Encouragement to Teach Preconception/Early Pregnancy Education

During the 2017 CAPPA Conference in Portland, Maine, I saw the excitement of the faculty and attendees on the organizing of a New Parent Educator Course at CAPPA.

As a childbirth educator for over 45 years, I have seen how few parents nowadays, shows a natural skill for parenting. Many new parents have never babysat or cared for younger siblings in the way many of us did years ago. We had very few day care settings so mothers could drop their children off and head to work, certainly not babies at the age of a few weeks like we do now. Other family members shared the tasks so parents could make ends meet.

Who would have thought that parents would have to read books on how to parent children? But then again, when I was pregnant in the 1960s, we had no idea that our babies were influenced by the environment-yes, we knew about chemicals and later smoking and alcohol, but few of us knew the impact of emotions on a baby growing in the womb. The researchers knew in the 1980s that stress hormones were breaking through the “protective placenta”, but no one was sharing that knowledge with pregnant families! When I read “The Secret Life of the Unborn Child” by Thomas Verny, a Psychiatrist from Canada, I had an epiphany. That was in 2003 for me, but the book was written in 1981! I have been pursuing education in that field since then.

We now have the evidence in the scientific world through the studies of morphogenesis, a branch of human embryology, neuroscience, and epigenetics. When women and girls are pregnant, their perceptions and beliefs shape their physiology, which impacts their internal environment within which their developing babies grow and influences the lifelong programming of their babies’ systems.1 I suggest that, in order to optimally protect and support the overall development of a human organism (not just development of a prenate’s or your child’s brain), the work with women, must begin before conception. 2 This is supported by Jack Shonkoff, M. D.3, Founding Director of Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child.

The statistics for American children in the book Scared Sick by Robin Karr-Morse (2012) are staggering.

  • Child abuse death rates in the US are far higher than in all of the seven largest industrialized countries: three times higher than in Canada and eleven times higher than in Italy. 4
  • Just under five US Children die every day as the result of child abuse. Three out of four are under four years of age: nearly 90% of the perpetrators are the biological parents. 5
  • An estimated 26% of all children in the US will experience or witness a traumatic event prior to age four. 6
  • Just over 20% (one of five) either currently or at some point have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder. 7

We must question why this is happening. We know that parents are under extremely stressful conditions, rich or poor. When those parents are growing a baby in the womb, there is plenty of evidence that the babies are being affected by their womb experience. The architecture of the brain and the baby’s nervous system are being programmed by experience.

The latest research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)8 has enveloped the psychology and social work therapy field with “Trauma Informed Care” to help the rampant violence experienced by our families finally starting to be addressed. The sadness is-therapists are having to repair the damage!

Why can’t we start preventing the violence in the first place?

Frederick Douglass, famous African American Orator in the 1800’s, stated, “It is better to build strong children than repair broken men.”

U.C. Berkeley professor of integrative biology Marian Diamond cautions: “If we’re putting millions of dollars into Head Start, which begins at three, four, or five years of age, and haven’t developed the appropriate brain to receive that education, it will be a waste of money. It is important to be sure that the brain has developed well in utero. So when you start with formal education, you have the nerve cells and the dendrites that can respond.9“

With all of the research out there, why then are we ignoring the importance of giving our parents the tools they need to parent, during preconception and pregnancy, before the baby is born?

Our own CAPPA community has the ability to work on this important prevention program. For those of you who cannot take The Greatest Pregnancy Ever Prenatal Bonding Facilitator course, at least read The Greatest Pregnancy Ever or Attachment Pregnancy. The education in these books will give you insight into the gestational period and it’s importance. It suggests tools to help parents lower stress, understand how important both parents are in building safe relationship to grow babies, and empower parents to be the best they can be, even if their own influences were not the best.

No matter what you teach at CAPPA, from Prenatal Fitness, Childbirth Education, Doula work, or Post Partum work, and Lactation Education, we should all have this educational awareness that a baby’s nervous system begins in the womb. The sooner a parent falls in love with their baby in utero, the easier the transition to parenthood. We will have a healthier, more compassionate society when we all take part in teaching parents before the damage happens.

APPPAH has a Student Free Membership, which is also a Diversity Program. If you are studying any area where you will be working with birthing families you will qualify for this offering. From doula training, lactation, psychology, even psychiatry-all are asked to begin learning about the impact the gestational period has on our growing babies. This area of research can no longer be ignored. As David Chamberlain stated many years ago, “The womb is a classroom and all must attend.”

We are at the forefront of this new field of evidence-based science. This is the link: https://birthpsychology.com/webform/free-diversity-and-student-membership-application.

As you start your education in this field, know that it may trigger some of your own experiences, hopefully good ones, but if you have any challenges, please contact me at 508-237-6768 and I can assist you or share a helpful resource. Educators need to look at their own experiences in order to give healthy assistance to our students. Feeling clear and mindful of our own experiences, makes us better teachers.

1.Weinstein, A, Prenatal Development and Parents’ Lived Experiences, Norton and Co, 2016, pg 7
2. Weinstein, A, Prenatal Development and Parents’ Lived Experiences, Norton and Co, 2016, pg7
3. Shoncoff, j :https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/three-early-childhood-development-principles-improve-child-family-outcomes/
4. Every Child Matters Education Fund, “Homeland Insecurity.” 2006
5. DSHS, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, “Child Maltreatment” Washington, D.C . 2007
6. SAMHSA. Helping Children and Adolescents Who Have Experienced Traumatic Events”, 2011
7. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) “ Any Disorder Among Children” 2010.
8. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/index.html
9. Diamond, M, Enriching Heredity, The Free Press, Macmillan,1988

Barbara Decker

Advisor of Prenatal Pregnancy Attachment

Barbara is a Certified Prenatal Bonding Facilitator (BA) and a graduate of The Greatest Pregnancy Ever Prenatal Bonding Facilitator Program. Barbara is one of 15 people in the US to be trained in Prenatal Bonding (BA) by Dr. Gerhard Schroth from Germany. Birthing has been her labor of love ever since she had her children and she is passionate about the need to start Preconception/Early Pregnancy Classes to inform the public of the importance of the gestational period.

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