The Secret World of the Fetus

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Childhood experiences are not the only factors that determine our destiny. A child’s life does not begin at birth. Just because we can’t see a baby before it’s born (except through an ultrasound machine), that doesn’t mean it’s not connected to the outside world. Although the unborn child lives in his own world, he is still deeply influenced by everything that happens around him, especially the thoughts, feelings and actions of his parents. Studies show that fetuses can lead active emotional lives from the sixth month onwards, if not earlier. He can feel, even see, hear, taste, experience and learn. How he feels in his mother’s womb depends largely on how he processes the messages he receives from his mother, but also from his father and the environment.

Bonding begins before birth

An anxious mother, always worried about making a mistake or suffering from other forms of emotional imbalance, can leave deep scars on the character of the developing fetus. Likewise, a confident and assertive mother instills in him a deep sense of contentment and security. These or similar initial emotional imprints shape a person’s attitudes and expectations, and ultimately create a personality that appears shy, anxious, and aggressive, or confident, optimistic, and happy. Contrary to common sense, recent research has found that how a father feels about his wife and unborn child is one of the most important factors in determining the success of a pregnancy. There is strong evidence that a father’s intimacy with his child while he is still in the womb has a strong emotional impact on his well-being. Newborns can recognize their father’s voice and respond emotionally within the first hour or two after birth, provided the father has been talking to the baby throughout the pregnancy. For example, his soothing, familiar tone of voice can stop a child from crying, showing that he feels protected and safe.

It is well known that the mother’s eating habits can also affect the growth of the fetus. Smoking and drinking have been proven to cause irreversible damage to a growing fetus. A series of precise experiments has shown that the thoughts, feelings and emotions of parents (especially mothers) have an even greater influence on the fetus.

There has been much speculation about when exactly the unborn child begins to recognize and respond to these external stimuli, but this seems to be secondary. What’s more, human life begins in the womb and is shaped by all experiences during gestation (the nine months in the womb). Research has shown that an unborn child’s heart beats faster every time his mother thinks about smoking. Without lighting or picking up a cigarette, the thought of the mother elicits an immediate adrenaline response from the fetus, anticipating the dreaded drop in oxygen in his and his mother’s blood. The stress response made his heart beat faster. A mother’s desire to smoke may also be related to her inner feelings of uncertainty, tension, and fear. When she translates these emotions into corresponding compounds in her brain, the fetus triggers the same emotional response. This condition eventually leaves the unborn child prone to ingrained tension and anxiety later in life.

rhythm of happiness

Maternal anxiety has been shown repeatedly to cause fetal hyperactivity. The researchers were able to show that the most active fetuses one day become the most anxious young adults. They can become very shy and withdraw from teachers, classmates, friends and all human contact. Chances are, even in their thirties and old age, young people will remain reserved and shy unless they find a way to correct the initial emotional imbalances of prenatal life.

The rhythm and intonation of a mother’s speech can also affect the unborn child. The fetus moves his body rhythms to match his mother’s unique speaking rhythm. He also responds to sounds and melodies from sources other than his mother. Excited unborn babies calm down when they hear calming music like Vivaldi. Beethoven, on the other hand, made them kick and move around more, like the noise a parent makes when they yell. Pregnant musicians even “teach” their fetuses complex musical compositions. From a certain age, children are able to play music by heart that they have never heard before except when they were in their mother’s womb. Other children were found to repeat words or phrases their mothers had only used during pregnancy. A child grows up speaking a foreign language that the mother used during pregnancy while working abroad, but stops speaking after childbirth.

A mother’s heartbeat is one of the most powerful means of keeping a growing fetus happy and attuned to the outside world. Her steady heartbeat reassures him that everything is fine. He can “read” her emotional state by her changing heart rhythm. During pregnancy, the fetus senses the comforting heartbeat of the mother as its main source of life, security and love. The emotional value associated with heartbeats has been confirmed by a study that used audiotapes to play human heartbeats to nurseries full of newborn babies. To the researchers’ surprise, babies who heard a heartbeat ate more, weighed more, slept more, breathed better, cried less and got sick less than babies who didn’t hear a heartbeat . Of course, in a natural setting, a baby is never separated from its mother after birth and thus continues to feel her heartbeat.

“Crib deaths” occur almost exclusively in babies who are separated from their mothers after birth (another major risk factor is cigarette smoke in the baby’s environment). Such babies feel abandoned by their mother and cannot maintain their vital functions without feeling and hearing her heartbeat. Most babies survive this dramatic measure of separation from their mothers, but may be emotionally scarred later in life in the form of low self-esteem, weakness, and anxiety. In contrast, babies who spend most of their time with their mothers feel needed and loved from the first moment of life. As they get older, they are less likely to have reason to feel insecure. Their personalities will be friendly, confident, optimistic and outgoing.

mixed message

Fetuses can be strongly affected by stressful events that occur in the mother’s life. The resulting release of stress hormones triggers similar emotional responses in the fetus as in the mother. However, if she feels unconditional love for her baby and trusts that nothing is more important than her growing child, the baby will feel safe and protected. A major German study of 2,000 pregnant women has concluded that children born to expectant mothers are much healthier both at birth and after birth than children born to mothers who really do not want children. Another study conducted at the University of Salzburg in Austria had even more surprising results. Psychological tests show that mothers who consciously and unconsciously want their unborn child have the easiest pregnancy, the easiest delivery and the healthiest offspring physically and emotionally. The group of mothers who had negative attitudes toward their unborn child had the worst medical complications during pregnancy and the highest rates of premature, low birth weight and emotionally disturbed babies.

The messages many pregnant women send to their babies are mixed. Often they want a child but don’t want to give up their careers. These unborn babies are often listless and lethargic after birth. A woman’s relationship with her husband or partner is the second most influential factor in determining infant outcomes. A recent study involving more than 1,300 children and their families showed that women who felt trapped in a stormy marriage had a 237 percent higher risk of having a child with psychological or physical abnormalities. Children who feel loved in the womb have every reason to give trust and love as they live in the outside world. They often develop deep bonds with their parents and have little or no tendency to associate or become involved with problematic personalities in their lives.

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