Pre and Perinatal Experiences for Health and Healing

by Kate White and Myrna Martin

This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #36 in three parts.

It has been nearly a century since pre- and perinatal psychology was introduced by Otto Rank, a student and colleague of Sigmund Freud. His slim book, The Trauma of Birth, was a gift to his mentor and friend in 1924. This birthday surprise detailed how Rank thought that difficulty during birth could affect infants’ psyches in such a way that it would affect them the rest of their lives. Although Freud warmly received the gift, he later rejected Rank’s hypothesis, souring the relationship between teacher and student. Since then, this idea has followed the same pattern in the world at large. A small cohort of practitioners accepted the belief that yes, babies’ early experiences do influence behavior for a lifetime, while the medical, scientific and popular communities ignored, disengaged or even repudiated this idea.

After Otto Rank, several influential practitioners took up the thread that these early life experiences were deeply meaningful, yet it was not until the 1960s, after the publication of research articles on how caregivers and babies interact, that the vital importance of this early bond received scientific support.