by Thomas R. Verny, M.D., and Pamela Weintraub
The news from the world-class laboratories at Yale, Princeton, Rockefeller and elsewhere is breathtaking in scope. Starting from the moment of conception, a child's brain is wired by his or her environment, which includes the thoughts, attitudes, and behavior of his or her parents.
Interaction with the environment is not merely one aspect of brain development, as had previously been thought. In fact, it is an absolute requirement, built into the process from our earliest days in the womb.
The notion that genes determine almost everything is incorrect. Every one of a child's early experiences, whether biological or psychological, will literally shape the child's brain. This stunning conclusion places new responsibilities on parents, but it also gives them an extraordinary new opportunity to influence their child's development for the better.
"From the journey down the birth canal to afternoons at the park, a child will register every experience in the circuitry of his or her brain. Whenever a mother strokes her baby, whenever a father plays with his daughter or son, those physiological acts will be instantly converted to neurohormonal processes that transform the body and wire the brain of the child.
Every time a child is traumatized or abused, the integrity of the circuitry is threatened; if the trauma is powerful enough, the architecture of the brain will be permanently damaged.
Everything the pregnant mother feels and thinks is communicated through neurohormones to her unborn child, just as surely as are alcohol and nicotine. Just as a computer virus gradually corrupts the software of any system it infects, so, too, maternal anxiety, depression or stress alters intelligence and personality by gradually rewiring the brain." [Tomorrow's Baby, p. 10]
Moreover, the new brain science proves that human emotion and the sense of self originate not in the first year after birth, as was commonly believed in the past, but significantly earlier in the womb.
When this concept was first suggested two decades ago, many scientists were skeptical. Yet over the past ten years, dozens of lines of evidence have validated Dr. Verny's original ideas: that pregnant women and unborn children can sense each other's thoughts and feelings; that it makes a difference whether we are conceived in love, haste, or hate, and whether a mother wants to be pregnant; that parents do better when they live in a calm and stable environment, free of addiction and supported by family and friends.
Furthermore, based on some remarkable new techniques, neuroscientists have also charted the biology of bonding and attachment. When a mother gazes longingly into the eyes of her newborn child, the infant's body is primed with hormones for socialization and empathy and his brain is programmed with the capacity to love.
Throughout the early years of life, the baby's brain is continuously tuned by its caregiver's brain to produce the correct neurotransmitters and hormones in the appropriate sequence. This tuning determines, to a large degree, the brain architecture the individual will have throughout life. If the tuning is appropriate, the child will be wired for health. But an incomplete or inappropriate tuning process may damage the neural networks of the prefrontal cortex, the seat of our most advanced human functions, producing an enduring vulnerability to psychological problems.
The latest findings about the development of a child from the womb through the first few years -- still largely unknown to the general public and even most experts -- reveal how to transform the art of parenting. From this information, Dr. Verny provides a detailed plan for action at each stage of development, highlights of which include: