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Babies in the womb can sense mom's emotions

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Unborn fetus can sense mom's psychological state

Findings from researchers show a fetus receives chemical signals from mom during pregnancy that could have a negative impact on how a baby develops after birth. The psychological state of a mother – during pregnancy and after delivery - has a direct impact on the health of a baby after birth.

Curt A. Sandman, Elysia P. Davis, and Laura M. Glynn of the University of California-Irvine studied how a woman’s psychological state during pregnancy and then after, affects the emotional state of babies, even before they’re born.

Researchers know a variety of factors in the womb can affect a baby’s health; some of which include smoking, alcohol intake and environmental exposure to toxins.

In their studies, researchers found babies can be depressed after they’re born if mom is depressed during pregnancy and stayed depressed after giving birth.

They also discovered what mattered most is mom’s emotional consistency.

In other words, pregnant woman who were depressed before giving birth; then happy afterwards, also had babies who were slower to develop. The converse was also true.

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For their study, Sandman, Davis and Glynn tested pregnant women for depression before and after they gave birth. They also tested their baby’s after being born to find out if they were developing normally.

The authors say they were surprised at how strongly a developing fetus can sense the psychological state of a mother-to-be.

“We believe that the human fetus is an active participant in its own development and is collecting information for life after birth,” Sandman says. “It’s preparing for life based on messages the mom is providing.”

But the authors warn it doesn’t mean a pregnant woman shouldn’t be treated for depression. “A more reasonable approach would be, to treat women who present with prenatal depression. Sandman says. “We know how to deal with depression.”

One of the problems is, women are rarely screened for depression during pregnancy. The focus is more on post-partum depression.

The study shows a baby in the womb can sense a mother’s psychological state. Newborns whose mother’s emotions are inconsistent were found in the study to have developmental delays. Depression during, or after pregnancy, can lead to health problems for babies after they’re born, as can a mother’s happiness then depression, or vice versa before and after giving birth.

Image credit: Wikimedia commons



When my mom was pregnant with me she was very depressed the whole time and when I was born everyone said I looked like I was either angry or sad. As I started to grow everyone notice that I never smiled and kept to myself. My mother said I never smiled until the age of two. No one could ever get me to smile either, not even my siblings. Not even the camera man when having gone to take photos. I am 17 now and my friends say that I'm very pessimistic and I noticed that my regular face always looks angry or sad. It's like the creases near the sides of my mouth droop down as if I'm sad. Could it be that because my mother was depressed during her pregnancy with me that it affected the development of my face and emotions?
Dru, it could have started in relation to your mom's condition during pregnancy, but it's hard to say for sure because there are so many factors that effect people's development throughout their lives. What is definitely true is that (even in adulthood) people can essentially "rewire" their brains and thought patterns and emotional state through CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) and that's something you should check into!