“A person cannot become a person at one time or another of his development –
before implantation or after - he is a person from the very beginning of fertilization,
the one and the only in every moment of his existence.”
The Beginnings of Human Life, by Erich Blechschmidt
The beginning of perinatology
The term "perinatology" (Greek "peri" - around + Latin "natus" - birth + Greek "logos" - study, science) has become part of scientific literature since the 60s. of XX century. International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (FIGO) at the VII Congress in 1973 accepted a proposal to introduce a particular direction in medicine - perinatology, which focuses on studying the perinatal stage of human life. According to the modern approach, the perinatal period (around birth) begins with 22 full weeks (154 days) of the foetus’s intrauterine life (at this stage, the average body weight of the foetus is 500 g) and ends seven full days after birth.
Three distinctive stages in perinatal time
The perinatal period includes the time before childbirth - antenatal, during delivery - intrapartum, and after childbirth - postnatal periods. An integral part of the postnatal period is the neonatal period. The proposal to separate the ante-, intra- and postnatal periods of human life is associated with the famous pioneering German gynecologist and midwifery professional Erich Saling. Many sources identify him as "the father of perinatal medicine": one even identifies him as the originator of the term "perinatal medicine". He pointed out the need for an in-depth study of this stage with the involvement of various specialists to reduce perinatal morbidity and mortality. It was dictated by realities in the 50-the 70s of the twentieth century when many European countries faced declining fertility and high rates of perinatal and infant (after seven days of life) mortality. Many scientists supported Erich Saling's idea, and in 1976 was created the European Association of Perinatal Medicine (EAPM) was.
The perinatal period is significant for early human development since, by the end of pregnancy, the intrauterine formation of the foetus ends; during childbirth, the foetus is exposed to many factors, and during the first seven days, the new-born is adapting to extrauterine life.
"Prenatal and perinatal psychology is the interdisciplinary study of the earliest periods in human development, including conception, time in the womb, experiences during and after birth, and experiences with caregivers and the family system through the first year following birth. Theory and research in multiple disciplines, including embryology, morphogenesis, bioengineering, evolutionary biology, psychophysiology, behavioural perinatology, neurobiology, affective neuroscience, attachment, and traumatology, provide the foundation for exploring how experiences during this critical developmental period impact an individual. Knowledge from these fields illuminates the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional impacts of our earliest experiences and how they form enduring response patterns that shape our development, behaviour and health over the life span" (1).
Prenatal and perinatal psychology is the science of the mental and psychological life of an unborn or just born child (the science of the initial phase of human development - prenatal and perinatal). It is a field of knowledge (a sub-branch of developmental psychology) that studies the circumstances and patterns of human development in the early stages: prenatal (antenatal), perinatal (intra-natal) and neonatal (postnatal) phases of development, and their impact on the entire subsequent life.
In other words, these definitions can be simplified. Human health and wellbeing during the entire life are built in the mother's womb and then in the first years of development. Our nervous system, beliefs, & behaviours are prepared and influenced by our environment: our birth mother and our primary caregivers.
In the first five years of development, the child gains 85% of the information necessary for life. According to the intensity of development, one day of intrauterine life equals one month after birth or a year after seven years. It is impressive, but it also makes you think - can we let everything in the hands of a chance at this time and not do what is vital for the child? We cannot, and we must take it more seriously because the perinatal period is the most critical time when organs, structures or systems are most sensitive to a particular impact. The consequences of unfavourable impact can leave a deep imprint on the entire human life.
Why is perinatal experience important for human development?
For many years we used to think that human development depends on genetics, environment, and education. Now we have enough evidence to add perinatal experience as factor number four. Why?