- Shivakumar Belavadi, PPNE,  Bangalore, India

TOPIC - Impact of prenatal bonding on health and learning

Module 7 introduced many sources on the importance of prenatal bonding.  In a short essay, describe the impact of prenatal bonding on health and learning.  Please include a discussion of how it improves health indicators such as intelligence, language, physical development, mental and emotional development and motor skills.

It is axiomatic to say that a human being is an innately capable and social being. The ingrained social nature makes a man/woman search and seek relationships. As life begins, progresses and development unfolds, there is a blooming of learning and an assimilation of experience.

Classical psychology had considered that conscious learning happened only from about the age of 3. Hence the cognitive learning abilities and memory were taken into account thereafter. The classical understanding has had to change with the new knowledge gained through pre and perinatal studies, research and understanding. A child in the womb is sentient …… and begins learning there. It may be even more esoteric to recognize that the prenate builds on the knowledge it carries/ is conceived with!

Authorities like David Chamberlain, Thomas Verny, Marshall Klaus, Michel Odent, Ashley Montagu, Joseph Chilton Pearce, amongst many, have vouched on the facts that the child in the womb is sentient, wants relationships and is a seeker. As events unfold – from the universal realm, transforming into a sperm, ovum for fusing together as a Zygote, embryonic & foetal states through the course of Infancy - two main purposes of life emerge: (a) Live Life and (b) Learn. It may be worth examining how bonding promotes the primary purposes.

Baby Bonding Sources

The first external player with whom the prenate relates and associates is obviously the mother. But the father, elder siblings and others in the family (like grandparents, uncles and aunts living together in joint family like in India) also play a significant role in continual interactions – consciously and subconsciously with the child in the womb. Hence Bonding , as a mechanism of building a meaningful and purposeful mutual relationship, has a definitive role between the baby in the womb and the external players. Mother, however remains the primary conduit and hence the bonding with the mother and then the father form the two primary gateways for Life to Progress and Learning to Happen.

Bonding and Development Paradigm
The relationship established between the prenate and parents could be based on:
(a) Knowledge – and hence facilitating love and full flow of positive emotions. This is known to enhance the harmonious experience of the child, who remains a keen learner. Such knowledge may be acquired through formal study or through society as is the case in many cultures including India.

(b) Ignorance – and hence, at the minimum, lead to underdeveloped emotions and love. However, at the maximum it can lead to deleterious consequences of discord - such as violence, under development, disease and the like.
The same foundational principles extend in time to the course of birthing and the first few hours after delivery. The potential for positive energies caused by bonding is said to wane in the period thereafter.

Here is a small list, by no means exhaustive, of the effects of bonding on health and learning mentioned by various authorities.

1. Proper attachment and bonding paves the way for the foetus /infant to learn and feel that the world is a secure place. They begin to appreciate things around - people and objects from a perspective of love and strength; not disdain or fear. The emotional relationships the child begins to form in the backdrop produces as host of goodies for its appreciation of the life experience.  On the other hand, it has been seen that where the baby in the womb or in the course of infancy is neglected, the neglect and abandonment propels the child to become indifferent, diffident and often dangerous.  Ashley Montagu and Marshall Klaus have observed that the roots of violence in criminal lies in the unfavourable bonding experiences. A mother who is treated well by the family and society, nurtures her baby better. TO the contrary - Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussain are examples quoted often.

2. Health of the child in the womb and the immunity demonstrated by the child in the course of life have been seen to be enhanced in cases of secure attachment and bonding. Converse has been the result where there is a dearth of bonding and attachment.

The ability of the child and mother to undergo a smooth birthing process has also been noted where the child and mother have prenatally bonded well.

Similarly, where mothers have been given access to the child immediately after birth, including the golden hour when the child moves and suckles, the results on health, growth and immunity are seen to be significantly enhanced.

Physical development of bonded babies has been much better in the observed cases. When such mothers breast feed and continue, it automatically causes better nutrition and better immunity for the child. The sensorial and motor skills in children are much better with better bonding.

Taking a step back, it has also been seen that where the prenate bonds better, it takes to the breast easily!  Dr.Thomas Verny has quoted many studies in the book Secret Life of the Unborn Child which bear testimony for the above.

3. Better bonding leads to improved mental faculties. For instance, the child begins to pick up language while still in the womb. The child can indeed learn multiple languages in the early stages of life – prenatally and during infancy/early childhood.  Dr Verny quotes an example of a child in France ( of French Parents) being predisposed to picking up English language. The child in these phases has phenomenal learning potential and memory abilities. David Chamberlain in his book Windows to the Womb has dealt elaborately on the Intelligence of a prenate through the Linguistic, Musical, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Kinaesthetic, Inter & Intra Personal dimensions

4. Emotion handling abilities of the child in life, the intellectual and learning abilities including memory have all been observed to be much more in the course of life in well bonded babies. A child’s orientation to music, tones and voices is laid in the womb. The mental patterns begin to form in the womb and there is evidence that intellectual abilities are also better founded in well bonded babies.

Emotionally, bonding has led to children being more stable emotionally in life and handle stress better. The ability to cope with change of moods are also better. Experiments showing separation of Infants and parent have shown that in cases of well bonded babies, recovery from separation is much faster and therefore more conducive to the emotional wellbeing of the child. On the contrary, babies who have not bonded well have taken to reactive behaviour, substance abuse and the like.

David Chamberlain in Windows to the Womb has given ample examples where a child who bonds better has better learning, emotional and intellectual abilities.

5.  Foundation for health in later life is in the womb. There is a clear case that the impressions and tendencies gathered/sown during the course of Prenancy and Infancy, have a marked bearing on health in the course of adult life. As Peter Nathanielsz puts it, "How we are ushered into life determines how we leave." In the work done by him, there is clear evidence again that improper nutrition of the pregnant mother predisposes the child in the womb to many problems later in life. These serves as examples of situations of improper bonding between mother and child. The child in later life could turn out to be obese, prone to cardiovascular diseases, liver/kidneys and pancreas problems.

In summary, it may be noticed that prenatal bonding and attachment bonding immediately after birth seem to hold many aces for the overall and holistic development of a child. Not only are negative consequences -  like proclivity to diseases, adverse health conditions and reduced learning effects avoided; but significant positive effects - like enhanced physical development,  better immunity , health, intellectual capabilities and  emotional management faculties have been observed on the foundations of good and secure attachment and bonding. Thus much of the later behaviours and experiences in the course of life have their roots way back in the womb.

Bonding is a key to building a holistic Life experience – both for Living and Learning.