Prenatal and perinatal psychology

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Prenatal and perinatal psychology is the study of the foundations of health in body, mind, emotions and in enduring response patterns to life.[1][2][3]


Prenatal and perinatal psychology 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. According to Perry et al. (1995), "experience can change the mature brain - but experience during the critical periods of early childhood organizes brain systems."[4]

Although there are various perspectives on the topic, a common thread is the fundamental importance of prenatal and perinatal experiences in the shaping of the personality and in future psychological development. 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 synonymous, 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.[citation needed]

Historical development[edit]

Otto Rank (1884–1939), one of Sigmund Freud's disciples, wrote that the emotional shock of being born is an individual's first source of anxiety. He believed that a "primal fixation" with the prenatal state is the root of all neuroses and character disorders[5] and developed a process of psychoanalysis based on birth experiences.[6][7] Nandor Fodor (1895–1964), one of Rank's patients, was the first to specifically emphasize the significance of prenatal experiences even earlier than childbirth in The Search for the Beloved: A Clinical Investigation of the Trauma of Birth and Prenatal Condition,[5][8] published in 1949.[9]

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 (1919-1989) 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 (1897-1957) 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 was developed by Leonard Orr (born 1937); 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,[10] by Thomas R. Verny (born 1936), who founded the Association for Pre- & Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH). David Barnes Chamberlain (1928-2014), 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 (born 1939) 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 (born 1918),[11] 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 (born 1930), 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, Wendy Anne McCarty,[12][13] co-founder of the Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology MA and PhD Programs 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.


  1. ^ McCarty, Wendy Anne (2005), "Nurturing the Possible: Supporting The Integrated Self from the Beginning of Life", Shift: At the Frontiers of Consciousness, Mar-May 2005 (6): 18, retrieved 24 May 2016, Prenatal and perinatal psychology (PPN) has grown into a multidisciplinary field dedicated to the in-depth exploration of the psychological dimension of human reproduction and pregnancy and the mental and emotional development of the unborn and newborn child. The heart of the field’s unique contribution is the exploration and understanding of prenatal life, birth and bonding, and infancy from the baby’s point of view. 
  2. ^ McCarty, Wendy Anne (2002), "The power of beliefs: What babies are teaching us", Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health 16 (4): 341–360 
  3. ^ McCarty, Wendy Anne (2004), "The CALL to reawaken and deepen our communication with babies: what babies are teaching us", International Doula 12 (2) 
  4. ^ Perry; et al. (1995), "Childhood trauma, the neurobiology of Adaptation, and "Use-dependent" Development of the Brain: How "States" become "Traits"", Infant Mental Health Journal 16 (4) 
  5. ^ a b Maret, Stephen (2009), Introduction to Prenatal Psychology, Church Gate Books, p. 16, ISBN 9780578089980 
  6. ^ Rank, Otto (1952), The Trauma of Birth, New York: Richard Brunner 
  7. ^ Rank, Otto (1932), The Myth of the Birth of the Hero and Other Writings, New York: Random House 
  8. ^ Leonard J. Schmidt and Brooke Warner (eds.), "Tracing the Roots of Panic to Prenatal Trauma", Panic: Origins, insight, and treatment (PDF), Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, retrieved 15 May 2007 
  9. ^ Fodor, Nandor (1949), The Search for the Beloved: A Clinical Investigation of the Trauma of Birth and Prenatal Condition, New Hyde Park, NY: University Books 
  10. ^ T. Verny, The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, 1981; Dell 1982 reprint: ISBN 0-440-50565-8
  11. ^ * F. Leboyer, Birth Without Violence, 1975; 2nd revision 2002: ISBN 0-89281-983-9; also online (see external links)
  12. ^ McCarty, Wendy Anne. "Welcoming Consciousness: Supporting Babies Wholeness from the Beginning of Life–An Integrated Model of Early Development 2004. Santa Barbara, CA". 
  13. ^ McCarty, Wendy Anne. "Supporting babies’ wholeness in the 21st century: An integrated model of early development. Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health, 20(3), 187-220, 2006".