Haptonomy: preparing for parenthood and childbirth through touch

Haptonomy Zen Tofu Preparing for childbirth

Voilà… You’re pregnant. A new chapter in your life starts and that of the future dad: you’re going to have a child! Wow! So many emotions… and so many questions! A thousand questions are running through your head: Will the pregnancy go well? Will I be a good parent? Will I be able to take care of the baby properly? How will the relationship with my baby go? When I was pregnant with my son, we had so many questions as well! But there was one thing we had no doubt about. our ability to communicate with our baby in utero, and establish a bond with him. How? Thanks to haptonomy. 😉

During pregnancy, haptonomy offers future parents the opportunity to connect with their baby in utero through touch. These sessions are a valuable tool to help the future father to fully embrace his role and to support the mother during childbirth.

Doesn’t that sound amazing? We heard about this technique before my pregnancy, and from the 4th month, we adopted it.

Follow me, I’ll tell you everything in the rest of this article.

Haptonomy: the science of Affectivity

Let’s start with a little theory to understand the principle of haptonomy.

This method was invented in the 1950s by Frans Veldman, a Dutch physician. The term Haptonomy comes from the Greek “haptein” which means to touch, sense, sensation, tact and the word “nomos” which means norm.

In essence, haptonomy is the science of affectivity through touch. While it is commonly associated with pregnancy and parenting, haptonomy has a wide range of applications across various fields of care such as psychotherapy and end-of-life support.

During pregnancy, haptonomy allows parents to develop a deep and meaningful relationship with their children before they’re even born.

It’s a beautiful way to prepare for the journey of parenthood and connect with the miracle of life. The haptotherapist teaches them different gestures to comfort the baby and the mother throughout the pregnancy, such as rocking, centering, and offering support for posture as our bellies grow and bear more weight.

Also, parents learn to communicate with their baby through gentle touches on certain areas of the mother’s belly, fostering the development of emotional bonds between the father, mother, and child.

By communicating and giving attention to the baby during pregnancy, haptonomy provides a strong sense of emotional security for the child. Babies who receive haptonomic care in utero are immediately attuned to relationships and communication from birth. The secure relationship built early can help him, later in his life, become more autonomous, curious, and confident!

The benefits of haptonomy during pregnancy: Communicating with the baby before he is even born!

A real relationship between mom, dad, and the baby in utero

9 months is a long time… Even if, as a future mom, we fully enjoy the experience of pregnancy, we can feel impatient to meet the baby, to talk to him, to hold him in our arms.

Yes, it’s true, we feel the baby move in our belly, that’s already something, but if only we could communicate with him/her!

This little frustration is obviously even greater for the future dad, who doesn’t have the privilege of having this direct contact with his baby.

Through the practice of haptonomy, a strong connection with the unborn baby can be established in the early months of pregnancy, allowing for the development of a real relationship between the parents and the baby, even before he/she is born.

Dads can really get involved

This approach actively involves the father in the pregnancy journey, making him an important participant in this special moment. Through gentle touches on the mother’s belly, the father encourages the baby to communicate. Since the fetus’s sense of touch is highly developed at this stage, he or she can sense the touch and respond in kind, even moving closer to where the hand was placed.

This communication helps to build a real bond between the two parents and the baby, and even offers a glimpse into the baby’s personality. By observing the baby’s reactions during these sessions, parents can get a sense of the baby’s temperament: whether he or she is lively, curious, bold or shy.

For my partner, it was priceless to be able to communicate and connect with our son in this way. During our first session, the haptotherapist invited him to a series of exercises that helped relieve pressure and pain in my lower back and at the same time rocked the baby gently in my belly. And then she invited him to place his hand and ear on my belly. It was truly magical when the baby immediately responded by moving under his hand and performing acrobatics while tickling the mother’s belly!

With time, the baby began to recognize my partner’s deep, masculine voice and would respond with little kicks (and bigger ones later on). Before even being born, we felt like a genuine relationship had already formed between the three of us.

Comfort for baby, comfort for mom

As we have seen, for the baby, the benefits of haptonomy are enormous: through tactile contact, they feel all the gestures of affection from their parents and are already learning to recognize them. Dad’s voice soothes them, and Mom’s caresses reassure them… And vice versa, of course.

But haptonomy also has a recognized virtue in helping moms find a little comfort when back pain sets in or when the baby decides to nestle in an uncomfortable spot for Mom!

Dad can then help Mom with small gestures to ease her back or guide baby with his hand to a more comfortable area.

As for back pain, I was lucky. I hardly had any throughout my pregnancy! In fact, it’s not luck, but I am sure it’s thanks to haptonomy.

Haptonomy - Pregnant Woman Relaxing Holding her Belly

Our practitioner taught my partner some gestures to practice. And every evening, I had my little haptonomy session. My partner would start with small movements on my legs that relaxed me and rocked our little baby in my belly. Our son was used to responding to us right away at these moments. After a little “discussion” and “play” with our little one, Daddy continued the session to ease my back and center baby so that he was well positioned.

These little haptonomy gestures were very beneficial for me because they allowed me to release the physical tension accumulated during the day before they settled in and manifested as pain.

Managing pain during childbirth

This part will particularly interest you if you are tempted by natural childbirth but doubts about your ability to withstand pain prevent you from making a clear decision.

But how can haptonomy help you get through this sometimes tricky stage?

The touch of the hand and the specific pressures exerted on the mother’s body have the power to release the contractions and internal tensions that may be related to labor. This helps the mother to relax.

With gestures that he will have learned during prenatal sessions, Dad can also guide baby in his descent by exerting well-placed movements and supporting certain postures of the mother.

This allows the couple to experience childbirth together. The father is fully included and discovers that he has a very important role and is not left aside.

The pain-reducing effect of haptonomy will not be the same as with anesthesia. The pain will still be there but will be attenuated and felt in a way that the mother can better tolerate it. The result is different from one childbirth to another, because each situation, each woman, is different.

However, all the prior preparation and manipulations on the delivery day can really contribute to facilitating the descent of the baby and the delivery.

And after birth, how can haptonomy accompany you?

The benefits of haptonomy do not stop once the baby is born. On the contrary, it would be a shame to stop at such a good point.

After birth, the goal of haptonomy is to continue to strengthen the bonds initiated during prenatal sessions. Additionally, a child who has been accompanied throughout their in utero life needs to continue the emotional relationship they experienced in their mother’s womb. They need to be encouraged to “enter the world.”

This support also allows the child to acquire a secure relationship with their body and environment at a very early age. This is important for their autonomy because it allows the child to face life more serenely.

Postnatal haptonomy revolves around three key moments:

2-4 weeks after birth

In this first postnatal session, the mother can exchange with the haptotherapist about her delivery and feelings. The therapist will also advise the father on how to help with daily tasks during this recovery period.

Regarding the baby, the therapist will initiate their awareness of their verticality. For example, they may position the baby “standing” with one hand under their bottom and supported against a mattress. The goal? To help the baby feel like a unique being.

It is also important not to lift the baby by their armpits; they “hang” victim to gravity and cannot manage their body. In haptonomy, we carry the baby in our arms by supporting them at the “base,” under their bottom. We learn to lift, carry, and lay the baby down in a way that respects their morphology.

Carrying the baby at the base allows them to feel secure and gives them the opportunity to be an active participant in maintaining their body.

The therapist will also demonstrate the gestures to adopt. We do not manipulate the baby, but we invite them to participate in various daily tasks.

For example, during diaper changes, instead of lifting the baby like an object, we can first announce to them that we are going to change their diaper. By maintaining eye contact and pausing briefly, we can see that the baby has heard what we said. Then we can lift them while inviting them to come into our arms.

The kind gestures and small attention given to the child from birth give them confidence and help them develop their autonomy.

If we manipulate the baby without their participation, they will remain passive. And a few years later, parents will wonder why their child is not autonomous! 😉

Some haptotherapists, like ours, may talk about these good gestures to adopt before birth, so that they can be applied as soon as the baby arrives.

Haptonomy - New Born Baby - Zen Tofu

Baby is 3 or 4 months old

This is a crucial stage for the baby, as their needs begin to change. They are seeking to move more, their visual field has developed significantly, and they perceive their environment differently. During this session, the haptotherapist will continue to guide the parents in adapting their daily gestures, which allows the baby to better discover the world. Parents can thus support each developmental stage of their child.

The therapist will also explain how to encourage the baby to become aware of their support and therefore their ability to move.

We tell the child, “It’s you who carries yourself. We help, but it is you who carries yourself.”

We give both security and always with the idea of autonomy, not overprotection.

Baby is 9 months old

Catherine Dolto, haptotherapist and renowned french doctor calls it the “arrival anniversary.” It corresponds to the day when the baby has spent as much time inside (mother’s belly) as outside. Once again, it’s an opportunity to look back on birth and delivery.

The bipedal revolution

The bipedal revolution, around 12 months, is the final and most important step, according to Catherine Dolto. Why? Because babies who have been well supported throughout their development are overflowing with energy and, at the time of learning to walk, experience a period where they have a strong need to assert themselves.

Therefore, this final session allows parents to understand the experience their baby is going through and helps them overcome this stage as smoothly as possible.

In conclusion:

As you can see, haptonomy is not just a simple preparation for childbirth, but rather an accompaniment in a wonderful adventure: becoming parents.

One of the great principles of haptonomy, especially postnatal, is also to give babies all the keys to discover what they are capable of and invite them to develop their abilities autonomously. This discovery can be a great introduction to another important principle of gentle parenting: free movement. Discover in my article how you can accompany your baby in a gentle way through free movement.

What about you? What is your experience with haptonomy? Let me know in the comments! 🙂 🙂

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Hi there!
Fumie Toki QEC Advanced trauma practitonor

I am Fumie. I am the founder and writer behind Zen Tofu. I am an Embodied Healing Practitioner, Conscious parenting and Life coach, and therapist. I share my experience and support others to heal and live an empowered, happy, healthy, and connected life. 

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