Growing knowledge and awareness about the physical and emotional implications of the mother-baby connection, and how our actions from conception to early childhood can help or impede this relationship, is resulting in promotion of practices which support this relationship.
Authorities are beginning to acknowledge that parenting begins before birth, and possibly before pregnancy. There is mounting evidence from scientific experiments, and personal stories of children and adults about their experiences before birth, which makes us realise that memory, learning and communication begin in the womb; a long time before we acquire language. Babies in the womb have a fast developing sensory system which allows them to react to individual voices, stories, music, and even simple interaction games with the mother from about the second month (8 weeks) of pregnancy.Therefore the quality of the emotional, as well as the physical uterine environment is affected by the parents, their behaviours and their lives.
Most women become aware of their baby’s movements from about 16 to 22 weeks of their pregnancy, depending on various things like; is this their first baby or not, is the placenta at the front of the uterus which may also be well covered with fatty layers, both form padding which can lessen the sensation and awareness of baby’s movements. These days many women do not notice the time of the first, or subsequent movements as they are busy working long hours, this lack or late perception maybe a sign that a mother needs to slow down, rest so she can connect with and nourish her baby, to help it grow emotionally, as well as physically. Those who study stillbirth in Australia and New Zealand, encourage mothers to be mindful of their baby’s behaviours, advising that as the baby grows the number and types of movements will change depending on the mother’s activity. They also warn that “a change in the number or pattern of movements may be an early sign that the baby is unwell and should be checked” with their maternity care provider, rather than waiting for the next appointment or monitoring. Sleeping on her left side during the last weeks of pregnancy will also helps to nourish and maintain its growth by not compressing her blood vessels which give the womb and baby its blood supply. Drugs like smoking, alcohol and strong pain killers are known to alter a baby’s behaviour, and this is why we need to decrease the exposure of pregnant women to noxious substances such as car fumes and cigarette smoke.
During the Birth Process
In labour, the baby is not a passive passenger but rather an active participant in starting and progressing their births, as seen in this graphic. Mothers, who are encouraged to find positions that assist their baby’s decent through the pelvis, for example by using opening movements such as hip gyrations, lunges or squatting rather than reducing their outlet by sitting on their bottoms, have easier and more fulfilling births. Birth environments which have low lights, low noise and privacy also enhance the birth efforts of both mother and baby by aiding the production of labour hormones; morphine-like substances or Endorphins and the “love hormone” or Oxytocin.
Leaving the cord connection between baby and mother after birth, until it has stopped pulsating not only aids the baby’s immediate transition to life outside of the womb but results in a baby who is not anaemic at 6 to 12 months of age, unlike those who have this link broken earlier. Skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby after birth “stabilizes the newborn’s first breathing efforts and oxygenation, increases glucose levels (reducing hypoglycemia), warms the infant (maintaining optimal temperature), reduces stress hormones, regulates blood pressure, decreases crying and increases the quiet alert state.” Initial Skin-2-skin contact between mother and baby also helps long term maternal efforts of breastfeeding, settling and a host of interactions with baby by the best foundation levels of that “Love” hormone; Oxytocin.
Long term benefits of maternal closeness with her baby are not limited to infancy or childhood. Many studies since John Bowlby in the 1950s, have shown that the mother-child bond is the essential and primary force in infant development; this knowledge is the basis of attachment parenting practices such as baby-wearing and elimination communication or baby-led toileting. All babies are naturally hard-wired to expect unity with their mother, and for that unity to continue after birth. “Birth no more constitutes the beginning of the life of the individual than it does the end of gestation. Birth represents a complex and highly important series of functional changes which serve to prepare the newborn for the passage across the bridge between gestation within the womb and gestation continued out of the womb.” (Montagu, 1986, 57) The mother-baby partnership sets the foundation for other relationships in life, as birth and breastfeeding are peak times of Oxytocin production; the hormone of human connection and socialisation as well as love.
The national Brainwave Trust, who are sponsored by the Ministry Of Social Development, are one of many renown bodies who explain to the New Zealand public that during the first year of life, the quality of a child’s primary attachment affects right brain growth. he right side of the brain is responsible for processing information related to our social interactions and emotions. For the primary or first attachment to be effective in this role it requires; “the consistent interplay of a highly complex and sophisticated, but purely emotional, communication to occur between the primary caregiver and the child. Studies have demonstrated that the manifestations of right brain growth and development that occur within the first two to three years can last a lifetime and security of the attachment bond is the primary defence against trauma-induced psychopathology (Schore, 2002)…Research has shown that children who do not develop secure attachments with a primary caregiver during the first years of life later are unable to calm themselves down; they are more likely than are secure children to overreact to stimuli. Insecure children have less impulse control, less ability to tolerate stress, and less ability to tolerate frustration than do individuals who have experienced a more secure childhood (Toth & Cicchetti, 1998).
The presence of a maternal figure has been shown to reduce childhood pain and distress in unfamiliar environments and aid healing, thus most children’s hospitals world-wide, support and encourage a primary carer of hospitalised infants and older children to room-in with them 24/7. Similarly, the knowledge that a disrupted mother-baby relationship can have long term negative health consequences for the child-as-adult, with ongoing costs for us as a community is recognised by this government child protection agency’s statement that “To successfully ensure the safety, permanence, and well-being of children it really helps to be “attachment literate.” This means knowing what attachment is, how it works, and how to respond effectively to attachment problems.”
We need to do all we can to promote, protect and support the mother-baby bond from conception into childhood and beyond, as it has life-long emotional and physical benefits for us as individuals and therefore for our families and communities.