Babies and Relationships

In Utero

Relationships are essential to us and are the cornerstones of our civilisation. As humans we are highly social beings and as a result we have thrived as a species. Our incredible brains are designed to be social, helping us to relate and seek relationships.

In just the same way, the brains of all babies are primed to relate. Their brains are social instruments, ready to tune into strong relational chords from the moment they are born. The sensitive nature and receptivity of infants to their environment is fascinating and somewhat underestimated, beginning long before their birth.

There is a gentle awareness in the placenta, with babies senses and organs ‘budding’ to be stimulated, to be touched and to grow under a loving gaze once post partum.

Foetal movement is very active and responsive to voices, music and general noises coming from outside the placenta, which acts as an acoustic receptor and amplifies sound. Foetal ‘hearing’ is already receptive at 27 weeks of gestation and the heartbeat of a foetus can change in response to noise. The foetus is able to recognise mother’s voice in utero so it may be soothed after baby’s birth‎. The seeds of attachment are emerging; the porous quality of the placenta enables communication. The quality of this communication is key, as is the emotional state of the mother. ‎A baby’s relationship with its mother’s emotional state is inherent. A mother’s emotions can affect the state of hormonal balance in the uterus, giving it a certain hormonal ambience and, if all is well, providing a suitable environment for foetal thriving and thereafter.

In other words, the foetus’ home in the placenta is a ‘training ground’ for the outside world. As if habituating the foetus to their primary caretakers and to the environment they will be born in. There is a non-verbal dialogue communication happening between the foetus and its mother. Similarly, mothers can feel the foetus’ movements and will often fantasise and dream about their baby’s appearance, personality and character.

Pregnant mothers often report that relaxing triggers foetal activity. The foetus may also respond to an increase in the mother’s heart rate where chronic stress is a factor. Depression in pregnancy may increase the Cortisol levels (stress hormones) resulting in a sort of ‘programming’, which affects foetal memory, as if ‘prepping’ for a more depressed environment.

There has been recorded activity in utero as early as 6 weeks with the foetus curling hands and feet in response to other body parts touching them. Sucking fingers is observable in preparation for the relationship with mother’s breast. Hand-to-face activity is often noted as preparation for easier imitation of parent’s face. It’s as if the foetus is ‘warming up’ for their arrival outside the womb with active, purposeful exercises in the womb.

The brain is developing like a flower bulb and the cerebral cortex is evident within 7 weeks of gestation. Every baby will have 100 billion neurons at birth, the equivalent of any adult!

In the second trimester the foetus begins to respond to lots of stimuli with a variety of responses – tactile, kinesthetic, thermal, gustatory and pain.

Scan observations have provided a great deal of fascinating information about the foetus’ inherent relational ability and research reveals that this behavioural activity is more complex than originally believed. Aside from usual movement towards the uterine wall, specific movement directed at the co-twin has been observed in some cases. This is not coincidental and is increased in the second semester as if, with direction and intent, it appears one twin is reaching out to the other!