Emotional Trauma in the WombThe caller complained, “I’ve been sad all my life. I’ve been to many therapists and none have been able to help me get rid of my sadness. Do you think you can help me?”

Since I have seen many similar cases like this before, I told the caller, “I have a good hunch on what is going on. Come on over and lets see if I can help.” After briefly treating the person, the sadness was gone and it has stayed that way ever since. I have treated hundreds of these situations where individuals have been able to experience release of seemingly hopeless issues. What has made the difference?

There is a growing body of research showing that babies in the womb feel, taste, learn, and have some level of consciousness. One study had babies in the womb receiving “vibroacoustic stimulation” (Gonzalez-Gonzalez et al., 2006). That is a fancy way of saying sound waves were transmitted. For comparison purposes, there was also a control group that did not receive the treatment. After they were born, the babies who had received the stimulation were again given the same treatment. The result was that these babies recognized the signal and tended to calm down after receiving the signal. The researchers concluded that fetal life is able to learn and memorize with this capacity lasting into neonatal life (post-birth).

In other research, Anthony DeCasper and William Fifer created a nipple that was connected to an audio device (Kolata, 1984). This nipple test was given to 10 newborn babies. If a child sucked in one way they would hear their mother’s voice. Sucking in a different pattern would cause the child to hear another woman’s voice. The researchers found that the babies sucked in a way to hear their mothers. The same experiment was done using the sound of the mother’s heart beat and that of a male voice. The result was that the babies sucked in such a way as to hear the mother’s heart beat more often than the male voice.

DeCasper later did another test where he had sixteen pregnant women read a children’s book. They read the book out aloud twice a day for the last 6.5 weeks of their pregnancy. Once born, the babies were given the nipple test previously mentioned where they could listen either to their mother reading the original children’s book that was used or another book. The babies sucked to hear the original children’s book. What DeCasper concluded was that a prenatal auditory experience can influence auditory preferences after birth.

An author and well known obstetrician, Christiane Northrup (2005) shares that if a pregnant mother is going through high levels of fear or anxiety she creates a “metabolic cascade.” Hormones known as cytokines are produced and the mother’s immune system is affected, including her child’s. Chronic anxiety in the mother can set the stage for a whole array of trauma based results such as prematurity, complications of birth, death, and miscarriage. The opposite is also true. When the mother is feeling healthy and happy, she produces oxytocin. This is often called the molecule of belonging. The presence of this component creates feelings of bonding and strengthens immunity in the baby. Neurotransmitters moving inside the mother’s body creates a chemical and physical imprint on the baby’s brain and body. The message imprinted is that there is safety and peace. The baby feels secure and taken care of.

Can a baby learn while in the womb? The research seems to point in that direction. In terms of mental health, can this be a clue to psychological issues adults exhibit? In some cases, I think so. I feel this way, not because I have done peer-reviewed research on the matter, but because of the hundreds that I have treated for their fetal life traumas. They experienced significant or total reduction of their negative and dysfunctional issues. Many of these patients had previously exhibited spontaneous and abrupt feelings of anger, fear, sadness, loneliness, hyper-vigilance and even co-dependent enablement.

The next time you experience one of these emotions and you cannot figure out where it came from perhaps it came before your physical birth. You may have had a detached mother or a scared one. You could have had a mother that did not want to get pregnant and resented the father. Maybe your mother was depressed and lonely. Hopefully, you had a happy and content mother who nurtured you in her heart and enjoyed having you in her life.

References
Gonzalez-Gonzalez, N. L., Suarez, M. N., Perez-Pinero, B., Armas, H., Domenech, E., & Bartha, J. L. (2006). Persistence of fetal memory into neonatal life. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica, 85, 1160-1164. doi:10.1080/00016340600855854

Kolata, Gina (1984). Studying learning in the womb. Science, 225, 302-303. doi:10.1126/science.6740312

Northrup, C. (2005). Mother-daughter wisdom. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

 


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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jun 2010
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

APA Reference
López De Victoria, S. (2010). Emotional Trauma in the Womb. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 12, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/06/29/emotional-trauma-in-the-womb/

 

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