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An Interview with Bruce Lipton By Sarah Kamrath
Earlier this year, filmmaker Sarah Kamrath sat down with Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., for an interview about a holistic approach to parenting for her Happy Healthy Child DVD series. Lipton, the author of such books as Spontaneous Evolution and The Biology of Belief, is an internationally recognized leader in bridging science and spirit, and a regular contributor to Pathways. This is an excerpt of their longer conversation.
Sarah Kamrath: Can we begin by talking about the importance of women and men listening to their intuition and making parenting choices, beginning in the prenatal period, which honor that inner wisdom?
Bruce Lipton: In my former professional career, I was a medical school professor. I was teaching medical students about the nature of the body as being a machine, comprising biochemicals and controlled by genes so that we’re more or less an automaton, a robot. However, as I got deeper into understanding the nature of the cells, I found that the cells that make up the body—and there are 50 trillion of them—are very intelligent. In fact, it’s the intelligence of the cells that creates the human body. Starting to listen to them and understanding how they communicate is a very important lesson. Cells talk to us. We can feel it through what we call symptoms or feelings or emotions. It’s a response of the cellular community to what we’re doing in our lives. There’s a tendency in our world to not really pay attention to those things as some kind of information below the level of head; it’s not that relevant. But I’ve found that it’s the voice of the cells that gives us reason and understanding; cells are actually reading our behavior and giving us information as to whether or not we’re working in harmony with our biology. Using this intelligence is vital; it will help us create a happy, harmonious life on this planet.
Kamrath: I love how you refer to pregnancy as nature’s Head Start program. Can you talk about a baby’s level of awareness and consciousness within the womb? Also, please discuss the new brain science that shows the impact of a mother’s emotional well-being on the health, intelligence and capacity for joy for the child within her womb.
Lipton: Nature spends a lot of effort and energy in creating a child, and it doesn’t do so randomly or just on a whim. Nature wants to ensure that a child is going to be successful in its life before embarking on the process of birthing that child. Although a child receives genes from both its mother and father, the genes are not fully set into the position of activation until the process of development. The first eight weeks of a child’s development is called the embryo phase, and that’s just a mechanical unfolding of genes to make sure the baby has a body with two arms, two legs, two eyes, etc. The next period of life is called the fetal stage, when the embryo has the human configuration. Since it’s already shaped, the question is, what will nature do to modify or adjust this human in the next number of months before it’s born? What it does is this: Nature reads the environment and then adjusts the final tuning of the genetics of the child based on what’s immediately going on in the world. How can nature read the environment and do this? The answer is that the mother and the father become nature’s Head Start program. They’re the ones who are living in and experiencing the environment. Their perceptions of the world are then transmitted to the child.
We used to think that only nutrition was provided by the mother to a developing child. The story was, genes control the development, and the mother just provides nutrition. We now know, of course, that there’s more than just nutrition in blood. Blood contains information about emotions and regulatory hormones and the growth factors that control the mother’s life in the world in which she’s living. All this information passes into the placenta along with nutrition. If the mother is happy, the fetus is happy because the same chemistry of emotions that affect the mother’s system are crossing into the fetus. If the mother is scared or stressed, the same stress hormones cross and adjust the fetus. What we’re recognizing is that, through a concept called epigenetics, the environmental information is used to select and modify the genetic program of the fetus so it will conform to the environment in which it’s going to grow, thus enhancing the survival of the child. If parents are totally unaware, this creates a great problem—they don’t know that their attitudes and responses to their experiences are being passed on to their child.
Kamrath: Can you explain epigenetics in a little more detail, and the need for parents-to-be to have an understanding of the role it plays in their developing infant?
Lipton: The current science is called genetic control, which simply means control by genes. The new science, that I got involved with more than 40 years ago and is now becoming mainstream, is called epigenetic control. This little prefix epi turns the world upside down. Epi means “above.” So, epigenetic means “control above the genes.” We now know that we influence the activity of our genes by our actions, perceptions, beliefs and attitudes. In fact, epigenetic information can take a single gene blueprint and modify the readout of the gene to create more than 30,000 different proteins from the same blueprint. Basically, it says that the genes are plastic and variable, and adjust to the environment.
For example, if a woman conceives a child, but all of a sudden there’s violence in the environment—war breaks out and the world is not safe anymore—how’s the child going to respond? The same way the mother responds. Why is this important? When a mother is responding to a stressful situation, her fight-or-flight system is activated and her adrenal system becomes stimulated. This causes two fundamental things to happen. Number one, the blood vessels are squeezed in the gut, causing the blood to go to the arms and legs (because blood is energy), so that she can fight or run. The stress hormones also switch the blood vessels in the brain for this reason. In a stressful situation, you don’t depend on conscious reasoning and logic, which come from the forebrain. You depend on hindbrain reactivity and reflexes; that’s the fastest responder in a threatening situation. Well that’s cool for the mother, but what about for the developing fetus? The stress hormones pass into the placenta and have the same effect, but with a different meaning when it affects the fetus. The fetus is in a very active growing state and it requires blood for nutrition and energy, so whichever organ tissues get more blood will develop faster.
The significance in all this is that the forebrain is consciousness and awareness; you can reduce the intelligence of a child by up to 50 percent by environmental stressors because of shunting the blood from the forebrain and developing a large hindbrain. Nature is creating the child to live in the same stressed environment that the parents perceive. The same fetus developing in a healthy, happy, harmonious environment creates a much healthier viscera, which enables growth and maintenance of the body for the rest of its life, as well as a much larger forebrain, which gives it more intelligence. So, the mother’s perception and attitude about the environment is translated into epigenetic control, which modifies the fetus to fit the world the mother perceives. Now, when I emphasize mother, of course, I have to emphasize father [as well]. Because if the father screws up, this also messes up the mother’s physiology. Both parents are actually genetic engineers.
Kamrath: Can you talk about the benefits of following nature’s design for childbirth, as well as the importance of the initial bonding that takes place between the mother and baby at birth?
Lipton: Nature created this entire birthing process, and every step of the way is instrumental and effective in creating a natural, normal development of a human. When we try to bypass the process or interfere with the use of chemicals and drugs, we are diverting a very natural process of evolution. For example, in order for a child to do very well in life, he really has to have a crawling period before he starts to walk. If you try to bypass the crawling stage and get the child to walk right away, you miss a very important developmental phase. We now find this is true for birthing as well. Going through the birth canal is a developmental process which influences the fate and future of this child. If the birth is difficult with all kinds of complications, the newborn learns from this experience. It is the first impression of what this new world is like.
Nature is very efficient. It does everything for a reason. It’s humans that think, “Oh well, that wasn’t necessary, we can change that.” And that’s where the problems start. This is especially true in regard to the critical bonding that takes place at the moment of birth. A child has been in one world and then is coming into a new world. If you were an astronaut very safely ensconced inside your capsule with everything you need, you would be very happy. What if all of a sudden you were told, “Okay, you have to get out on a space walk, jump outside of the capsule and start floating in space.” You would say, “Well okay, I’ve got my umbilical cord on and I’m still pretty connected.” But what would happen to an astronaut if the umbilical cord were severed, and now the astronaut is floating in space? Lost and abandoned like that, the fear of this disconnection would affect him profoundly. And fear kills: People can be scared to death.
Imagine a child that has been connected during its entire developmental period, and all of a sudden he’s thrust out into the world. The umbilical cord is cut, and now the child is floating. When a child is taken away from the mother during the birth process, it is the ultimate fear that a child will ever experience. It has profound physiological consequences on the hormonal system and belief system of the child, and his trust in the world. However, when a child is born and laid on his mother’s stomach and the child comes naturally up to the breast, then the heartbeat that was there for the entire developmental period is restored to the child. The safety, the touch, the comfort and the bonding that occurs during this time is more than just physical bonding— it’s an energy bonding. It’s fulfilling the natural developmental process, assuring a happiness and a health to this child, letting him know that he is being welcomed and loved. When we make birth a medical procedure, we throw a monkey wrench into the entire system. We have to know that this child is a lot more than just a bundle of cells being born. It is an intelligent human being, quite aware of the environment.
Kamrath: Can you talk about the importance of striving to be as conscious as we can about our parenting choices and how our beliefs, attitudes and behaviors impact the happiness and health of children?
Lipton: In my book, The Biology of Belief, I talk about the fact that the mind controls our biology. There are two minds—the conscious mind, which is the creative mind with our personal identity or our spirit, and the subconscious mind, which is almost like a tape recording device that records behaviors, and at the push of a button, plays the behavior back. This is the non-thinking, habitual mind. We operate our lives 95 percent of the time from the subconscious programs and only 5 percent of the time from the creative, personal, conscious mind. Where did these habits come from? For the first six years of a child’s life, the conscious part of the brain is not primarily functioning. The brain is functioning at a very low EEG level, called theta. A child is observing the environment just like a television camera, recording everything, bypassing consciousness—which isn’t working yet—and going straight into the subconscious. The child uses its parents as the teachers to fill in the data in the subconscious mind.
The moment a child is born, its function is to recognize the faces of the mother and father—first thing he does. Within a couple of days, the child can clearly distinguish the mother’s and father’s face from all other faces. The child also learns to distinguish the characteristics of the face. Is the face happy or scared or afraid? The child learns this within the first couple of weeks. Ever after, in the early developmental stages of this child, any time he has an issue or concern or comes across something new in his environment, there’s an instinctual pattern where the child looks at his mother or father and observes what their face says. So, if the child is in front of something dangerous and then looks at his parent and the parent has a look of being worried or frightened, the child immediately knows that whatever he is looking at, according to the mother or father, is dangerous. The child will instantly avoid that thing. On the other hand, if the look on his parent's face is happy, smiling, conveying that everything’s wonderful, then the child will experiment and play with whatever the new thing is in his environment. The child observes and gauges the world through the parents’ responses, and uses them as a reference point. If the parents are living in fear or concern or anxiety, the child is learning exactly what the parents’ fears and anxieties are, and this becomes the behavioral program in that child’s subconscious mind. The child is learning his fundamental habits, not from his own personal experience, but from observing and downloading the habits and experiences that the parents are presenting to him. Again, this is nature’s way of downloading a tremendous quantity of data about our civilization at any time. You can’t put this in the genes; if these behaviors were programmed in the genes and evolution and the development of civilization changes, then the genes would not install the optimal programs.
Nature puts instincts into the genes, because we need those no matter what the world is doing. But all the other fundamental behaviors you get from your teacher. And the parents are that teacher. And, of course, the biggest problem with conscious parenting is, conscious parenting is a conscious idea. Yes, I want to raise a happy, healthy child. That’s great, but that comes from the conscious mind, which operates 5 percent of the time. Even conscious parents are operating only from the habits that they’ve learned from their parents 95 percent of the time. And the issue is, the child isn’t just observing the parent during the conscious parenting; the child observes the parent 100 percent of the time.
Kamrath: This is fascinating, and so important for parents to understand. What’s a parent to do who doesn’t want to instill the same programs in their child that they observed?
Lipton: To really become a parent, you must observe your own negative behaviors and change some of the original behaviors that you learned from your parents. If you don’t, you will propagate those behaviors on. This, for example, is how most of cancer is transmitted, not from the genes but from the behaviors that are propagated.
Again, the programming of a child’s subconscious primarily occurs during the first six years of his life. In fact, we now recognize that half of a child’s personality is probably developed even before he’s born, through the information that comes across the placenta, including emotional chemicals and growth factors from the mother. So you might ask, what are the programs in my subconscious? Can I think about programming in my subconscious? Unfortunately, no, because thinking is conscious. The conscious mind wasn’t even there when the programs were being downloaded.
So now you’re running into a problem. You have these subconscious programs and you can’t really access them. However, here’s the fun part: You don’t have to go backward. Ninety-five percent of your life is a printout of your subconscious. So, all you have to do is just look at your current life, see what works and understand that the things that work do so because of beliefs in your subconscious that encourage them. On the other hand, the things you struggle with are there not because the universe doesn’t want you to have them, but because you have programs of limitation. Therefore, if you want to correct the programming in your life, you don’t have to do a wholesale rebuilding of the subconscious. You just have to look and see the things you are struggling with.
If you are struggling, it almost inevitably implies you have a program that says you can’t go there. You have to change that specific program; you don’t have to wipe the slate clean.
The subconscious isn’t all bad. It gives us a lot of great things. If you were a child in a family where your parents were fully conscious and aware, and programmed their lives to live in happiness, harmony, winwin, love-everything, and that was the environment you grew up in, then your subconscious would have all those programs. So when you grew up, you could daydream your entire life away and yet find yourself at the top of the pile. Why? Because the automatic processing from your subconscious mind, 95 percent of the time, would be such good programs that it would always take you to the top of the pile, even if you weren’t paying attention. That’s the destination we’re looking for.
Kamrath: Great. In addition to learning to trust our own intuition, can you talk about how much easier our job as a parent is when we learn to listen to our babies and follow their lead when it comes to caring for them most appropriately?
Lipton: When a human is born, they’re already filled with an intuitive knowledge of centuries and centuries of people beforehand. A child has wisdom. Their cells have wisdom. If we listen to that wisdom, it’s very instructive. If we ignore it because of our hubris and think, “We are intelligent, the baby’s not intelligent, we’ll tell the baby what to need,” then what we’re really doing is stepping on Mother Nature’s natural intelligence. So, it’s really incumbent upon us to let go and follow the natural instincts. When you’re living in harmony, you can feel it. When you’re pushing on the system, if you’re sensitive enough, you can feel you’re doing that. What we really require is the sensitivity to recognize that a child is extremely intelligent.
We have stopped listening to nature. And this is the biggest problem that humanity is facing. Our inability to understand nature has led to a state where human civilization is facing extinction because of the way we are damaging nature and destroying the environment without owning the truth—we are the environment. It’s time to return to the natural understanding, to the innate intelligence of the entire world, not just of the baby that’s born. The entire world, the entire biosphere, is an intelligent system. And right now, the least intelligent unit appears to be the human, but we’re being forced to look at life in a different way.
Kamrath: Along those same lines, the instinct to be close to our babies and nurture them is built into every parent. However, rather than encouraging physical closeness, our current cultural practices often seem to discourage it—e.g., sleep training techniques, letting babies “cry it out,” etc. Can you talk about some of the implications of these practices?
Lipton: I grew up as a child under the direction of Dr. Spock, my mother’s guide for child rearing. And in that book, he was the one who said when a child cries, just leave him alone, he’ll get over it. We now know that there’s a lot more intelligence in that child than people used to believe. They used to think that a child doesn’t really know much until it learns something, that the brain is a big, empty void. But this is false. The brain is totally active, even before the child’s born. When a baby is crying out, he is crying out because he’s disconnected, lost or unsure of the world that he’s living in. He’s crying out for some kind of information that says, “I’m safe, I’m okay, there are people around, I’m not lost.” If a child doesn’t receive any response to his crying, then he begins to build a deeper hole of protection, saying, “Oh my God, I’m not safe in this world.” A need to protect himself makes a child go inward. Growth is expanding outward and bringing life in. If there’s not enough loving support and assurances that the world is safe for a child, then he will take a protection posture, which, by definition, is shutting himself down. It is the most unhealthy biology for a human because protection does not support the growth and maintenance of our biology. The stress hormones actually shut down the growth mechanisms and the immune system in a child.
Kamrath: When a mother hears her baby cry, it evokes a deep desire to comfort him. Can you talk about how mothers and babies really are one single biological unit, and how teaching a mother to ignore her baby is very unnatural?
Lipton: There are some very interesting relationships between a mother and a child beyond the physical. This is very important for us to understand these days, because our conventional science, which is called materialistic science, is based on the physical material, mechanical world. We look at the body as a machine, and we affect it with drugs and chemistry. But through quantum mechanics—the new physics—we have started to recognize that the invisible energy fields are actually more primary in shaping the material world than the material world is in shaping itself. What we begin to find out is that a mother and child are connected not just by their physical connection, but through energetic connections. If you look at the brain wave of a young child, it’s connected and synchronized with the brain activity of the mother. To have the ability to thrive in the world, the child must be connected to the mother, because the mother is the primary linkage for survival.
When a fetus is growing in a mother, many of the fetal cells become stem cells in the mother’s system. They found this out when studying liver regeneration in adults. They started looking at some biopsies and found one particular woman whose regenerated liver cells were male liver cells. They discovered that she had a male child and that the stem cells from the fetus became stem cells in the mother which, it turn, were used by the mother in regenerating her own liver. Another study found that many of these fetal stem cells also end up in the brain. What’s the relevance of that? The fetal stem cells are receiving the input or imprint from the identity of the fetus. So the mother is not just reading her life, she’s also getting signals from her fetus. And significantly, the fetus also gets some stem cells from the mother. There are cells that are connected between the two and because the cells are the recipients of the identity, the cells are reading the lives of both of these individuals. So a mother is still connected to her child, even after the child has left home. This would explain why mothers, for example, become very acutely aware of something going wrong with their children, even if they’re on the other side of the world. When the child is having an experience over here, even the mother over there has an awareness of that experience. Now there’s a continuity that we really need to look at.
Kamrath: Can we finish up by you sharing your thoughts on what you believe is the most important factor in raising happy, healthy children?
Lipton: Today’s world is very interesting in regard to what we find makes a successful human. We judge our success by material possessions, which is understandable in a world based on Newtonian physics that says “matter is primary.” And we measure how successful we are by how many toys we end up having, how much we own—this gives us our status in a hierarchy. Well, the problem with this is that this is not really where health and happiness come from. Health and happiness come from harmony within the body. So, you might ask, what would that represent? And I say love. You say, well that’s a nice emotional word and all that. But, actually love becomes physiological. The sensation of love releases all the chemicals that provide for the growth and maintenance and health of the body. So the matter of being in love keeps us in a chemical environment that supports our vitality and our growth. Love becomes biochemistry. And the biochemistry of love is the most health-promoting, growth-promoting chemistry that you can have.
Excerpts from this interview with Dr. Bruce Lipton can be seen in the Happy Healthy Child: A Holistic Approach DVD series, due to be released in early 2012. Learn more at happyhealthychild.com.