The Sentient Prenate: What Every Parent Should Know

By Chamberlain, David B. PhD | Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

The Sentient Prenate: What Every Parent Should Know

Chamberlain, David B. PhD, Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

ABSTRACT: In the 1980's parents were first introduced in large numbers to the sensitive, perceptive, conscious, and perhaps even cognitive prenate. This paper summarizes the major evidence, including recent research findings, demonstrating that prenates are 1) sensitive and aware, 2) learn and dream, and 3) are social and communicative. Well-designed research programs in prenatal enrichment confirm the intelligence and receptivity of these babies. A closing section describes the special resources now available to parents to enhance prenatal bonding and communication.

It was not until the decade of the 1980's that parents in large numbers were first introduced to the idea that their babies, while still developing in the womb, could be sensitive, perceptive, conscious, perhaps even cognitive beings. Leading the way was Thomas Verny's The secret Life of the Unborn Child (1981) presenting a fundamentally new portrait of the baby in the womb - a baby active, curious, and emotional. These facts had profound implications for the healthy development of persons and the early commencement of parental responsibility. Enjoying multiple editions and translations, The secret spread to many countries in Europe, Asia, and South America.

Additional revelations about the mind of the baby came by way of Babies Remember Birth (Chamberlain, 1988), which presented the baby as a fully sentient, gifted communicator, keenly alert, and capable of surprising feats of learning and memory. Both books, although breaking with traditional ideas, represented a scientific approach to the study of prenatal and perinatal life and asserted the legitimacy of the full range of empirical data: anecdotal, clinical, and experimental. Verny's book led to the formation of what is now the Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health and to a series of biennial International Congresses which helped to establish pre- and perinatal psychology as a new field of study.

During the same decade, representing more intuitive and spiritual sources of knowledge, the work of educator Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov was inspiring the formation of national associations for prenatal education, the first one in France, established by Andre Bertin, followed by similar national associations in Greece, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Norway, and Russia. Aivanhov"s vision of the importance of parents and their critical influence - for better or for worse - during the prenatal period was contained in the book Education Begins Before Birth (English translation 1982). In lectures going back to 1938, Aivanhov had emphasized the potency of a mother's thoughts, habits, and emotions to effect qualitative changes in the unborn child which would have life-long consequences.

These revolutionary ideas, not uncommon outside of Western culture (especially widespread in ancient China and experiencing a revival there today), are in harmony with contemporary insights about the practicality of preventive over reconstructive measures and the fundamental importance of paternal and maternal nurturance to the creation of a truly healthy individual and a truly safe society. In his "Plan for the Future of Mankind" Aivanhov wrote, prophetically: "Instead of leaving the State to spend billions on hospitals, prisons, law courts and reform schools, I advise it to concentrate all its attention on its pregnant mothers. The cost would be far less and the results infinitely superior" (Aivanhov, 1982, p. 38).

These groundbreaking scientific, intuitive, and educational efforts of the 1980's to awaken parents to the prime importance of life before birth are fully supported by a constantly increasing volume of research findings (Laughlin, 1989). Animal studies reveal both the advantage of prenatal enrichment and the disastrous effects of stress during pregnancy (Diamond, 1989; Insel, Kinsky, Mann & Bridges, 1990; Schneider & Coe, 1993) while human studies constantly remind us that the prenate is busily interacting with and being affected by the fetal environment (Ward, 1991; Nijhuis, 1992; Roe & Drivas, 1993; Thoman, 1993). …

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