Doctors used to think (and some still do!) that all a pregnant woman can do to ensure her baby’s health is eat well and exercise–genes will take care of the rest. But more recent research has laid to rest the myth that the unborn child is not a sophisticated enough organism to react to anything other than its nutritional environment. It turns out that the more researchers learn the more they realize how sophisticated the fetal and infant nervous system that has vast sensory and learning capabilities is: “The truth is, much of what we have traditionally believed about babies is false. They are not simple beings but complex and ageless—small creatures with unexpectedly large thoughts,” writes David Chamberlin in his book The Mind of Your Newborn Baby.
We now know that the developing fetus receives more than nutrients from the mother; the mother’s emotional health as well as her physical health has a profound impact on her developing child. The fetus, for example, absorbs excess cortisol and other stress hormones if the mother is chronically anxious. If the child is unwanted for any reason, the fetus is bathed in the chemicals of rejection. If the mother is wildly in love with her baby and her partner, the fetus is bathed in the love potions (you read about this in the last chapter of “The Honeymoon Effect”).
Dr. Thomas R. Verny, whose pioneering 1981 book, The Secret Life of the Unborn Child first laid about the case for the influence parents have even in the womb: “In fact, the great weight of the scientific evidence that has emerged over the last decade demands that we reevaluate the mental and emotional abilities of unborn children. Awake or asleep, the studies show, they (unborn children) are constantly tuned in to their mother’s every action, thought, and feeling. From the moment of conception, the experience in the womb shapes the brain and lays the groundwork for personality, emotional temperament, and the power of higher thought.”
Up to 50% of a child’s personality has already developed by the time of her/his birth. The nine months in the womb are so fundamental to human development in every area of life that Verny says he would like pregnant women to wear “Baby under Construction” t-shirts to broadcast this crucial fact. In truth the mother (and by extension her relationship with the father) serves as nature’s Head Start program. Through the mother’s blood that crosses into the placenta, the fetus is learning how to survive in his/her parents’ world.