A Journey of Love: The Influence of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology on Parent-Child Bonding
Barrack, Christie, Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health
ABSTRACT: The purpose of this qualitative, phenomenological study was to better understand parents' experiences of bonding with their babies in utero and after birth, and to discover the relevance of a prenatal and perinatal psychology (PPN) based bonding class in this process. Five couples were recruited from prenatal parenting classes in Santa Barbara, CA, and interviewed in person 2-6 months after giving birth. Benefits of the class for the parents included developing awareness of the consciousness of unborn babies, learning methods for bonding prenatally, and finding ways to communicate with a newborn. Suggestions for the future included offering tips for healing after a traumatic birth, normalizing the postpartum period, and easing the pressure prospective and new parents feel. This underscores the necessity of PPN educators using sensitivity and creativity in imparting this new perspective.
KEY WORDS: bonding, attachment, prenatal education, parent, child, prenatal and perinatal psychology (PPN), qualitative research.
Parent-child attachment theory has been widely accepted since the 1970s as an integral foundation to the health and well-being of infants, children, and adults (Karen, 1994). A strong parent-child bond lays the foundation for a child's sense of security, trust, and independence (Bowlby, 1988). Recent research in the emerging field of prenatal and perinatal psychology (PPN) and health suggests this parent-infant bond can and should begin in pregnancy, as early as conception (Chamberlain, 2003).
As I contemplated these ideas midway through a doctoral program in Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology, I wondered if the concepts I was being taught-the awareness of babies prenatally and the importance of parents interacting with their unborn children-would be helpful to young parents expecting their first child.
It was my curiosity and intrinsic need to understand this important bond between parent and child that drew me into this graduate program and particular research study. My history was tied intergenerationally to my grandmother, who died giving birth to my mother. The perceptions, feelings, fears, and beliefs my mother carried as a result of losing her own mother at birth were unconsciously passed down to me, interfering with our bonding experience and coloring the way I viewed life and relationships. My journey of healing in this area has fueled my passion to assist people in their transition to parenthood in healthy, conscious ways.
PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
The focus of my research was twofold. First, I wanted to gain a personal and comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon of parent-child bonding, both prenatally and after birth, as experienced by a small group of first-time parents. second, I wanted to discover whether parents' experiences of bonding with their babies were enhanced by their participation in a prenatal class that discussed the parent-infant relationship from the perspective of PPN. I wanted to hear from the parents themselves if the theories exciting me translated into meaningful and functional concepts that were useful in the everyday experiences of new parents in relating to their babies.
A BRIEF REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Bonding and Attachment
The process of parent-child bonding and attachment has been extensively studied in the last five decades. It is now commonly accepted that a healthy bond between a parent and child is essential to the wholesome development of the child into a secure and independent adult (Bowlby, 1988). John Bowlby, considered the pioneer of attachment theory, asserts that the parental formation of a secure base from which a child can grow and explore contributes to the healthy attachment of parent and child. "A young child's experience of an encouraging, supportive and cooperative mother, and a little later father, gives him a sense of worth, a belief in the helpfulness of others, and a favorable model on which to build future relationships" (Bowlby, 1982, p. …