In Utero: An Honest Review of the Film

Rebecca Mar Young

In Utero - the fim

I went to see the In Utero film recently in Randwick at a special screening. I thought going in that it was more for people like myself who are passionate about birth and pregnancy.

I was surprised to find that I was wrong. This film is important for us all: women, men, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, birth professionals, midwives, educators, everyday people. I came away from it with a real sense that it’s everyone’s responsibility to look after pregnant women for the good of our society overall.

You ladies know this well: many of you are midwives, childbirth educators, doulas, prenatal yoga teachers – and so you know more than most the importance of this time in a woman’s life. And you also know that it’s not just important for her as the mother but it’s also important for her baby, her family and ultimately, humanity.

What stuck me as cool was that the old Chinese wisdom about pregnant women is becoming true in the scientific sense. They’re currently discovering that yes, what happens in the womb to the baby via the mother has implications for bub physically, mentally and emotionally for a very long time. Often for their entire life.

So what is this old Chinese advice? Pregnant women should not be exposed to anything extreme. So this means extreme upset, anger, violence, stress, sadness, grief and even joy.

Of course we can’t always protect pregnant mothers from extremes. But what we can do is educate in a loving and compassionate way – and that’s what I feel this documentary does for women and babies. It gives you a real sense of how incredibly important this time is in a woman’s life. It would be wonderful if every couple had to watch it as part of their preparation but not only that, I would go so far as to say it should be shown in boardrooms and parliaments.

Baby steps, baby steps. We need to start somewhere to get this important conversation on the table, so what better place to start than with the women in your care.

(Just so you know, I have no connection to this film financially or personally, it simply is something I care about and wanted to share.)


Take-home messages from the In Utero film

Many professionals who are at the top of their fields spoke in the film. Here’s a snapshot of what they said that had an impact on me.

  • Lots of the information it would be useful to have about pregnant women is ethically difficult to obtain. So when something comes along like the Dutch Famine in 1945, scientists pay attention to the aftermath and study the data for implications to pregnancy and baby health. During this time there were 5,000 pregnant women whose food intake plunged from 1,800 down to 900 calories per day. Those women would have been stressed physically and emotionally. Data shows that the babies born to those mothers had a higher incidence than the regular population at the time of metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Our modern world stress is different to the stress of starvation and war but nevertheless it is still there and will have an impact – something we all need to be aware of. Questions were asked as to why 300 million American children are taking medication for ADHD and why Autism is seemingly on the rise.
  • There was discussion on industrialisation and the global destruction of the “tribe” and how that’s affecting parents and increasing stress.
  • Emotional states aren’t abstract. They produce physiological changes. When a mother has high levels of the stress hormone cortisol (it pumps around your body when you are chronically stressed or fearful), some of it will pass on to her growing baby and affect its development.
  • Moriah Thomason was saying how 50,000 new neurons are being made every second in utero! They’re vulnerable to chronic stress and stress hormones. Blood cells and neurons can be interfered with and maybe destroyed. There is reduced brain matter when a baby experiences a lot of stress in utero.
  • Babies are affected by the emotional environment in which they are conceived, carried to term and then birthed. As babies, we are the receiver of all of the happiness and all of the anxieties of our mother.
  • Because the human infant is much more under-developed than other mammals at birth, good bonding with their mother is most important for them.
  • In ancient times, every sixth birth meant death for the mother. Half of children would die in childbirth or during their first year of life. Times have changed a lot.
  • We are starting to learn about epigenetics, which is something that happens on top of the DNA coding. It refers to other factors that fine-tune the genetic material and have the ability to turn genetic expressions on and off, meaning that even though you have the gene for a certain characteristic, it may or may not manifest, depending on environmental and external factors.


Gabor Mate’s story

I will leave you with a story from the film that left a lasting impression on me. Gabor Mate, MD and author, was born in 1944 and was always told by those around him that he had a sad look on his face. He did often feel sad and for no apparent reason. He searched for answers his whole life.

He was conceived during the war. His mum told him when Jewish babies were born during that time they were all crying. He said the fear he’d been carrying his whole life was his mother’s terror, on an unconscious level, from that awful time in her life that he was a part of.

He has battled with depression, anxiety and ADD and didn’t really start to feel the impact of his very early life until he was into his 50s. Knowing the reason for his sadness has adversely affected his family but he felt much relief for understanding why and making sense of it all.

He spoke of stress in the early environment and how it isn’t good for mum or baby, especially when the circumstances in the outside world have changed – his body had been prepared for high stress and starvation but he came into a calmer world later on in New York. So the characteristics of being highly alert and very vigilant weren’t required but had already been hard wired. So instead he came into the world highly anxious for no obvious reason.

It’s an inconvenient truth that the fetus feels everything, physically and emotionally. Let’s get women and men into a good place with each other. It’s going to benefit their baby and everyone else they come in touch with.

There is so much to the In Utero film, I think I’m going to watch it again!

Catch a preview of In Utero here.

Watch In Utero here.


Learn more about the impact of a mother’s health and mindset on her unborn baby in our Bumps Births Babies holistic pregnancy and birth conference. 21 recorded interviews with birth and motherhood experts. Available for instant listening.