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What We Know

Prenatal and Early Postnatal Influences: Supporting the Optimal Development of Children and Emerging Family Relationships From Conception Through Infancy

“The embryo in the blastocyst stage surrounded by the membrane known as the zona pellucida.” —Lennart Nilsson, 1990, A Child is Born

“The embryo in the blastocyst stage surrounded by the membrane known as the zona pellucida.” —Lennart Nilsson, 1990, A Child is Born

A child’s potential for healthy development is optimized when a pregnant woman or girl, the individuals who support her and the practitioners who care for her, help her create a nurturing internal and external environment in which the child can grow and thrive from conception through the early parenting period. 

The feelings we hold from past and recent experiences influence the environment inside our bodies. Recent research is now showing that the environment inside and outside women’s bodies impacts the development, health and behavior of their children before and after birth.

Our life experiences before we attempt to conceive, become pregnant, or adopt a child include those that may have resulted in the development of stress or traumatic stress symptoms. Stressful or traumatizing experiences can create persistent patterns of response to our external environment and the feelings we experience inside our bodies.

We may hold imprints from our own experiences before we were born, during birth and our early interactions with our caregivers, which may also influence our feelings on our journey to becoming parents.

Current knowledge highlights the opportunity that women have to support the development of:

  • Nurturing environments inside and outside of their bodies before and during pregnancy and birth

  • Compassionate connections with their babies from conception through the early parenting period.

It also illuminates the opportunity practitioners have to help create a supportive environment for women, the individuals who support them, and their developing babies through the quality of care they provide.

The impacts of our earliest experiences may continue to challenge us over our life span. Issues relating to this period can be addressed at any age, supporting enhanced well-being and growth.

Human development is continuous from prenatal to postnatal life. Postnatal patterns build upon earlier prenatal and birth experiences. This is the time in which vital foundations are established at every level of being: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and relational.
— McCarty & Glenn, 2008, Nurturing Human Potential and Optimizing Relationships From the Beginning of Life