Pre- and perinatal psychology

Pre- and perinatal psychology

Prenatal and perinatal psychology is an interdisciplinary study of the foundations of health in body, mind, emotions and in enduring response patterns to life. It explores the psychological and psychophysiological effects and implications of the earliest experiences of the individual, before birth ("prenatal"), as well as during and immediately after childbirth ("perinatal") on the health and learning ability of the individual and on their relationships. As a broad field it has developed a variety of curative and preventive interventions for the unborn, at childbirth, for the new born, infants and adults who are adversely affected by early prenatal and perinatal dysfunction and trauma. Some of these methods have not been without significant controversy, for example homebirth in the West and in earlier days, LSD psychotherapy for resolving birth trauma.


Examples of the diversity of interests in the subject are: in neurobiology where it is understood that "experience can change the mature brain - but experience during the critical periods of early childhood organizes brain systems; in psychoneuroendocrinology where there is evidence of an "umbilical affect exchange" which influences the immediate and long- term psychology of behavior ; in bioengineering where the importance to development as well as growth of the fetomaternal system is increasingly understood ; and in clinical maternal-fetal medicine where the unique symbiotic relationship between a mother and her fetus is explored, and where issues such as maternal stress and the development of later psychopathology in the child are considered through hormonal mechanisms particularly the HPA axis .

Although theoretical and psychotherapeutic approaches vary in their treatment of the topic, a common thread is the fundamental importance of pre- and perinatal experiences in the shaping of the personality and in future psychological development. Yet somewhat contrary to the evidence , this assertion is not widely supported in psychology. There are widespread doubts regarding the extent to which newborn infants are capable of forming memories, the effects of any such memories on their personality, and the possibility of recovering them from an unconscious mind, which itself is the subject of argument in the field. Only a minority of psychologists have had direct experience of the therapeutic modalities that explore these phenomena and many question the validity and even the existence of repressed memories. However, experience and memory are not synomous, and while a fetal infant may not be able to recall his or her experiences, he or she still lived in those moments and possibly had neurological, psychological or physiological responses to them, which may influence the ongoing development of the mind and/or brain structures.

Historical development

The relevance of birth experiences has been recognized since the early days of modern psychology. Although Sigmund Freud touched on the idea briefly before rejecting it in favor of the Oedipus complex, one of his disciples Otto Rank became convinced of the importance of birth trauma in causing anxiety neuroses. Rank developed a process of psychoanalysis based on birth experiences, and authored his seminal work, 'The Trauma of Birth' . Freud's initial agreement and then later volte-face, caused a rift between them, which relegated the study of birth trauma to the fringes of psychology. The subject was taken up again in 1949 by Nandor Fodor a patient of Rank's and teacher of Francis Mott . In addition to birth trauma, Fodor emphasized the significance of prenatal trauma.

Developments in the 1950s included a shift in emphasis towards non-traumatic by Donald Winnicott and to the transpersonal by Maarten Lietaert Peerbolte aspects of pre- and perinatal experience, and brought attention to the relevance of very early gestation, and even the event of conception by Peerbolte. These topics saw later elaboration by Frank Lake as well as Michael Irving, R D Laing, Graham Farrant, Stanislav Grof and others. The expression at a broad social level of basic perinatal feelings, such as "suffering fetus" or "toxic placenta," is part of the narrative in psychohistory, developed by Lloyd deMause. Pre- and perinatal psychology is at the a core of Primal therapy and Primal integration. Professor Stephen Maret has explored these influences in his book, The Prenatal Person .

Material emerging from sessions of psychedelic psychotherapy using LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs was the foundation for research into the enduring effects of pre- and perinatal experiences in adult life conducted by Frank Lake, Athanasios Kafkalides and Stanislav Grof. Grof went on to formulate an extensive theoretical framework for the analysis of pre- and perinatal experiences, based on the four constructs he called Basic Perinatal Matrices. Lake and Grof independently developed breathing techniques, following Wilhelm Reich as an alternative to the use of psychedelic drugs, which was subject to considerable legal difficulty from the mid-1960s onwards. A related technique called Rebirthing Breathwork was developed by Leonard Orr; and Core process psychotherapy trainees relive presumed birth trauma as part of their training.

Public attention was drawn to the importance of prenatal experiences by the 1981 book, The Secret Life of the Unborn Child , by Thomas R. Verny, who founded the Association for Pre- & Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH). David Chamberlain, who was president of the APPPAH from 1991 to 1999, published a popular book entitled, Babies Remember Birth (1988), outlining new experimental research that supports the existence of pre-natal memories. Further evidence was presented by Ludwig Janus in The Enduring Effects of Prenatal Experience (1997).

Perhaps the first book to effectively convey the importance of trauma-free childbirth to the wider public was Birth Without Violence (1975), by French obstetrician Dr. Frederick Leboyer , which helped popularize the practice of placing newly-born infants in a tub of warm water, known as a "Leboyer bath" to simulate the familiar pre-natal environment of warm amniotic fluid. Following on from Leboyer, another French obstetrician, Michel Odent, pioneered the practice of low intervention labour and took the "Leboyer bath" one step further, developing the use of warm-water pools for a water birth.

In 2004, Dr. Wendy Anne McCarty , co-founder of the Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology Program at Santa Barbara Graduate Institute, reviewed the 30 years of clinical research in prenatal and perinatal psychology and current mainstream early development models. In her book Welcoming Consciousness, she introduced the Integrated Model of early development that was reflective of the prenatal and perinatal psychology clinical findings. The transcendental and human aspects of awareness documented from the beginning of life became the core thread in this holonomic holographic model.


  • Chasse, J. "Prenatal Influences on Temperament, Personality, and Behavior in Children" on Mommy Guide (March 2004).
  • Chasse, J. "Early Learning" (May, 2005).
  • Chasse, J. "Baby Magic" 2006: ISBN: 978-1-4116-4834-0
  • O. Rank, The Trauma of Birth, 1924; Dover 1994 reprint: ISBN 0-486-27974-X
  • F. Lake, The First Trimester, 1982
  • S. Grof, Beyond the Brain: Birth, Death and Transcendence in Psychotherapy, 1986 ISBN 0-87395-899-3
  • D. Chamberlain, Babies Remember Birth, 1988; 3rd edition (The Mind of Your Newborn Baby) 1998: ISBN 1-55643-264-X
  • L. Janus, The Enduring Effects of Prenatal Experience: Echoes from the Womb, 1997, ISBN 1-56821-853-2
  • M. D. Adzema, Falls From Grace: Spiritual and Philosophical Perspectives of Prenatal and Primal Experience 2004 (online, below)

       7th International APPPAH Congress, "Afterglow" on Birth Psychology congress-03/0703afterglow.html - 9k - (December, 2004).

See also

External links

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