Babies learn how the external world feels like through the feelings of their own mothers. This connection can shape the formation of their personalities from day one.
Our first contact with reality is through the womb of our mother.
From conception, the baby receives “messages” from the outside world in order to know what the environment is like. This communication consists mainly of hormones, which flow from the mother to the baby through the placenta.
When mothers experience fear, their bodies produce more cortisol and adrenaline. When they experience satisfaction, their bodies produce mainly serotonin and oxytocin. The bloodstream will carry these "messengers" to the baby's body, as a way of letting them feel the world through the mother's feelings.
A state of acute stress will have the body contracting, the heart speeding up and these hormones spreading throughout the body via bloodstream. Inside the belly, the baby will not only feel the effects of the hormones, which are now also circulating in their body, but also the contraction of the uterus and pelvic muscles.
All these signals cause reactions in the baby's body, which is developing in preparation for the kind of world they will be born into – a more welcoming world or a more threatening one. How the mother sees the world and feels in it is translated into biochemical processes that will be the baby's language, until they develop to the point where they can, by themselves, understand what is going on.
The development of a baby is not simply genetically encoded. It is true that many processes are programmed to take place over the course of the weeks of pregnancy, but genes respond to environmental stimulation.
This means that development is interactive, both physical and psychological – which includes the formation of personality.
Personality is a set of patterns that are formed from the interaction of biological inheritance with the environment.
"All of our experiences fuse into personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient." - Malcolm X
If a baby is more exposed to fear-related hormones, different genes will be expressed and the personality will be formed according to this interaction. Research indicates that a baby can be calmer or more agitated, depending on how safe they felt during pregnancy.
The safety that the baby feels also plays a role in the development of intelligence. This means that a secure bonding plays a crucial role in this dynamic.
As the baby grows inside the womb, their senses become more and more developed and their experience of the world is no longer just chemical and hormonal. In addition to hormones, they can also hear and feel their mothers.
Even as a fetus, the baby develops the ability to hear around 18 weeks of pregnancy. Then, somewhere between 22 and 24 weeks, the baby can recognize voices, especially the mother's. This recognition is expressed through increased movements inside the belly.
From the third trimester onwards, neuronal development almost triples, which makes the baby's brain more receptive to the surrounding stimuli. Stress and emotional management plays an even more important role at this stage, since, by facilitating better emotional regulation, it contributes to a better development of cognitive functions.
Thus, and if development is interactive, mothers can play an active role in the formation of their babies’ personalities.
Even if the baby is feeling anxious, the mother can talk or sing to her belly, or give it a massage, producing more relaxing hormones that will override the previous ones.
This is also valid for the father, because in-utero bonding is also established with the father when he interacts with the belly through his voice or touch. It is a way not only to include the father as a structural element in the safety that the baby feels, but also to keep him involved in the pregnancy process.
The mother herself can feel more secure by having a presence of quality from her partner, passing on this security to the baby, who now receives it in double dose.
Another way to facilitate contact between the baby and both parents is the 5d ultrasound – or emotional ultrasound. These designations came from the possibility of seeing the baby in all their dimension and depth, moving in real time and expressing their emotions. It's an incredible window of opportunity for parents to bond with their baby.
Bonding is like a warm blanket, which welcomes and holds, a safe haven we can always return to after some turmoil.
And it's not a problem to experience agitation, fear or anxiety during pregnancy. The problem lies in having a pregnancy based on these emotions. Fear is a natural emotion and there are plenty of reasons to be afraid during this journey, as so many changes are taking place in such a short time. The answer is to bring safety back whenever necessary.
For a growing baby, it's actually healthy to experience these emotions for short periods of time and then returning to safety, letting them know that all these states exist, along with ways of caring and regulating.
Above all, don't blame yourself for feeling whatever emotion you’re feeling, even if you know that these experiences will get to your baby. Rather, keep in mind that emotions occur to inform us how each thing makes us feel and impacts us. Although they can be painful, they lead us to the awareness of what we need and only then we can care for and nurture ourselves.
This is the intention that goes in between the lines of this post – to become aware. May this awareness be the link between you, the resources and the people that can help you getting back into your safety. Know that it is possible to gain clarity, feel safe and enjoy this journey. These sensations will also get to your baby.
A baby's primary need is to feel cared for and nurtured, so allow your love to flow through all available channels into your baby.
See this post on Instagram and visit the EcoBabyCare profile and website to learn more about emotional ultrasounds, among many other super important services for a conscious pregnancy:
Quando Eu Estava Na Tua Barriga, by Eduardo Sá (2019). Lua de Papel.
The pregnancy and baby book, by Penguin Books (2013). DK
Thomason, M. E., Hect, J. L., Waller, R., & Curtin, P. (2021). Interactive relations between maternal prenatal stress, fetal brain connectivity, and gestational age at delivery. American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 46, 1839–1847.
Schore, A. N. (2001). Effects of a secure attachment relationship on right brain development, affect regulation, and infant mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal, 22(1–2), 7–66.