As summer winds down and the seasons begin to change again, a new child will enter this world in the next few weeks.  My office manager will give birth soon, and while we may consider the notion that knowledge and ideas begin the day we are born, research has proposed that even in the womb, a developing fetus is learning things that will affect his/her own future and parents as well.  Most healthcare clinicians, and even the general public, understand how prenatal exposure to chemicals such as alcohol, nicotine and drugs will negatively affect the developing fetus.  See the article in Pediatrics.

So what about the things that we may be learning before we make a huge splash in the delivery room?  Sounds carry fairly well in the womb, and studies have shown that newborns are very familiar with the sounds of the native language of their mother, and if exposed to certain repeated words/sounds in utero, the newborn brain was able to recognize these specific words and variations.  Neural memory pathways are formed through auditory learning in the womb, especially during the last trimester.  “Babies brains do not wait for birth to start absorbing information.”  This further expands the concern of fetal exposure to alcohol and drugs.

Fetal origins is the term that describes the in-utero experiences and the relation to the future development of the child.  Knowledge begins sooner than previously believed, as does the development of disease states.  The connection between mothers and children goes way beyond the umbilical cord, and it is not a one-way path to the amniotic sac.  The developing brain and body of the fetus are absorbing and reacting to many aspects of the environment, including stress and nutritional factors, no matter how insulated things may appear.

Perhaps William Wordsworth was centuries ahead of his time in his famous poem from 1802:

‘My heart leaps up when I behold  A rainbow in the sky

So was it when my life began;  So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,  Or let me die!

The Child is father of the Man’


This blog is dedicated to the memories of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, whose bravery, quest for knowledge, and heroism will live on forever:


Stuart J. Glassman, MD

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