Prenatal Development and Parents' Lived Experiences: How Early Events Shape Our Psychophysiology and Relationships

By Dueger, Stephanie | Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health, Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

Prenatal Development and Parents' Lived Experiences: How Early Events Shape Our Psychophysiology and Relationships


Dueger, Stephanie, Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health


Prenatal Development and Parents' Lived Experiences: How early events shape our psychophysiology and relationships. Ann Diamond Weinstein, 2016. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. ISBN: 978-0-393-71106-6

In Prenatal Development and Parents' Lived Experiences: How Early Events Shape Our Psychophysiology and Relationships, Ann Weinstein takes the reader through a beautifully-detailed journey linking current research from diverse disciplines with the experiences of mother and baby from pre-conception through the postpartum period. The author states that her "intention in writing this book is to provide practitioners and individuals with a deep understanding of the importance of the earliest period of human development: from conception through the early postnatal period," (p. 1), and this she does in spades.

The author invites the reader to experience her writing, as well as any perinatal memories that may arise for the reader on a somatic level while digesting the book, through a continuation of morphogenesis, an arm of human embryology hypothesizing that form develops from movement. Weinstein states:

I encourage you to pause frequently, breathe, notice your state, and use whatever skills, practices, and self-care resources are most helpful to you. As Shea notes (personal communication, October 4, 2014), 'This way, you may begin to experience morphology, which is still present in your biology' (p. 11).

Weinstein begins with an overview of research supporting perinatal psychology. Throughout this overview and the rest of the book, she highlights the importance of working with all women and girls prior to conception, not only those populations that have previously received the most funding; Weinstein reports that research in perinatal psychology has been incomplete, with its heavy emphasis on vulnerable populations of pregnant women.

The author then moves into an examination of the ways in which one's cells might remember, and be affected by, the experiences of the perinatal time. In this way, she provides a link for the reader to begin to process and deeply understand the writing in her book, not only cerebrally, but also somatically. One of many examples Weinstein uses is the memory of the cells within the immune system, which once exposed to infection, are primed to recognize and attack similar future invaders (p. 42). She quotes Very and Weintraub (2002):

We do not need fully developed central nervous systems or brains to receive, store, and process information. Information substances from the mother, be they stress-related cortisol or feel-good endorphins, enter the baby's blood system affecting receptors at every stage of development, no matter how early in life. ... Our earliest memories are not conscious, nor even unconscious in the standard sense... [W]e record experience and history of our lives in our cells (pp. 159-160).

Weinstein goes into great detail in presenting multiple sources of evidence showing how both the mother and the fetus respond to stress, and how the fetus' development adapts in order to prepare for the environment it expects to live in outside of the womb. She adds research suggesting that this may occur even if excessive maternal stress occurs in the six months prior to conception (Khashan et al., 2009).

Additionally, the author presents Sandman and Davis' (2012, p. 13) research that, "When the predictive adaptive response occurs during prenatal development but does not match the postnatal environment, disease states may occur over the course of the life of the offspring. …

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