Introduction to Life Before Birth
David Chamberlain, Ph.D
Through many windows of observation, we can now see–for the first time in human history–what is actually happening in the womb. There is good news and bad news. We can no longer think that the placenta can protect the prenate from anything bad going on in the mother’s body, or that the mother’s body can protect the prenate from bad things going on in her world. Mother and baby face together the perils of air, water, and earth compromised by the toxic residues of modern chemistry and physics. Parents are perhaps the last ones to learn (and their children the first ones to suffer) these tragic realities of modern life.
Pollution has many sources, beginning with the physical environment surrounding the mother and father. Numerous chemicals loose in the environment reach them where they work or find them in the garage or in cleaning supplies in the kitchen. Solvents, metals, pesticides, preservatives, fumes, and various forms of radiation are capable of interfering with reproduction. Chemical pollution also reaches us in the medical system through prescribed drugs which may put the well-being of the prenate at risk. Some medicines, like aspirin are hazardous at birth, as are some powerful anesthetics. Not long ago, an antibacterial soap used widely in hospitals and dispensed in public areas was discovered–after years of use–to be neurotoxic.
Parents, too, can be a source of contamination and injury to the unborn baby as a consequence of their personal habits and lifestyle choices. Drugs thought to be harmless to adults can be harmful to babies because they are not able to handle these chemicals in adult doses. Nicotine, caffein, and aspirin, substances ubiquitous in adult life, can affect the course of growth and development of babies. The damaging effects of alcohol have been known for centuries and the most recent research (2005) warns that no level of alcohol in the pregnant mother is safe. Not so well known, and perhaps not yet even tested, are the toxic effects of experimental “street drugs” which damage parents as well as babies. All these discoveries are revealing the profound importance of very early parenting, beginning, not at the time of birth, but even before the time of conception when it is still possible to avoid a host of serious problems.
An additional reason for parents to begin active parenting at conception is the discovery that babies in the womb are also developing more rapidly than previously thought possible. From the second month of pregnancy, experiments and observations reveal an active prenate with a rapidly developing sensory system permitting exquisite sensitivity and responsiveness. Long before the development of advanced brain structures, prenates are seen interacting with each other and learning from experience. They seem especially interested in the larger environment provided by mother and father, and react to individual voices, stories, music, and even simple interaction games with parents. The quality of the uterine environment is determined principally by parents.
The opportunities for parents to form a relationship with the baby in the womb are significant and remarkable. This contrasts sharply with the previous view that prenates did not have the capacity to interact, remember, learn, or put meaning to their experiences. Only a decade ago, doctors typically told pregnant mothers and fathers that talking to a baby in the womb was useless and unrealistic. Now there is mounting evidence for memory and learning in utero and for precocious communication before the stage of language. These abilities of unborn babies underlie the successes reported in a series of scientific experiments with prenatal stimulation and bonding. They are also a basis for the personal stories occasionally shared by children and adults about their experiences before birth.
David B. Chamberlain is a California psychologist born in Connecticut in 1928 and educated at Randolph-Macon College, Washington State University, and Boston University. His curiosity about the capacity of prenates and newborns was stimulated by clients having vivid early recall during hypnotherapy beginning in 1974. This inspired a continuing clinical and scholarly effort leading to over fifty publications including the popular book, The Mind of Your Newborn Baby (3rd edition, 1998), currently available in twelve languages. David assisted in organizing the First International Congress on Pre- and Perinatal Psychology held in Toronto, Canada and personally chaired the second congress held in San Diego, California in 1985. From 1991 to 1999 he served as President of the Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH). Currently he also serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, and is Founding Editor of birthpsychology.com, the APPPAH gateway on the Internet.