Haptonomy, an approach to develop a real exchange with your baby in the womb
Do you know haptonomy ? This practice, founded by Frans Veldman, a Dutch doctor, after the Second World War, is also called the science of affectivity. Haptonomy offers both parents the opportunity to communicate with their baby in utero through emotional touch from the twelfth week of pregnancy.
This approach will also offer the father the opportunity to actively develop the emotional relationship with his baby and allow him to find his place. In the article, we use the word “father” to facilitate understanding, but Carole welcomes all forms of parental couples.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us how you discovered haptonomy?
My name is Carole Beylier, I am a Franco-Canadian and a psychologist by training (specializing in the accompaniment of children and families for about twenty years).
The first time I heard about haptonomy was during my university studies in psychology. I watched a documentary called “the baby is a person”.
In this documentary, several professionals intervened, including Françoise Dolto, who for me is one of my great references.
The documentary devoted an interview to Frans Veldman, the doctor who invented haptonomy, I was fascinated by his intervention, I felt a very strong call for this practice. I was certain, I knew that one day I would propose this approach.
Then, the years passed, I began my career as a psychologist in France and I immigrated to Quebec in 2007, where I obtained accreditation from the Ordre des Psychologues du Québec to practice my profession.
I was always on the lookout for haptonomy formations.
In 2012, I learned that Brigitte Dohmen was coming to Montreal to offer her training called “emotional preparation for birth”.
Brigitte is a psychologist and a haptonoma. She was trained in haptonomy by Frans Veldman, and then she created her own training with the basics of haptonomy which she enriched with her professional experiences.
So I signed up for this four-year training. The training consists of two parts, a common core that lasts two years on communication through emotional touch, it is a long-term work that requires a lot of personal work and then two years of specialization on the accompaniment of pregnancy, of childbirth and the reception of the baby.
What is haptonomy then?
The word “Haptonomy” comes from the Greek, it means “the laws of the emotional touch”.
More generally, it is an approach that offers parents to get back in touch with their baby through emotional touch to be able to listen to him and welcome him fully from the beginning of the pregnancy.
How does a session go?
First, we will propose a speaking time for parents. We will discuss all of their parenting issues and their different fears and concerns.
Second, we will give parents the experience of emotional touch.
This particular touch is characterized by being completely present in the touch, we create a physical contact with the hands on the mother’s belly.
It is said that the hands are the extension of the heart so we will make parents discover that they can already play with their baby and even hug him.
Scientific studies show that the baby already expresses his emotions in pregnancy and that he emits them through the language of the body.
Through practice, we invite the baby to come and interact with his parents.
Little by little, a bond will be forged, deepened. Parents are encouraged to be respectful of who their baby is and how they react.
We have a very important golden rule, we invite the baby to interact, but it’s just an invitation. Sometimes babies are not willing to respond and parents are taught to be able to respect their baby’s choice. The other golden rule is that dad is present at all sessions.
In the case of single-parent women, we will ask that a third party be involved (it could be a friend, a parent), we want that person to be there at all sessions (and ideally that he or she can remain a reference person in the child’s life).
'We have a very important golden rule, we invite the baby to interact but it’s just an invitation. Sometimes babies are unwilling to respond and parents are taught to be able to respect their baby’s choice. '
This approach then allows the dad to develop his relationship with the baby and find his place from pregnancy?
Yes, absolutely. All the moms in the world are naturally connected to their babies. For fathers who do not experience pregnancy in their body, this approach makes it possible to include them completely. They will see that they too can enter into a relationship with the baby.
We often hear fathers say that they discovered their child on the day of birth. Conversely, fathers who experience this approach tell us that they feel they know the baby when it is born. In fact, haptonomy will make it easier for father and mother to feel like parents from pregnancy.
When to start the practice?
You have to know that the first sense that the baby develops in the belly is the sense of touch. He develops it from the eighth week of pregnancy. Then we welcome the parents from the beginning of the second trimester of pregnancy, around the twelfth week.
We can also welcome parents who discover emotional preparation for birth during pregnancy, a little later.
Cette approche aiderait également pour l’accouchement ?
Indeed, in the second axis, we will accompany parents to be aware of the physiological processes of childbirth and to be autonomous in this crossing.
There is still a whole education to be done about childbirth. In the collective, there are a lot of fears and anxieties, so we communicate a lot with both parents.
It is a time when we are going to teach parents and the baby to stay in touch and to live together on the day of delivery. Thanks to the emotional preparation for the birth the parents arrive at the birth better prepared.
For example, thanks to certain tools that come from osteopathy, we will help the mother at the end of the pregnancy to refocus her pelvis so that she can carry the baby more comfortably and facilitate the delivery.
Parents will also be taught how to position the baby in the uterus to be born and how to accompany it on the day of delivery.
A baby experiences a lot of loneliness in his birth experience, so feeling that his parents are with him makes a difference and brings him a strong sense of security. Often these children will develop a better self-esteem through this.
We also offer the mother a very concrete tool resulting from emotional touch, which can transform her relationship to pain.
Usually, fathers say they felt helpless when their partner gave birth. In emotional preparation for birth, we will offer tools for the father to feel useful. I always tell fathers that they will be the “coach” of their wife and baby during this great passage.
The mother will of course greatly benefit from this accompaniment by the father. She will also feel secure by this high-quality emotional presence. She will be able to accept to dive into this experience with more confidence.
"It’s a time to teach parents and babies to stay in touch and live together on the day of delivery."
It is sometimes stated that this approach tends to develop a certain hyperactivity in some children and that the baby should not be solicited so much.
We discovered that this is something that circulates on social networks, my colleagues and myself. We are a little surprised by this vision of things because the basis of haptonomy is to be fully listening to your baby and to respect his rhythm.
The first thing we’re going to tell the parents is whether the baby is free to answer or not. They understand that we are not going to bother the baby, nor solicit him if he does not want to. We are always respectful of the child, we do not force things.
Besides, we also accompany parents to experiment with letting go. During the training, Brigitte Dohmen taught us a key concept she calls “the minimum intervention required”. To give birth, you have to be able to accept the unexpected. You never know how a birth will unfold even if you know the main physiological principles. Every woman is unique, every baby is unique, every birth is unique. Here too we must listen to what the mother’s body tells us, respecting what is happening, without forcing things.
At the post partum level, can haptonomy also soften this moment?
Yes, we do a lot of prevention, education, and post-partum communication. During the sessions, the mothers begin to explore how they want to be a mom, they will feel a little less lost at birth, which does not mean that everything is wonderful but this process will make things a little easier.
Then we also follow the parents after birth, they usually have a lot of questions after childbirth. They are offered to come back for one or two meetings.
Last question, I discovered that this approach can help parents who follow a PMA path or parents who experience complicated events during pregnancies, or even an interruption of pregnancy?
Yes, we can accompany parents in all these situations. It is quite rare for people to contact us on their own in these cases. Often they will be referred to us by professionals. We adapt to each situation.