The ground-breaking research in birth and pre-and perinatal development began with Thomas Verny’s (1981) book, The Secret Life of the Unborn Child. He was the first to summarize all the relevant research in this field. The publication of his book was a catalyst for founding the Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Allied Health. This organization continues to collect and disseminate new research findings in this area.
David Chamberlain, another pioneer in the field of pre- and perinatal development, has written several ground-breaking books in this field. Babies Remember Birth: And Other Extraordinary Scientific Discoveries About the Mind And Personality of Your Newborn, The Mind of Your Newborn, and his newly released Windows to the Womb: Revealing the Conscious Baby from Conception to Birth. For more information about him and his work, you can visit his website.
The Importance of the Pre- and Perinatal Period of Development
One of the important findings from the research on pre- and perinatal development is the significance of the pre- and perinatal period. The research clearly shows that this period lays the foundation for a person’s internal working model of reality, particularly beliefs about themselves and their place in the family and larger world.
Developmental trauma during this period begins shaping children’s brains and their relationship with their parents and the world. We’ve found this very early trauma is a major cause of intractable conflicts in adult relationships.
Research on pre- and perinatal development validates many of the things once considered old wives’ tales, such as the importance of talking, singing, and playing music in energetically attuning with an unborn child. These are now recognized as some of the significant first steps in parent-child attunement.
Sound affects the physical activity of the fetus. In an experiment using ultrasound pictures, the fetus was shown to react to different types of music. From this experiment, researchers found that the largo movements from classical music quieted the fetus. Largo music has about 60 beats per minute, which is about the same as the mother’s resting heartbeat. Music with a faster beat takes the
child out of resonance with the mother’s heartbeat.
Developmental Trauma During Pre- and Perinatal Period
There are a number of other stressors during pregnancy that affect the biological and psychological attunement between mother and child. Prenatal studies, for example, indicate that conflict between the parents and in the family disturbs the fetus. The secretion of adrenaline in the mother’s blood not only causes stress reactions in the fetus, but can also cause both physical and psychological delays during prenatal development.
Families with little or no conflict and families with significant conflict were studied for five to ten years. These longitudinal studies found significant differences in growth rates, development rates, and psychological problems of the two groups of children. Verny’s research indicates that babies are able to remember everything and are deeply impacted by the events around them. Unfortunately, they are not able to communicate this at the time.
Our breathwork therapy with clients supports this research. Many of them remember exact conversations adults present at their birth had with each other, while others knew what the adults were thinking. After breathwork experiences, several clients were able to verify the accuracy of these birth memories with their parents. This anecdotal information supports other research that newborns are able to tune into the thoughts and feelings of those around them.