What is haptonomy and the affective preparation for birth?
This article was prepared in collaboration with Carole Beylier.
Do you like to try new things? For example, would you like to be able to play with your baby while they are still warmly tucked inside Mom’s uterus? If you do, his article discusses the affective preparation for birth approach, which should interest you greatly.
What is affective preparation for birth?
Perinatal haptonomy is a way to prepare for childbirth, but it’s much more.
Indeed, haptonomy comes from the combination of two Greek names: “hapto,” which means “touch” and “nomos,” which means the rule.
So haptonomy is the set of rules governing the affective touch field. It can also be referred to as the “Science of Affectivity.”
Haptonomy was founded by the Dutch doctor Frans Veldman.
Brigitte Dohmen, who is a psychologist and haptonomist trained by Dr. Veldman, has deepened the approach by developing “affective preparation for birth.” She did so by adding aspects that can seem like osteopathy, developmental psychology, prenatal singing, breathing…
The affective preparation for birth is an approach that stems from haptonomy. At the basic level it’s an approach based on affective touch, tender touches, building a reassuring relationship with the baby during pregnancy. The affective preparation for birth offers tools and settings that facilitate the approach for parents. But above all it’s a new way to consider the baby, a way of thinking about the baby as a full person on conception. The contact made through the walls of the mother’s stomach and uterus, done for the baby, allows parents to meet it during the pregnancy. It’s learning to know and interact with your baby even before their birth through affective touch. Through this approach, we try offer a high quality conscious presence through the reassuring affective touch using a relational exchange. This will develop an attachment between the baby and its parents and offer the father a clear space where he can experiment with his relationship with the baby before it’s born. The contact developed during pregnancy will allow parents to be at their baby’s side the day they’re born, with them as they come towards the outside world and into their arms. Parents will be able to guide their baby on the day they’re born if they practice this approach regularly and use the tools taught to them during sessions.
Both parents must be present during each session. Each person is different, couple dynamics vary, and in this sense the approach is modulated based on the people who do it. Even if this approach is very popular in Europe, it remains a mystery around the world. But each year it gains in popularity.
Different people can work with parents when during the affective preparation for birth, including doctors, midwives, nurses, psychologists and other caregivers, depending on each country’s rules. There’s no scientific research that proves the benefits of this approach, but clinically, many will say that it was extraordinary and very helpful in many ways having been introduced to this approach.
What we know:
A developing baby is a sensitive being, even if they’re immature, and are curious about communicating to the outside. Their senses develop between the 4th and 25th week of pregnancy, especially starting from the 10th week for their sense of touch. They will communicate using touch before hearing sounds. In their little warm world, they’re neither passive nor inert. They’re curious and active in their environment. The affective preparation for birth is even more interesting during pregnancy as it creates a closeness with the baby, both for the mother and father. Dad can also communicate with and feel their baby even if they don’t have a uterus and can’t carry like their partner. This way of interacting also helps the father develop a feeling of realness about their baby’s development. It also helps them gradually develop their sense of fatherhood through repeated contact, even before the baby is born. It’s like having a dialogue with the baby.
When should you start the affective preparation for birth?
Normally, sessions for the affective preparation for birth start during the 2nd trimester. Touch is the first sense that develops in the uterus, so touch is the first true language to communicate with the baby. We know that, starting from the 2nd trimester, the baby is mature enough to feel our touch and respond to it. There are many types of games you can play—hugs, rocking, moving from one point to another.
Affective touch can be done throughout the rest of the pregnancy and even after.
Benefits of the affective preparation for birth
The concrete benefits of affective preparation for birth are sometimes difficult to show because, in the end, the results are more subjective than others, considering that each person reacts in a personal way based on their sensitivity. However, clinicians who work with parents in this approach, and future and new parents that have experienced it, can tell you about concrete examples and their satisfaction with what they learned from this approach.
Benefits for parents:
- Become aware of the mental and relational capacities of their baby before birth;
- Help develop a quality presence of parents in the relationship;
- Learn to develop a subtle understanding of the baby’s reactions;
- Learn to know your baby even before they’re born;
- Early development of a relationship between the baby and their parent;
- Get Dad to participate and get involved (invest in his role during pregnancy, before childbirth) and even a brother or sister;
- The father can feel more useful and effective when helping their partner and baby during the pregnancy and childbirth;
- Already be aware of your baby’s reactions;
- Fully welcome your baby because there’s already a pre-established interaction;
- It can help develop the attachment link;
- Play with your baby;
- Learn to recognise their emotional reactions;
- The muscle tissues in the uterus, stomach and perinea can be more flexible and elastic;
- The mother can deliver more in harmony with her body’s intelligence;
- A less passive role for the father during childbirth;
Benefits for the future baby:
- Allows them to express that they exist;
- Feels more reassured, accompanied, confident;
- Answer intentionally;
- Promotes the proper positioning of the baby for the upcoming labour and delivery because you will guide it;
- Feels less alone;
- Feels that they’re anticipated, loved;
- Lower the impact of their arrival in the extra-uterine environment;
- The baby’s heart rate is often lower during delivery;
- Develops better self-esteem;
- Is more relaxed and calmer during childbirth;
- Babies are often better able to adapt.
How does affective preparation for birth work?
This approach requires the use of mom and/or dad’s hands on the stomach to feel the baby react to your presence. Don’t just explore with your fingertips, touching everywhere, constantly moving your hand on the abdomen. Use the palm of your hand and softly and slowly caress the stomach, remaining sensitive to the baby’s movements inside.
Because we’re in a relational and affective context, we encourage parents to talk to their baby. Mom and dad’s voice will also be part of this approach.
Affective touch isn’t as easy as it sounds. It requires guidance, assistance from a professional in the field who can teach you specific exercises you should use. This touch requires respect, prudence, and know-how to properly execute it. It’s all about contact!
A Typical Affective Preparation for Birth Session
Considering the intimate aspects associated with haptonomy, it’s difficult to do this technique in a group. It’s best to take a private session as a couple.
Starting from the 2nd trimester, the professional can start to teach you.
The magical thing about this approach is that we suggest that parents initiate the process and wait for the baby to answer. The baby won’t move first then the parents react! This is about doing differently than normal! That is why we talk about games. Parents will discover that they have the “power” to suggest to their baby that it should move. Around the 16th week of pregnancy, Dad can feel their baby, and the more they try, the more they will feel it.
The mom is asked to comfortably lay down during the session and listen to her baby. Often one session is enough. The professional can suggest a first series of 3–4 meetings, which will deal with relational games during pregnancy. A second series of 3–4 meetings will then focus on childbirth and delivery.
Each couple should go at their pace, based on their needs, and each meeting will be unique.
Of course, Dad will contribute, even during the first sessions, even if it’s not always easy to recognise the baby’s responses to stimuli at the outset. But you will see that over time, the learning process takes place. Then dad can do things that he learned, thought about and practiced during the pregnancy. These will also help soothe Mom during the long anticipated childbirth.
Yes, just being there, near his wife, shifting her pelvis and rocking the baby between his hands will help relax, letting the abdomen go during contractions will provide a calming effect for Mom. Besides feeling not alone, a mother in labour can also feel that she’s receiving love, a reassuring presence, which will further relax the walls of the uterus and perinea.
Furthermore, the father will softly guide their baby to the exit route during labour, towards the light, autonomy, to Dad, using his hands. We often note the baby will be calmer, more relaxed mentally and physically, not afraid of the people around them although it’s a new experience.
After birth, it might be suggested that you do a few follow-up meetings. On the one hand, to help the mother recover, both physically, psychologically and emotionally, helping her rediscover her confidence. And on the other, to help the parents hold their baby, to handle it with affection to facilitate the transition from the uterine world to the outside world. Parents can then continue with affective touch as they see fit in the first year of their baby’s life. It might remind them of those soft moments they experienced in the past before coming into the world.
Affective preparation for birth also comes with affective support for the baby through games during their first year of life. Parents can support their baby using psychomotor games they can reproduce at their own pace when they’re ready. Whether the way to dress them, carry them, rock them, helping them control their movements, what’s encouraged is becoming conscious of their feeling of competence. The goal is always to continue to develop their feeling of security. That is why these meetings always take place with the goal of respecting and listening to the baby. There are no performance expectations.
From 6 to 12 sessions are possible during the first year, at the baby’s pace, as well as the parents’ pace. They can be individual sessions or in small groups.
As you might see, the affective preparation for birth approach is a very interesting philosophy. There is no better way to understand and appreciate it than by doing it. Practice can make all the difference. Words may not properly convey the benefits of this approach for future and new parents and their children. But one thing is certain, it won’t harm anyone trying it.
Do you want to learn more? Would you like to attend a session? Go to www.naissanceaffective.ca.
Thanks for coming in today, and I look forward to seeing you for another article.
The Baby Expert
And thanks to Carole Beylier for her help preparing this article and her clarifications about this approach!
Carole Beylier, Psychologist who uses Affective Preparation for Birth.
Photo credits: Megan Lynette, luckybusiness, Wavebreak Media Ltd.
Vous souhaitez en connaître plus? Vous aimeriez vivre une séance? Visitez www.naissanceaffective.ca