Years ago, noted physicist Dr. Bruce Lipton warned colleagues and parents that stress distorts the physiology of the developing child. His work focused on how a mother’s emotional experiences affect an unborn baby’s development via biochemical “signal” molecules that are released into the blood which passes through the placenta and activate specific receptor proteins on the surfaces of cells in tissues and organs. These serve as molecular “switches” that adjust the metabolic system and behavior of the infant. So it is important that prospective parents realize they are programming their baby, even before birth, through the chronic emotional states they experience.
Recently, studies have shown that children whose mothers were overly stressed during pregnancy are themselves more vulnerable to anxiety as a result. “High levels of stress hormones may cross the placenta and affect the baby in the womb in a way that carries long-term implications,” UK scientists believe. “Several human studies of children and adults suggest that elevated levels of cortisol (the “stress” hormone) are associated with psychological risk, notably depression and anxiety. Our findings point to a possible mechanism by which pre- and postnatal stress or anxiety may predict these disturbances in their babies’ early adolescence, and possibly into adulthood.”
Recent studies of rhesus monkeys showed they grew up anxious and antisocial after the stress of separation from their mothers. These studies were unique in showing that the negative effects of separation in infancy cannot be reversed by a later normal social life. Dr. Andrea Danese of King’s College London, said, “If you take studies in humans who have experienced loss I think the findings are quite consistent. Children who are separated from parents tend to show more anxious behavior, they have poorer social skills and more aggressive behavior. Adults with a history of childhood maltreatment have elevated inflammation levels. Inflammation is one of the key factors that contribute to a number of conditions including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia.”
Relaxing and slowing down are not just “nice” suggestions. Scientists conducting these studies say that new mothers need to learn to relax and take life more slowly. They suggest that antenatal classes could help new mothers. Partners can also help. Criticizing his partner for not slowing down is not helpful. Asking if he can do tasks she usually does to help lighten her load is helpful. To truly be with children of any age, we all must have the ability to slow ourselves down and relax into the present moment, because that is where our children live.
by Vimala McClure