Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Role of Prenatal Trauma in the Development of the Negative Birth Experience

Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Role of Prenatal Trauma in the Development of the Negative Birth Experience

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: In this paper the author reviews and extends his previous researches into the negative birth experience. He notes that the incidence of the negative birth experience is constant at about 30% even in asymptomatic individuals who on further enquiry admit to restrictive feelings which have effectively limited their access to a full potential. The prominence of the negative birth experience in the production of certain symptom complexes is detailed. The negative birth experience is therefore to be considered a potent inhibiting factor to be dealt with therapeutically wherever it is discovered.

In a consecutive series of 260 patients 76 (29%) indicated that they had negative birth experiences. Of these 48 (63%) reported prenatal experiences responsible for their negative feelings at birth. Some of these experiences are described. An investigation into the 61 cases of depression (having a high negative birth experience incidence of about 40%) reveals a high incidence of prenatal trauma of 77% in the 26 with a negative birth experience. These figures suggest that almost 20% (probably nearer 30% for cases of depression) of all patients attending for psychotherapy suffer from symptoms due at least in part to prenatal trauma. It is further postulated that this 20% is likely to remain inaccessible to psychotherapeutic approaches that ignore the role of prenatal trauma.


In 1972 I first met Dr. David Cheek and was profoundly impressed by the ease with which he was able to uncover birth memories by means of the ideomotor signal and ideomotor questioning. Over the years I have taken every opportunity to familiarise myself with these techniques and have become increasingly convinced that memories uncovered in hypnosis are factual in most cases. Support for this view has come from my own practice in which on occasion there has been the opportunity to validate such birth memories with the subject's parents.

Cheek (1974) described the appearance of sequential head movements during regression to birth. The accuracy with which these movements reproduced the probable movements due to the birth process, provides conclusive evidence of the validity of regression using his techniques. Chamberlain (1980) compared the birth memories of 10 mother/child couples and found that they shared a wealth of factual detail in a high proportion of cases. From this evidence Chamberlain concluded that birth memories are real although he admits that the possibility of falsification exists. However he affirms that the quality and content of these birth memories are such that they give clear evidence of the newborn's ability to experience, learn, understand and form relationships from the commencement of extrauterine life.

There is evidence to support the belief that the newborn is able to respond specifically to the environment in which he finds himself. Meltzoff and Moore (1977) have conclusively demonstrated that the newborn has a detailed awareness of his environment immediately after birth that one can reasonably assume must have been established prior to birth. Harris (1967) cited evidence to prove that the events of birth and of infant life are recorded even though they are not remembered.

There are certain factors surrounding birth that appear to have a profound effect upon later life, chief among which are the anxiety and rejection of illegitimacy. Stott and Latchford (1976) found that illegitimate or premaritally conceived children have a 44% greater risk of morbidity than the average. The adopted child runs this risk since he is nearly always in this category. Stewart (1955) found that there was twice as much prematurity and three times as much perinatal death among extramaritally conceived children and James (1969) pointed out that illegitimate infants are at a greater risk of being stillborn indicating that maternal psychological stress is responsible for some of this additional risk.

Anxiety can of course be due to other factors and Davids and DeVaults (1963) demonstrated that birth complications were more frequent in seriously troubled women all of whom in their study had at least one complication whereas the normal controls had none. …

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