12 Ways to Nurture Babies at Conception, Birth, and Beyond
By Dr. Darcia Narvaez
We foster human potential and optimal relationships from the beginning of life.
Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology (PPN)*
Understanding our earliest relationship experiences from the baby’s point of view and how these experiences set in motion life patterns have been the intense study of the field of prenatal and perinatal psychology (PPN) for over 40 years. The PPN field uses the baby’s point of view to focus on our earliest human experiences from preconception through baby’s first postnatal year, and its role in creating children who thrive and become resilient, loving adults.
Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology incorporates research and clinical experience from leading-edge fields such as epigenetics, biodynamic embryology, infant mental health, attachment, early trauma, developmental neurosciences, consciousness studies and other new sciences.
The Origins of PPN 12 Guiding Principles
In 1999, Marti Glenn and Wendy Anne McCarty co-created the first graduate-level PPN degree programs and opened the Santa Barbara Graduate Institute. Leading-edge prenatal and perinatal psychology-oriented therapists collaborated in an academic community grant project (funded by the Bower Foundation) to create a set of principles that arose from decades of PPN findings and clinical experience.
The 12 principles are offered as a beacon to help guide parenting practice, professional practice, theory and research. They support human potential and optimal relationships from the beginning of life, laying the foundation for a new movement in welcoming and caring for our babies. All of us have a part to play.
The 12 PPN Guiding Principles:
1. The Primary Period
The primary period for human development occurs from preconception through the first year of postnatal life. This is the time in which vital foundations are established at every level of being: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and relational.
2. Forming the Core Blueprint
Experiences during this primary period form the blueprint of our core perceptions, belief structures, and ways of being in the world with others and ourselves. These foundational elements are implicit, observable in newborns, and initiate life-long ways of being. These core implicit patterns profoundly shape our being in life-enhancing or life-diminishing directions.
3. Continuum of Development
Human development is continuous from prenatal to postnatal life. Postnatal patterns build upon earlier prenatal and birth experiences.
Optimal foundations for growth and resiliency, including brain development, emotional intelligence, and self-regulation are predicated upon optimal conditions during the pre-conception period, pregnancy, birth and the first year of life.
Optimal foundations of secure attachment and healthy relationships are predicated upon optimal relationships during the pre-conception period, during pregnancy, the birth experience and the first year of life.
4. Capacities and Capabilities
Human beings are conscious, sentient, aware, and possess a sense of Self even during this very early primary period.
We seek ever-increasing states of wholeness and growth through the expression of human life. This innate drive guides and infuses our human development.
From the beginning of life, babies perceive, communicate, and learn, in ways that include an integration of mind-to-mind, energetic, and physical-sensorial capacities and ways of being.
Human development occurs within a relationship from the beginning. Human connections and the surrounding environment profoundly influence the quality and structure of every aspect of the baby’s development.
From the beginning of life, the baby experiences and internalizes what the mother experiences and feels. A father’s and/or partner’s relationship with a mother and baby are integral to optimizing primary foundations for a baby.
All relationships and encounters with a mother, baby, and father during this primary period affect the quality of life and the baby’s foundation. Supportive, loving, and healthy relationships are integral to optimizing primary foundations for a baby.
6. Innate Needs
The innate need for security, belonging, love and nurturing, feeling wanted, feeling valued, and being seen as the Self we are is present from the beginning of life. Meeting these needs and providing the right environment supports optimal development.
Babies are continually communicating and seeking connection. Relating and responding to a baby in ways that honor their multifaceted capacities for communication supports optimal development and wholeness.
8. Mother-Baby Interconnectedness
Respecting and optimizing the bond between a mother and baby and the mother-baby interconnectedness during pregnancy, birth, and infancy is of highest priority.
Birth and bonding is a critical developmental process for the mother, baby, and father that form core patterns with life-long implications.
The best baby and mother outcomes occur when a mother feels empowered and supported and the natural process of birth is allowed to unfold with minimal intervention and no interruption in mother-baby connection and physical contact. If any separation of a baby from the mother occurs, continuity of the father’s contact and connection with the baby should be supported.
The baby responds and thrives best when the relationship with the mother is undisturbed, when the baby is communicated with directly, and when the process of birth supports the baby’s ability to orient and integrate the series of events.
10. Resolving and Healing
Resolving and healing past and current conflicts, stress, and issues that affect the quality of life for all family members is of highest priority. Doing so before pregnancy is best. When needed, for optimal outcomes, therapeutic support for the mother, baby, and father provided as early as possible during this vital primary period is recommended.
11. Underlying Patterns
When unresolved issues remain or less than optimal conditions and experiences occur during conception, pregnancy, birth and the first postnatal year, life-diminishing patterns often underlay [subsequent] health issues, stress behaviors, difficulty in self-regulation, attachment, learning, and other disorders over the life-span.
12. Professional Support
These early diminishing patterns embed below the level of the conscious mind in the implicit memory system, subconscious, and somatic patterns. Professionals trained in primary psychology (prenatal and perinatal psychology) can identify these patterns and support babies, children, parents, and adults to heal and shift these primary patterns to more life-enhancing ones at any age. When parents resolve and heal their own unresolved issues from their child’s pregnancy and birth, their children benefit at any age.
This article comprises excerpts from the official 12 Guiding Principle brochure and position paper co-written by the authors:
McCarty, W.A., Glenn, M., et al. (2008, 2016, 2017). Nurturing Human Potential and Optimizing Relationships from the Beginning of Life: 12 Guiding Principles. [Brochure]. Natural Family Living–Right from the Start: Santa Barbara, CA.
McCarty, W. A. and Glenn, M. (2008). Investing in human potential from the beginning of life: Keystone to maximizing human capital (pp. 12-14). (White paper available at www.wondrousbeginnings.com)
For more information and to obtain the position paper and official 12GP-PPN brochures: see here. Brochures are currently available in English, Spanish, Italian and German and can be shared freely. For other uses of the 12 Guiding Principles content, please contact Dr. McCarty.
Wendy Anne McCarty, PhD, RN, HNB-BC, DCEP, was the Founding Chair and Core Faculty, Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology Program at Santa Barbara Graduate Institute and author of Welcoming Consciousness: Supporting Babies Wholeness from the Beginning of Life–An Integrated Model of Early Development. She currently is a global consultant/educator for professionals and families to optimize human potential from the beginning of life and repair of earliest life experiences at any age. See: www.12guidingprinciples-ppn.com and www.wondrousbeginnings.com
Marti Glenn, PhD is the Clinical Director of Ryzio Institute, offering professional trainings and intensive retreats to help adults heal adverse childhood experiences and trauma. A pioneering psychotherapist and educator, she was the Founding President of Santa Barbara Graduate Institute, known for its graduate degrees in prenatal and perinatal psychology, somatic psychology and clinical psychology. In her clinical work and trainings, She is an international speaker and trainer, emphasizing the integration of the latest research in behavioral epigenetics, PolyvagalTheory and affective neuroscience with attachment, early development, and trauma.
Both authors are recipients of the APPPAH Thomas Verny Award for excellence in the field of prenatal and perinatal psychology and health.
Related Reading by Dr. Narvaez at Peaceful Parenting:
Darcia Narvaez is a Professor of Psychology Emerita at the University of Notre Dame. She is the founder of the public and professional educational outreach project The Evolved Nest Initiative whose nonprofit mission is to share her science research into developing appropriate baselines for lifelong human wellness by meeting the biological needs of infants. This baseline is imperative at this time as the United States ranks 41st out of 41 developed countries in public policies that support families.
In a 2020 analysis of top scientists, Narvaez emerged in the top 2% of scientists worldwide. Of the eight million scientists in the world, the analysis concerned those who had at least five articles published in scientific journals between 1996 and 2017-- over six million scientists. Individuals were ranked according to various criteria, including number of citations of their work.
Narvaez’s book, Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality: Evolution, Culture and Wisdom, was chosen for the 2017 Expanded Reason Award from among more than 360 total entries from 170 universities and 30 countries. Narvaez received the prize, including a substantial monetary award, at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Vatican City on September 27, 2017. The book also received the William James Award from the American Psychological Association in 2015.
Narvaez hosted interdisciplinary conferences at the University of Notre Dame regarding early experience and human development in 2010, 2012, and 2014. In 2016 she organized a conference on Sustainable Wisdom: Integrating Indigenous KnowHow for Global Flourishing. (Click on the links to see the full conferences in video on the Evolved Nest's YouTube Channel.)
She is the author or editor of numerous books and articles.
She is the president of the venerable American nonprofit, Kindred World, a contributing editor to Kindred, the first global eco-parenting magazine, an advisory board member of Attachment Parenting International and the Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health, APPPAH.
She is former executive editor of the Journal of Moral Education.