Doctor Believes Bringing Up Baby Starts Before Birth
Doctor Believes Bringing Up Baby Starts Before Birth
LISA LEVITT RYCKMAN
Jan. 08, 1986
HAYWARD, Calif. (AP) _ Every morning and every night during the last month of Eileen Danielson's pregnancy, her husband would lay his cheek against her swollen belly and have a heart-to-heart chat with their unborn child.
One day he said, ''Hi, Baby. This is Daddy,'' and the baby kicked right back. As time went on, it became clear that when Daddy Danielson talked, Baby Danielson responded.
In the delivery room last October, Robert Danielson spoke to his son face- to-face for the first time.
''He said, 'Hi, Baby. This is Daddy.' And immediately, the baby stopped crying,'' Mrs. Danielson said. ''As soon as he heard Bob's voice, he tried to lift his head and turn to look at him. It was amazing.''
Now 13 months, red-haired, blue-eyed Bobby Danielson has had an amazing first year. At four months, he could say, ''Momma'' and ''Da da.'' At seven months, he began walking. Now he says words like ''juice'' and ''vacuum'' and amuses himself with picture books for 15 and 20 minutes at a time.
And he already has received his first degree: ''Baby Superior'' from Dr. F. Rene Van de Carr's Prenatal University, where more than 700 expectant parents have learned the simple techniques the Danielsons used to give their unborn child a head start on communication.
The program was born in 1979 when one of Van de Carr's patients told him that she and her husband had been playing games with their baby, patting her stomach and encouraging the child to kick in a certain spot.
''She'd move her hand, and the baby would move its foot,'' Van de Carr said. ''They'd be chasing each other around the abdomen, so to speak.''
Child development specialists he consulted insisted such efforts were a waste of time, but Van de Carr's own knowledge of fetal development, his theories about prenatal psychology and the experiences of his patients convinced him otherwise.
''The baby can hear the intestines of the mother, the mother's heart, her breathing movements, and many, many sounds that come in from the outside,'' Van de Carr said. ''But until the baby learns that some sounds are more important than others, the baby has no way of discerning what has meaning and what doesn't.''
Channeling the baby's perceptions begins at five months with the ''Kick Game,'' a way of getting the child's attention twice a day for a few minutes each time. When baby kicks, the parent pats that spot, then waits for baby to kick again.
''After you don't do anything for a minute or two, the baby kicks again,'' Van de Carr said. ''You pat again, then pause. The baby waits for a little while, then kicks again. If you pat someplace else, the baby may actually move its foot to kick where you patted.''
After two months of the Kick Game, the baby's response pattern is established, and it's time to add what Van de Carr calls his ''primary word list,'' six basic words connected with distinct physical sensations: pat, rub, squeeze, shake, stroke and tap.
It's also time to begin talking to the baby, reading to it and playing some music - the same song each time, preferably something soothing.
In his office in Hayward, about 20 miles southeast of San Francisco, Van de Carr teaches 18-year-old Kimberly Morgan how to tap her baby's head gently and stroke it from top to bottom, accompanying each sensation with the appropriate word.
The doctor gives Morgan a megaphone fashioned from a piece of paper and directs her to say, ''Hi, Baby. This is Mommy,'' to her stomach. She complies, and giggles.
''When I first told (the baby's father) what I was doing, he just laughed and said, 'That's so funny, that's such a crock,''' she recalled. ''But I said, 'Listen, listen, it makes sense.'''
In one study involving 150 mothers, those who faithfully followed the Prenatal University program reported that their children had a significantly higher incidence of pre-speech, early speech and use of compound words, Van de Carr said.
''We've had mothers who have done it with one child and not the other. You ask them the difference in the children, and they'll tell you that the (Prenatal University) baby is very quick, very adaptive, listens very closely and gets things the first time,'' Van de Carr said. ''The other child will not be that way.''
Jennifer is making sentences at 15 months, an age when her older brother Douglas, now 5, was barely talking, said their mother, Teri Flock.
''It's made her smarter and more aware,'' Flock said. ''She's a lot friendlier, and she's not afraid to try things. He was more hesitant about going for it, but she'll go right after it.''
Familiarizing unborn children with rudimentary communication helps ease the trauma of birth, Van de Carr believes. The babies tend to cry less at delivery and seem to be calmer afterward.
In addition, the father takes an active role in the prenatal program, and it helps relieve the tedium of waiting.
''When I'd get bored or frustrated, wondering when it was going to end, I'd talk to the baby,'' Mrs. Danielson said. ''It was a lot of fun, and we figured that even if nothing came of it, at least it helped maintain our sanity through the pregnancy.''
That element of fun, humorously reinforced by the presentation to each graduate of a Prenatal University degree, bib and T-shirt bearing the school logo - a baby in a mortar board - helps the parents adjust to the child's arrival, Van de Carr believes.
''The child is already a success, has already achieved, is already a winner,'' he said. ''We're trying to get that concept across - that the parents' expectations have already been met. That they can just relax and enjoy their baby.''
EDITOR'S NOTE: Lisa Levitt Ryckman is the AP Northwest regional correspondent, based in Seattle.