By Aanchal Jain
There’s an age-old saying that our childhood experiences influence our behavioural traits in adulthood. From how we are treated to what we take in (especially during the early formative years), everything leaves an impact, guiding the lifestyle choices we make and consequently, our physical, mental, and psychological traits. As Bill Gates said, “The first five years (of a child) have so much to do with how the next 80 turn out.”
However, there’s now growing evidence to suggest that the influences on our personality, our being, our soul even, start long before we’re born. It starts from the moment life unfolds in the womb, in the foetal phase of life. Our ancient scriptures have referred to this several times, most popularly in the story of Abhimanyu learning military strategy in his mother’s womb, but these tales have often been dismissed as folklore, myth or divine intervention. Not anymore.
Your days in the womb affects your personality
There have been countless studies conducted around the world leading to the same conclusion: Every facet of your personality can be traced back to your days in the womb. The quality and quantity of nutrition you received, the environmental conditions you were exposed to during the gestation period, the books your mother reads, the music she listened to, even the emotional, mental and physical state she was in when carrying you – all these unseen imprints have laid the foundation of who you are today and will continue to shape you for the rest of your life.
In a way, this radically changes what we’ve known about child care and holistic development, in that now we don’t have to wait for the baby to enter our world to influence the little one’s personality. Child care has assumed another form – prenatal care.
As we all know, during its growing stage, a foetus constantly receives messages from its mother. She is the only connection it has with the external world. While most expecting mothers are familiar with the concept of prenatal care and its importance, there are still a few gaps that need to be filled in order to secure the well-rounded future of the baby – emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.
All mothers are keen to ensure the proper development of their baby’s brains in the womb. However, a lot of them miss out on the psychological aspect of this development, simply because they do not understand the foetal brain’s capacity to assimilate things from its surrounding. They inadvertently fail to focus on the holistic development of the foetus, which goes beyond a healthy diet and regular exercise as recommended by doctors.
Your unborn baby can hear you
Did you know that a foetus has the ability to learn and remember by listening? That’s right. Hearing is the first of the senses to develop even before the baby is born. The baby starts to perceive sound by the end of the first trimester. For example, a foetus, after showing an initial reaction of alarm, eventually stops responding to a repeated loud noise. In fact, in the womb, a baby can even hear sounds that the mother might not notice herself – the gurgle of the stomach or the whoosh of air going in and out of the lungs. Incredible, isn’t it?
Another study done by Japanese child psychologist Dr Makoto Shichida talks about how the right hemisphere of the brain is active during the gestation period. This part of the brain is the centre of extrasensory perception (ESP) or, in layman’s terms, the sixth sense. The foetus uses the developing cells of its body to gain an understanding of the world around it. And these senses get screened or ‘projected’ onto the right hemisphere of the brain as an image. So, in their own way, babies are able to see.
How can we use this to our advantage? How can we help in the cognitive development of the baby before it steps foot into this world? The answer lies in the simpler joys of life – music and meditation.
Listen to music during pregnancy
While listening to relaxing music is definitely recommended during pregnancy, there are sound therapies that eliminate negative thoughts and maintain a positive womb environment for the baby to learn and grow. Using specific algorithms and the addition of higher harmonics, devices like singing bowls, coupled with methods like meditation with chanting, relax the body and mind and stabilise the heart rate and blood pressure of the mother. This creates the perfect environment for the baby to be nurtured in.
Also, since the right brain is still in the developing stage, it’s easy to train a foetus in ESP. So, during pregnancy, mothers should be involved in activities to help develop the foetus’ right brain so that it is able to strike a balance between logic and imagination as it grows up.
There’s another thing that ensures cognitive development of your child, emotional bonding between the foetus and parents.
Everything the mother feels and thinks is communicated via neurohormones to the foetus. Children born to mothers who had intensely stressful pregnancies are reportedly more likely to have behavioural issues in life. Positive maternal emotions, on the other hand, have been shown to advance the development of the foetus. Thoughts that infuse the developing baby with a sense of happiness and calmness set the stage for a balanced and serene disposition throughout life. When the mother is calm and centred, the foetus’ nervous system works smoothly and it is able to grow peacefully.
To strike an emotional bond, the best way is to bring attention to your developing baby. In a place free of interruptions, close your eyes and practice seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, and even tasting your way into a relaxed feeling, closer to the life growing inside you. Use the richness of your imagination, and go on a daydream. With each passing week, imagine how much bigger the foetus has grown and how much it has developed. Talk to your baby about how life is going to be when he or she is born, what aspirations you have for it, and how much you love it. Treat the baby like your closest companion and share everything that happens during the day. Discuss the book you are reading, review the movie you just watched, or relive the memories of a vacation you took in the past.
This early display of affection towards the baby appears to be fundamental for the balance of its life, often manifesting in the behaviour, social relationships, and adaptive functioning of the individual. There’s evidence to suggest that a person’s ability to regulate emotions develops in the context of their earliest caregiving relationships during foetal and infancy phase.
How a father can bond with his unborn baby
Which brings me to the third gap – the role of the father during pregnancy. But in most pregnancies, I’ve noticed that the involvement of the father often takes a backseat and is not referred to, not even in passing.
We’re doing grave injustice by ignoring the emotions of one parent, especially when he’ll be called on to shoulder equal responsibilities for the child’s overall development. Gone are the days when fathers could be freed from their charge and restricted to being the breadwinner, while mothers assumed the sole responsibility of bringing up the baby. In this day and age, fathers will be required to step out of the shadows and do their bit wholeheartedly.
In fact, expecting mothers appreciate it when their partners are actively involved in the pregnancy. At times she feels the need to be ‘mothered’ and pampered herself and the father should allow and let this happen by nurturing and looking after her. Simple things like accompanying his wife to the doctor’s appointments or helping them through mood swings and morning sickness matter a lot. Bringing a child into the world is a combined responsibility and when fathers chip in their fair share, you know that the couple is on the right track of parenthood.
In addition, fathers should also be encouraged to talk about their feelings. No doubt they are equally terrified of the new responsibilities they’re faced with and yet, they’re excited in anticipation of seeing a miniature version of himself enter this world. And, that is normal and natural. Talking about the complicated feelings he’s experiencing helps him and his wife deal with the emotions a pregnancy can bring. And as the time comes, they should start discussing serious topics like finances, wills and life insurance. Communicating openly and honestly about these things helps create a positive relationship you will need as a couple and as parents.
This is the 21st century we’re living in, an exciting time of rapid scientific advancements and global cultural amalgamations. As exhilarating as things might be right now, all this will have changed exponentially by the time our children grow up. As parents, it falls on us to raise our children in a way that prepares them to lead happy, fulfilling and productive lives. It is our responsibility to equip them to survive and thrive in whatever they choose to do in life. And that can only happen when we fill in the gaps present in the existing prenatal care in India and give our children the competitive edge.
(The writer is Co-founder & Director, The Bump to Baby Co.)