from The Well Baby Book by Mike Samuels, M.D. and Nancy Samuels

pages 49 - 52

Copyright © 1979, 1991 Mike Samuels, M.D. and Nancy Samuels

Summit Books, Simon and Schuster Building, Rockefeller Center

1230 Ave of the Americas NY, NY 10020


People connected with the care and development of very young children—parents and professionals alike—are coming to realize how important it is for the health and happiness of the baby and the parents if both mother and father are prepared for and positive toward parenting. The feelings and attitudes of both the mother and father are major factors in the baby's health and well being. The relationship between parental attitudes and the infant begin at conception because the baby in the uterus directly shares the mother's emotions at a physiological level. Much of the physiological mechanisms for this are now well known. The mother's emotions result from her thoughts and perceptions Thoughts and perceptions activate a pat of the mother's nervous system called the autonomic nervous system and a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. In turn the nervous system and the hypothalamus affect the tension of the muscle and the output of certain glands. If a thought or perception is stressful, the mother's pituitary gland secretes a hormone called ACTH which causes her adrenal gland to release other hormones—cortisone and adrenaline-like substances. All of these substances actually bathe the early embryo and later cross the placental barrier and enter the blood stream of the unborn baby.


Just as stressful perceptions result in increased autonomic nervous activity, so non-stressful or pleasurable perceptions result in a group of beneficial physiological changes that have been termed the relaxation response. Relaxed pleasure states in the expectant mother result in an optimal uterine environment for the baby. Deliberately concentrating on positive thoughts and mental pictures (imagery), including ones concerning the baby, significantly increases the physiological changes which lead to the relaxed state.



Years ago, researchers discovered that when the mother experienced emotional stress, fetal movements increased several hundred percent and continued for several hours after even a brief period of stress. If the stress continued for weeks, so did the increased fetal activity. Researchers also found that mothers who experienced a high degree of stress during their pregnancy had babies with lower birth weights. It was further demonstrated that mothers who underwent severe emotional stress during pregnancy often had infants who were irritable, hyperactive, and colicky. Other researchers found that such infants tended to be restless and cried a lot. Studies have also shown that anxiety decreases a pregnant woman<s ability to absorb nourishment. A mother can fail to retain up to twice as much nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium as the baby needs.



One of the most important factors that affects a pregnant woman, and therefore the fetus, is the relationship she has with the baby's father. Pregnancy invariably brings with it many changes in the mother's feelings toward the father and vice versa. It is a strong negative influence on  a pregnancy if the relationship is stressful. Poor marital adjustment and the absence of the father have been found to be related associated with maternal emotional stress and, subsequently, colicky babies. Anything that the mother perceives as stressful stimulates the autonomic nervous system, the hypothalamus, and the adrenals, producing lasting effects on the unborn baby. Thus the more positive the mother's relationship with the father, the batter the fetal environment will be. In this way, the father's role in pregnancy goes far beyond contributing half the baby's genetic constitution. His actions and attitudes have a direct effect on the mother and the fetal environment. The primary role of the father throughout the pregnancy is to be supportive—both emotionally and physically—toward the expectant mother. It is important that the father, like the mother, deal with his own feelings and intuitions so as to lower his own stress and tension. At times during the pregnancy the mother's state may be so emotional that she will have difficulty seeing beyond a problem to a solution. At such times the father's reassurance and supportiveness can be invaluable to the mother.