Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Learning begins in the womb

CNN's web site has a column by author Annie Murphy Paul discussing what scientific studies are showing us about what unborn children learn while they're in the womb.
What it all adds up to is this: much of what a pregnant woman encounters in her daily life -- the air she breathes, the food and drink she consumes, the chemicals she's exposed to, even the emotions she feels -- are shared in some fashion with her fetus. They make up a mix of influences as individual and idiosyncratic as the woman herself. The fetus treats these maternal contributions as information, as what I like to call biological postcards from the world outside.....

The recognition that learning actually begins before birth leads us to a striking new conception of the fetus, the pregnant woman and the relationship between them.

The fetus, we now know, is not an inert blob, but an active and dynamic creature, responding and adapting as it readies itself for life in the particular world it will soon enter. The pregnant woman is neither a passive incubator nor a source of always-imminent harm to her fetus, but a powerful and often positive influence on her child even before it's born. And pregnancy is not a nine-month wait for the big event of birth, but a crucial period unto itself -- "a staging period for well-being and disease in later life," as one scientist puts it.