The Power of Thought
Experts and evidence suggest that positive thinking can shape the body, heal it internally, and even nurture a healthier child during pregnancy.
A pregnant woman’s thoughts have a physical connection to her unborn child. “Everything the pregnant mother feels and thinks is communicated through neurohormones to her unborn child, just as surely as are alcohol and nicotine,” says Dr. Thomas Verny. Verny is the founder of the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH) and its journal, the Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health; his books and professional publications have established him as one of the world’s leading authorities on the effects of prenatal environment on personality development.
Medical dictionaries define emotion as a mental and physical state, referring to the hormones and other molecules associated with emotion. Deepak Chopra, M.D., further bridges the gap between the mental and physical state when he writes, “Thoughts that we feel are called emotions.”
A pregnant woman’s emotions are created based on the way she perceives her pregnancy, baby shower plans, nursery decoration, marriage, work, health, or anything else. A pregnant woman’s thoughts are the precursor for her emotions. And her emotions are the precursor for the neurohormones Verny refers to.
In Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives, Chopra explains what pregnancy research has revealed: “When a pregnant mother is anxious, stressed, or in a fearful state, the stress hormones released into her bloodstream cross through the placenta to the baby. Hundreds of studies have confirmed that chemicals released by the pregnant mother’s body are transported into the womb and affect the unborn baby.”
Negative thoughts are often the root cause of a fearbased stress response. “Stress activates the unborn child’s endocrine system and influences fetal brain development,” writes Chopra. “Children born to mothers who had intensely stressful pregnancies are more likely to have behavioral problems later in life.”
Verny adds, “Studies show that mothers under extreme and constant stress are more likely to have babies who are premature, lower than average in weight, hyperactive, irritable, and colicky.”
Backing up those experts, cell biologist and neuroscientist Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., writes, “When passing through the placenta, the hormones of a mother experiencing chronic stress will profoundly alter the distribution of blood flow in her fetus and change the character of her developing child’s physiology.”
On the flip side of the emotional-stress spectrum, something else occurs. “Positive maternal emotions have been shown to advance the health of the unborn child,” writes Verny. “Thoughts which infuse the developing baby with a sense of happiness or calm can set the stage for a balanced, happy, and serene disposition throughout life.”
Deepak Chopra agrees: “When you feel joyful, your body produces natural pleasure chemicals called endorphins and encephalins. When you are peaceful and relaxed, you release chemicals similar to prescription tranquilizers. Without stress, your baby’s nervous system works smoothly. When you’re calm and centered, your baby is able to grow peacefully.”
In Nurturing the Unborn Child, Verny suggests 47 exercises that a pregnant woman can perform throughout pregnancy. One of these is creative visualization. This form of mental imagery can program an expectant mother’s subconscious thoughts, changing perceptions and responses from negative to positive. Verny writes that it “has helped cure disease, enhance performance, and improve state of mind. Used by ancient medicine men, shamans, and yogis for millennia, visualization was long the first line of defense against disease.”
Research has confirmed that imagery can alter blood flow, grow healthy cells, and destroy cancer cells. Lipton has even suggested that a pregnant mother can affect her unborn child’s genetic development. Whether it’s called imagery, visualization, meditation, or hypnosis, decades of research have established this process for generating a multitude of tangible changes in the mental, emotional, and physical body.
If you are a pregnant woman, try these visual exercises: In a place that is free of interruptions, close your eyes and practice seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, and even tasting your way into a relaxed feeling, perhaps bringing attention toward your developing baby. The key is to gently feel ease as you flow through this imagery.
Imagine as many senses as you can, immersing yourself in the feeling. Use the richness of your imagination, and go on a daydream. If other thoughts enter your mind, patiently return to your happy self, healthy baby, or simply a place of ease.
Similar to how actors develop emotions on cue, practicing positive thoughts and feelings will branch neurons and wire parts of your brain to respond accordingly. The more you practice, the faster and better you will learn to retrieve those emotions.
An example of more in-depth guided imagery:
Imagine your growing baby.
Maybe she is 1 centimeter, or maybe 10 centimeters.
Visualize what a healthy child looks like.
Sense what a healthy child feels like.
Hear what a healthy child sounds like.
How does his heart pump blood?
How do her arms move?
How are his cells growing?
See your little one smile in the womb.
Hear her laugh, and feel her move in joyful motion.
There is no right or wrong. Let your five-minute daydream flow however a healthy child may be imagined.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #56.
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