Neurological (brain) development can be adversely affected even before birth due to various factors including the effects of:
– poor maternal diet
– maternal tobacco smoking
– maternal use of drugs
– maternal use of alcohol
Indeed, the foetus’s neurological development may be so adversely affected by such factors that it incurs significant harm to its mental health (and physical health) for the whole of its post-birth life.
To take one of the above factors, let’s look at the effects of severe and chronic maternal stress upon the foetus’s neurological development :
EFFECTS OF CHRONIC AND SEVERE MATERNAL STRESS UPON THE NEUROLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE FOETUS:
If the mother is suffering from severe stress during the foetus’s neurological development, perhaps being ill with depression and/or anxiety, she will produce an excess of certain hormones, in particular, CORTISOL. The cortisol is then passed to the developing foetus in the womb and has a toxic and detrimental effect upon its brain.
In this way, due to the fact that the foetus’s NEUROPHYSIOLOGICAL development is negatively affected, even at this pre-birth stage, it will start to develop AN OVER-RESPONSIVE BIOLOGICAL INTERNAL ‘ALARM SYSTEM‘ making it, post-birth, much more vulnerable to the effects of stress and perceived threat.
Furthermore, if the mother continues to experience significant stress after the child has been born, the effects upon the child’s sensitivity and vulnerability to the effects of perceived threat/stressful conditions will become even more extreme and is likely to persist throughout life – assuming there is no effective therapeutic intervention (e.g. Schore, 2001).
The infant may, therefore, become demanding, tense, excessively fearful, bad-tempered and ‘nervous’ which, in turn, can result in SUB-OPTIMAL BONDING with the mother.
In this way, the problem is compounded because poor bonding between the mother and child is strongly associated with the child going on to develop damaged mental health.
Therefore, in such circumstances, a clear pattern of emotional dysregulation (i.e. emotional over-sensitivity and over-reactivity) can emerge in later life which will normally require therapeutic intervention.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
It is, therefore, necessary to try to increase public awareness of the possible damage done to the life chances of an individual due to ADVERSE PRE-NATAL EXPERIENCES.
Therapeutic interventions may be able to reverse this kind of neurological damage, at least to some extent, due to a property of the brain called ‘NEUROPLASTICITY’
Schore, Allan. (2001). The Effects of Early Relational Trauma on Right Brain Development, Affect Regulation, and Infant Mental Health. Tradition-a Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought. 22. 201-269. 10.1002/1097-0355(200101/04)22:1<201::AID-IMHJ8>3.0.CO;2-9.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).