Do our experiences in the womb really effect us as adults?  That was the question I asked myself while reading a chapter from Robin Karr-Morse’s book, Scared Sick.

Karr-Morse’s works laid the foundation for the Universal Parenting Places here in Memphis.

I talked to my mom about it, and she shared a piece of advice her mother once gave her: “If you sleep a lot, you’ll have lazy babies and if you’re sad a lot you will have sad babies.” Clearly, my mom believed that while pregnant with me, I felt and experienced everything she felt.

As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I often come across women who experience chronic stress and who are unaware of how their trauma effects the new life inside them.

What the research says

Science tells us that even the earliest days after conception are significant. According to Karr-Morse, there is a “growing belief that even before the fertilized egg becomes an embryo” there is a chemical dialogue that is being exchanged between the woman and the pre-fetus. It is believed that this chemical dialogue may influence the physical health of that baby during his adult years.

Imagine planning a trip to a place for the first time. Before setting out on this trip, you research the accommodations of the place where you will be staying by going online or maybe you make phone calls to the destination hotel or resort. Does this place provide a continental breakfast or are all meals included? What will the temperature be during your stay there? You’re wondering whether it will have everything you will need to fully get the most out of your trip.

Now, imagine this exchange being chemical in nature. The developing little one is making contact with the mother’s womb to find out what she will need in order to adapt and fully thrive while she develops in her mother’s belly.

All that to say that even at the earliest stages of life, the ultimate goal is survival. For the fetus, the mother’s womb acts as a chemical preview of the world it will soon enter.

Traumatic effects

If all that is needed for full physical development isn’t available in the womb, then the baby will adapt to this deficiency by slowing down her growth, making her weight below average.  Any excessive emotional stress that the mother is experiencing on a regular basis can doubly effect the developing baby who is vulnerable to such extreme stress.

Think of thoughts and emotions as holding hands together. If the thoughts are pleasing then, likely there will be an emotion that will feel just as pleasing. Similarly, when you have a recurring overload of thoughts that have emotions like fear, anxiety, anger or sadness constantly happening inside of you, the baby begins to adapt by forming his own defenses for the cruel and dangerous world.

The relationship between the mother and the baby is very much entwined. The mother’s physical and emotional health directly influences the baby’s developing brain and other vital organs.

Everyday stress vs trauma

Some stress is natural and unavoidable. It is the excessive, unaddressed chronic stress that repeatedly results in the same fear response, which may later have an affect on the fetus during the adult years.

Be aware of how constant, toxic stress, which yields the same reoccurring fear responses held in the body, influences the developing baby. Seek ways to prevent trauma, as early as possible and help ensure that your baby has a healthy start at life.

Ebony K. Bailey, LPC MHSP has been practicing psychotherapy since 2005. She currently serves at the Clinical Coordinator of the Universal Parenting Places for the ACE Awareness Foundation. On a regular basis she meets individually and in group with the UPP site directors to discuss clinical programing that primarily focuses on mitigating adverse childhood experiences through family systems therapy.

Related Resources

Sharing mother’s stress in the womb leaves children prone to depression, July 14, 2013.

In the womb’s shadowJan. 2011