Why some pregnant mothers may think their babies and toddlers sense pregnancy
Pregnancy is a miracle. For a woman’s body to create a tiny being is nothing short of impressive. The mother’s body goes through so many changes. These physical, mental, and emotional changes can affect all family members, especially your little ones. Babies and toddlers may be the most sensitive to these changes.
No scientific evidence supports the question: Can babies sense when a woman is pregnant? However, the scientific literature supports how babies and toddlers may notice the physical changes and emotional state of their expectant mother, giving them that “sixth sense.”
The bond between a mother and a baby
I had the privilege of doing OB clinicals while in nursing school. I never understood a mother’s immediate bond as soon as she delivered her baby; how the baby responded to their mother’s voice. It was not until I had my own that I appreciated this gift’s uniqueness.
This bond starts in the womb and continues long after the baby is born. According to the American College of Pediatricians, not only is the baby’s brain affected by this bond, but a part of the mother’s brain also changes:
“The mother’s brain continues to change after her infant is born, especially in those areas that impact maternal behavior towards her infant. Brain regions utilized in senses such as smelling, hearing, and vision are affected to enhance maternal bonding.”american college of pediatricians
The baby recognizes the mother’s scent (including her breast milk), voice, and presence. The bond is unique to each child and represents how interconnected the relationship is between mother and baby. A study suggests that initial skin-to-skin contact in that first hour of life provides both short and long-term benefits for both the baby and the new mom.
According to the ACP, newborn babies are so sensitive that they can also be affected by their mother’s postpartum depression. The mental health of the mother should always be evaluated by the primary caregiver, as well as during the pediatric visits.
This highly intricate and special bond may allow babies and toddlers to be extra sensitive to the changes their pregnant mothers undergo, giving them that “sixth sense.”
How toddlers and babies may sense Pregnancy through the different maternal changes
The physical changes are unique to each pregnancy. In the first trimester, some women may only experience swollen breasts and bloating without weight gain. Your baby and toddler, who are more in tune with your body than you realize, may notice even these subtle changes of early pregnancy. In contrast, other family members may not see physical signs until the second trimester.
As the pregnancy continues week by week, your body changes, and as those weeks continue, your little one will soon notice your growing belly.
Emotional and hormonal changes
Are you extra sensitive?
Are you having a difficult time with patience?
The fluctuation of hormone levels and elevated stress levels can wreak havoc on a pregnant mother’s emotions.
- Your little ones can pick up on this.
Pregnancy can be incredibly stressful for a variety of reasons, and the stress can creep up at any point. It’s essential that, as expectant mothers, we find the best way to handle these emotions because our response does impact our families.
According to a recent study, there is a link between maternal anxiety and children’s behavior problems.
Being pregnant while having a toddler was incredibly stressful for me! I was exhausted, moody, and constantly trying to keep up with my two-year-old. As a military spouse, I spent much of the pregnancy solo parenting. Being stationed in Germany (OCONUS), we were far from family support. It made it hard to enjoy this pregnancy fully.
Being pregnant while living abroad was also alienating. Going through this pregnancy with a healthcare provider who spoke minimal to no English for all of my OB visits was very challenging. Thankfully, this pregnancy was with my second child, so I knew what to expect.
I started noticing that my toddler was more anxious and had significant separation anxiety as the pregnancy continued. My emotional problems were likely affecting my son.
There were many times I didn’t handle my stress appropriately. I did make a conscientious effort to apologize to my toddler whenever I did lose my temper. He would often respond with a hug, which would melt my heart.
Change in routines
By the time my third trimester rolled around, I was so exhausted. Being a stay-at-home mom while pregnant was more exhausting than when I was pregnant and working full-time in aesthetics.
Our daily routine started to change. We ventured closer to home and started spending less time outside the closer we got to the due date. This gave me so much mom guilt because my son loves and needs his outside time.
Babies and toddlers thrive on routine, and changing it up can affect them.
Babies and toddlers are observant
Not only can they see the physical changes that your body is going through, but they can pick up on other cues as well.
Are you walking around holding and stroking your belly? I loved putting a hand on my baby bump!
Maybe your little one has seen you talk to your belly.
They hear more than we realize! Your little one likely has heard you talk about the pregnancy to your spouse, family, and friends.
Baby items may dial your toddler in to the pregnancy
Are you going through older baby clothes?
Are you purchasing new baby items?
Have you started working on the nursery?
All of these baby items may help a toddler or baby sense your pregnancy
How to explain the pregnancy to a toddler or baby
My two-year-old is speech-delayed, so it can be very challenging to gauge how much he understands.
Every night, as part of his bedtime routine, I would stroke my baby bump and tell him a baby was inside. My son primarily talks via baby signs, signals, and sound effects. So naturally, he gave “baby’ a unique sound effect and gesture. He started making this gesture when he saw other babies out and about and whenever he saw a baby animal in a book.
Whenever we saw a baby, I told him, “Mommy has a baby in my belly.”
If my son were around when my baby was moving, I would place his hand on my baby bump so he could feel the baby move.
I honestly had no idea how much he was comprehending- but the day we brought her home from the hospital, he immediately accepted and loved on her.
What can you do to prepare your toddler and baby for their baby sibling
Preparing your baby for their new sibling is very important, especially if they are an only child. Bringing their sibling into the world will bring about much change and chaos.
Effective communication is so important. Explain their role as a big brother or sister and how important they will be. Be sure to discuss parts of the birth plan if appropriate. Will you be going to the hospital or having a home birth?
How can you involve your toddler in the pregnancy
Because my son has such high energy, I found the best time to include my toddler in pregnancy was before naps and during his bedtime routine. This was guaranteed quiet time for the two of us.
I would encourage him to touch my belly, and sometime during the third trimester, he kissed my belly goodnight. It was the sweetest gesture.
According to a relatively new study, the sooner you prepare your little one for the baby, the more positive the feelings about their sibling before birth.
How toddlers and babies respond when they sense a pregnancy
You may notice behavioral changes with your little ones.
For the majority of my pregnancy, my toddler would only let me carry him. He started having severe separation anxiety and was extremely clingy. I was convinced that this was the anecdotal evidence that he could sense this pregnancy! These are some of the typical behavioral changes your little one may exhibit.
- Sleep regression
- Separation anxiety
“Mothers in the last trimester of the second pregnancy admit to being less active, more tired and moody than previously. Many were more anxious than usual. Their first child frequently showed behavioral changes. Those surveyed were between 11/2 and 4 years of age and showed more clinging, sleep disturbance, and misbehavior with tantrums than expected. It is presumed that the mother’s pregnancy induces anxiety in her child with consequent behavioral changes.”harris & Sharp
Additional causes for these behavioral changes
Aside from the pregnant mother’s changes, outside factors could also play a role in your baby’s behavioral issues.
- A sleep regression not related to pregnancy
- Changes at school
- A recent move
- If you are military, your spouse is away on deployments
- Friends at school who have a current baby
Tips for helping you manage your babies and toddlers during your pregnancy
Change can be scary. You’re about to uproot their life, and more than likely, they can sense these changes. These tips helped me with my toddler
- Communicate openly and early
- Have grace with you and your little one
- Have patience with yourself
- Get outside! This was particularly necessary to help me cope with the anxiety of being pregnant abroad
Remember, your little one can pick up on your anxiety and mood swings. Take the time to step away for some self-care.
Conclusion to the burning question of whether or not your baby senses pregnancy
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence among my close relationships that their babies could sense pregnancy. My child’s behavior convinced me as well. Although there is no scientific evidence that supports babies and toddlers sensing pregnancy- there is plenty of evidence that supports how maternal changes may have a direct impact on baby’s and toddler’s behaviors. Truthfully, I think that this bond is so intricate and special, that the question is far more complex than a simple yes or no. For now, I think it’s a pesonal choice. Only you can vouch for that special bond you share with you babies!
Thank you so much for reading! I would love to hear what you think! Did you notice your little one picking up on any cues? Did one pregnancy differ from another?
Save for later!
- Chen BB, Han W, Wang Y, Sui Y, Chen Z, Wan L. The reaction of firstborn children to a sibling before birth: the role of the time they are told about the mother’s pregnancy and their effortful control. J Reprod Infant Psychol. 2018 Apr;36(2):158-167. doi: 10.1080/02646838.2018.1437257. Epub 2018 Feb 21. PMID: 29517339.
- Widström AM, Brimdyr K, Svensson K, Cadwell K, Nissen E. Skin-to-skin contact the first hour after birth, underlying implications and clinical practice. Acta Paediatr. 2019 Jul;108(7):1192-1204. doi: 10.1111/apa.14754. Epub 2019 Mar 13. PMID: 30762247; PMCID: PMC6949952.
- Nt J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Sep; 19(17): 11106. Published online 2022 Sep 5. doi: 10.3390/ijerph191711106. PMCID: PMC9518446PMID: 36078827. Association between Maternal Anxiety and Children’s Problem Behaviors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- American college of Pediatricians, June 2018. The infant- mother connection and implications for their future health- Part 1 of 3
- Harris MJ, John K, Sharp R. The effects of a mother’s second pregnancy on the firstborn child. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 1989 Aug;29(3 Pt 2):319-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-828x.1989.tb01753.x. PMID: 2619680.
- Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and GynaecologyVolume 29, Issue 3 p. 319-321. The Effects of a Mother’s Second Pregnancy on the Firstborn Child. M.J. Harris, K. John, R. Sharp. First published: August 1989