Guest blog: Exploring the impact of life inside the womb

Understanding patterns in health before and during pregnancy will be crucial to narrowing the health gap for women and their babies. In the latest addition to our guest blog series, Whitehouse explores In Utero, an award-winning documentary delivered by NHS Cheshire and Merseyside Local Maternity System Baby Week Team promoting wider discussions of women’s health and underlining the need to address health inequalities where they start in utero and pre-conception.

Writer and filmmaker Kathleen Man Gyllenhaal provides a Director’s Statement below.


How much are we constructed during the time we spend in our mother’s womb? Do we carry the trauma of our ancestors? Are we who we think we are?

These questions preoccupied me during the making of In Utero, gaining deeper resonance after I become pregnant. I wanted to understand everything I could about the relationship between a mother’s health and that of her growing fetus, to lay a better foundation for conception and pregnancy.

Researching the world of developmental origins and disease, I saw connections between epigenetics, epidemiology, psychology and neuroscience. When I realised that there wasn’t any other documentary out there (to my knowledge) bringing together this research, I decided to make one.

Through interviewing many experts – scientists, doctors, psychologists, midwives – I learned that we are products of both nature and nurture, not just the genetic blueprints we used to think we are. And our first and most significant environment is our mother’s womb.

Exposure to the environment turns genes on or off. As one expert said, “Good events cause change, bad events cause change.” And nurturing (or lack thereof) affects our brain development and even personality during the prenatal and perinatal periods. Scientific research indicates that physical and mental conditions can be traced to fetal life, caused by chronic stress in the mother.

Some psychologists go one step further and suggest that the mother can project unconscious emotions into the fetus’s developing mind, contributing to a psychological “imprint” that affects their baby’s emotional health and individuation. There’s also the transgenerational piece: that changes in one lifetime are passed down to the next generation, and the next, until that gene is switched off. All of which shows how vital the in utero time is.

Our first relationship begins in utero and sets the tone for all other relationships to come. Our relationships need to be more robust than ever if we are to successfully navigate challenges such as climate change and a global pandemic. That first relationship matters even more as we grapple with Covid-19.

We still don’t understand exactly how the mother/fetus relationship informs a person’s emotional development, but we’re beginning to, and I hope In Utero continues to drive that conversation. The people I spoke to during the making of this film firmly believe that we can turn things around in our community, our society, and the world at large if we focus our attention on our first environment — our mother’s womb.

In Utero is available to stream until 31st January via this link. Screenings will be followed by an interactive online panel discussion on 2nd February, 16:30-17:30, with keynote speaker Kathleen Man Gyllenhaal. A second panel session will run in late Spring with Stephen Gyllenhaal.

Guest blog series

We hope you have enjoyed this blog, which is part of Whitehouse’s guest blog series. We want to provide a platform for a variety of organisations to voice their opinions on topics that matter to them. If you would like to be involved, please email

Political Consultancy

The Whitehouse team are expert political consultants providing public relations and public affairs advice and political analysis to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the Member States of the European Union and beyond. We work in a number of sectors including human rights and equalities. For more information, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at