Beginning a survey of the development of the human zygote the author quickly traces its growth and development to prepare it for birth and for independent living. Chamberlain next explores how the new-born infant has sufficiently developed sense organs and memory and therefore is able to react with his environment and communicate with its caretakers.
The second half of the book traces the history of the possibility that babies could remember birth. The author says that isolated recountings of birth experiences began about one hundred years ago, but since no studies were being made, the experiences were considered anecdotal and more akin to old wives' tales rather than science.
Otto Rank in The Trauma of Birth (1924) was the first to give a detailed account of a theory that what happened to us in our mother's uterus could influence us the rest of our lives. Describing the womb experience as blissful, Rank to Freud's dismay, theorized that birth was more a psychological insult rather than physical trauma.
During the 1940's Nandor Fodor, an American psychoanalyst, became convinced that birth trauma was significant in shaping later life and used dream interpretation and the interpretation of birth fantasies in an attempt to resolve birth trauma.
By 1950 L. Ron Hubbard began his cultish Dianetics, a forerunner to the present-day Church of Scientology, which claimed to uncover birth traumas during "auditing'' procedures.
In the late 1960's Psychologist Arthur Janov began publishing his theories of the universality of primal pain, of which birth trauma played a large part. In working with the effects of LSD, a medical doctor Stanislav Grof, found that his patients were reliving phases of their birth under the drug's effects. Abandoning LSD research, since its use had become illegal, Grof, at the same time as Janov, developed holotropic breathwork therapy which also dealt with birth trauma.
Explaining that quite often young children will begin to spontaneously talk and ask questions about their births, Chamberlain conducted experiments with birth mothers and children and determined that birth memories are retrievable under hypnosis. Because of this, the author says that new-born infants are capable of picking up on the insensitivity of casual remarks. He believes that disappointments as to the sex of the child as well as overt rejection can be instantly communicated to the neonate.
Babies Remember Birth contains many short case histories from the baby's point of view. The book concludes with two short appendixes on the problems of abortion and parental guilt.