How mothers-to-be and father-to-be bond with the fetus is differently influenced by their mental states (Germany)

bonding with fetus

A study of 93 pregnant couples in Germany has investigated influences on bonding with the fetus by the mother-to-be and father-to-be. The study looked at both the quality of the bonding and the amount of time the parent-to-be was mentally preoccupied with it (‘intensity’). The predictors measured were anxiety, hostility (e.g. thoughts, annoyance, anger, argumentative tendencies) and adult attachment style (attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance).

Mothers-to-be showing more hostility and more attachment avoidance were more likely to show lower quality of bonding with the fetus (though no less intensity). This is in line with the assumption that poorer mental health in the mother-to-be adversely influences her developing emotional relationship with the child.

In contrast, there was very little correlation between how fathers-to-be reported on anxiety, hostility and attachment and how they reported bonding with the fetus. The only link was between attachment avoidance and lower intensity of bonding. Perhaps the difference between mothers and fathers reflects that fathers-to-be are in a more distant position from the fetus and thus their bond to the child is more abstract during pregnancy compared to mothers-to-be. 

There is an unexpected association between the father-to-be reporting more hostility and the mother-to-be reporting a higher quality of bonding with the fetusPerhaps the mother-to-be is responding to her partner’s hostility by investing more in the relationship with the unborn child. The authors emphasize that more research is needed on this particular association.

These findings contribute to the understanding of parental bonding with the fetus, something that has been found in other research to influence pregnancy health practices, intention to bottle-feed and postnatal parent-child relationships.


Göbel A, Barkmann C, Arck P, Hecher K, Schulte-MarkwortDiemert A & Mudra S (2019), Couples’ prenatal bonding to the fetus and the association with one’s own and partner’s emotional well-being and adult romantic attachment style, Midwifery 79

Header photo: Creative Commons.