other side of the hill. You can scale the heights of the scenic Lake District whilst your baby is being born!
When the baby is born, it is all about tuning in, getting to know them, and helping your baby to feel safe and also interested in the world around her. From a psychological perspective, these first years are when most brain development occurs. Getting a balance between helping your baby stay calm and providing them with stimulation is best achieved through reading your baby. Notice what helps them to calm down when they get upset and when they are calm and ready for play - how much excitement do they like? Their temperament will play a role here, as will yours! Psychologists are spoilt for choice in these early years – we can help with sleep, bonding, separation anxiety as well as how you feel as a new mum or dad.
I hope to provide information for parents on child development through articles and in responses to questions - once armed with this knowledge, it is easier to manage toddlerhood, school, peer relationships, learning, and even the teenage years!