Birthowl’s natural childbirth

Life before Birth

Q. When does a baby’s brain develop, and do we have to wait for this development before trying to communicate with our baby?

Around the third week after conception, a folding maneuver creates the neural tube from which the brain and spinal cord develop. If all goes well, a rapid, richly choreographed set of movements will put all the basic parts of the brain in place by eight weeks. These will not be replaced. From this foundation, brain parts will send out branches and establish billions of connections necessary for the perfect coordination of the entire nervous system. This process will continue for years after birth. Amazingly, the brain, like the heart, remains active during its own construction. Various experiences the brain has during this period including encounters with food, drink, medicine, games, accidents, and nicotine–will actually determine its final size and organization. Therefore, it is best to assume the brain is already working and to love your baby and communicate with it without any waiting period.

pregnant belly

Q. Can our baby feel pain or become emotionally upset in the womb?

Medical specialists and psychologists never thought this would be possible even for a newborn baby, but research now confirms that even babies born very prematurely express a gamut of emotions, and, without doubt, can experience excruciating pain. Ultrasound observations of behavior in utero, especially among twins, reveal a spectrum of emotions including anger, fear, and affection. Babies appear to react to needles that intrude into the womb with a mixture of shock, withdrawal, and aggression. Studies of pregnant mothers watching upsetting videos suggest that babies can become upset along with their mothers. Several studies have revealed that babies tend to become depressed when their pregnant mothers are depressed, an effect which begins in the womb and has been measured after birth.


Photo by Mark Von Minden


The Secret Life of the Unborn Child

from “The Secret Life of the Unborn Child”
by Thomas Verny, M.D. with John Kelly

Selected Quotes

… at one time or another nearly every expectant mother senses that she and her unborn child are reacting to one another’s feelings. …

* A corollary to this discovery is that what a child feels and perceives begins shaping his attitudes and expectations about himself. Whether he ultimately sees himself and, hence, acts as a happy or sad, aggressive or meek, secure or anxiety-ridden person depends, in part, on the messages he gets about himself in the womb.


* The chief source of those shaping messages is the child’s mother. This does not mean every fleeting worry, doubt or anxiety a woman has rebounds on her child. What matters are deep persistent patterns of feeling. Chronic anxiety or a wrenching ambivalence about motherhood can leave a deep scar on an unborn child’s personality. On the other hand, such life-enhancing emotions as joy, elation and anticipation can contribute significantly to the emotional development of a healthy child.

* New research is also beginning to focus much more on the father’s feelings. Until recently his emotions were disregarded. Our latest studies indicate that this view is dangerously wrong. They show that how a man feels about his wife and unborn child is one of the single most important factors in determining the success of a pregnancy. …

With this new knowledge at their disposal, mothers and fathers have an unparalleled opportunity to help shape the personality of their unborn child. They can actively contribute to his happiness and well-being, and not just in utero, nor in the years immediately following birth, but for the rest of his life. …

Providing the newborn with a warm, reassuring, humane environment does make a difference because the child is very aware of how he is born. He senses gentleness, softness and a caring touch, and he responds in a quite different way to the bright lights, electrical beeps, and cold impersonal atmosphere that are so often associated with a medical birth. …

… he is conscious or aware though his consciousness is not as deep or complex as an adult’s. He is incapable of understanding the shades of meaning an adult can put into a simple word or gesture; but, … he is sensitive to remarkably subtle emotional nuances. He can sense and react not only to large, undifferentiated emotions such as love and hate, but also to more shaded complex feeling states like ambivalence and ambiguity. … something like consciousness exists from the very first moments of conception ….

… the child from the sixth month in utero onward … can already remember, hear, even learn. The unborn child is, in fact, a very quick study, as a group of investigators demonstrated in what has come to be regarded as a classic report.

… Our likes and dislikes, fears and phobias … are in part, also the product of conditioned learning. … the sensation of anxiety … his mother’s smoking … an unborn child grows emotionally agitated (as measured by the quickening of his heartbeat) each time his mother thinks of having a cigarette. She doesn’t even have to put it to her lips or light a match; just her idea of having a cigarette is enough to upset him. … drop in oxygen supply (in the maternal blood passing the placenta) … psychological effects … thrusts him into a chronic state of uncertainty and fear.

In one case, a newborn girl refused to bond with or nurse from her own mother, though she did not refuse other women. The mother, it turned out, had wanted to have an abortion and bore the child grudgingly at the father’s insistence. With such mothers, the “child lacks a feeling person to whom he can attach himself. His mother becomes absorbed in herself and has no resources left for the baby”; nor can he bond with a woman overburdened with anxiety or frustration.

If loving, nurturing mothers bear more self-confident, secure children, it is because the self-aware “I” of each infant is carved out of warmth and love. Similarly, if unhappy, depressed or ambivalent mothers bear a higher rate of neurotic children, it is because their offsprings’ egos were molded in moments of dread and anguish. Not surprisingly, without redirection, such children often grow into suspicious, anxious and emotionally fragile adults.

Widespread recognition of the delicate and intimate connections between parent and child prenatally and in infancy will lead naturally to a more realistic idea of the far-reaching responsibility of parenthood, and new respect for the impact of our inner life on those around us.

Photo by Gabriel