The greatest gift you can give your baby is a happy and strong relationship between the two of you.
Dr John Gottman, The Gottman Foundation
The birth of a baby brings less time for intimacy, conversation and connection. Learning to strengthen your relationship with your partner during pregnancy and discover ways to work together to deepen your connection ensures the foundations of your partnership is one that thrives and becoming parents transforms your relationship in positive ways.
However, with a new baby making demands on your time, your mind and your emotions, maintaining that happy and strong relationship isn’t that easy with all the new changes in your lives.
The mother baby relationship and care in the first months after birth provides the foundation for your baby’s neurobiological, social, emotional and cognitive development. A woman’s brain is changing in pregnancy and motherhood. A study published in 2010 by Kim et al. shows that a mother’s brain is actually growing and changing during pregnancy and motherhood to adapt to these changes! Specifically, the grey matter in the prefrontal cortex, parietal lobes, and midbrain areas increases, which is associated with a mother’s positive perception of her baby and the initiation of the maternal caring behaviours.
A more recent study completed by Dr. Elseline Hoekzema et al, published in 2016, outlines the radical hormonal surge and biological adaption that comes with pregnancy and motherhood. These changes result in long term changes in the brain structure bringing about a pruning effect in the gray matter of the brain in areas associated with social cognition resulting in a mother’s heightened focused attention on her baby.
These brain changes in combination with the dramatic hormonal changes such as the increase in dopamine and oxytocin, create a love bubble between the mother and baby which keeps her motivated to care for, love and turn her attention towards this tiny dependent human.
Is it any wonder that maintaining the strong connection between you and your partner becomes more difficult in early parenthood. At Nurturing Us we focus on putting in place steps to consciously connect during pregnancy to make the transition from a couple to a family easier. To ensure your relationship not just survives becoming parents but thrives during the roller coaster of new parenthood.
Carve out conscious intentional time with your partner. Before your baby came along this happened naturally, there were not so many competing demands on your time and attention. With a new baby this requires conscious thought to do the things that bring you joy together. Cook a meal together, watch a movie, go for a walk, do something together that brings your pleasure and ignites connection with each other.
Emotional connection comes with active listening. When you meet after time apart during the day, ask two simple questions. ‘How was your day?’ listen to your partners response, then ask ‘Tell me more’ The magic is not in the questions but in the listening to your partners reply, show compassion, be curious about their experience and reap the rewards in emotional connection
Keeping your relationship strong requires intentional appreciation, adopt an attitude of gratitude. Put positive energy and appreciation into your relationship by recognising the things you appreciate about your partner. How you think about your partner influences how your treat them, train yourself to be intentionally appreciative. Start small, think of three things you love about your partner and soon you notice more and more things you appreciate about them. Now turn those thoughts into actions – tell them, compliment them, no matter how small you are building and strengthening emotional connection, increase intimacy and understanding in small gentle ways.
Kim, P., Leckman, J. F., Mayes, L. C., Feldman, R., Wang, X., and Swain, J. E. (2010). The plasticity of human maternal brain: Longitudinal changes in brain anatomy during the early postpartum period. Behavioral Neuroscience, 124(5), 695-700.
Hoekzema E., Barba-Müller E., Pozzobon C., Picado M., Barba-Müller E., Lucco F., García-García D., Carlos Soliva J., Tobeña A., Desco M., Crone E., BallesterosA., Carmona S and Vilarroya O. (2017) Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure. Nature Neuroscience 20, 287–296