Simple Ideas with Profound Impact
Since Mother’s Day is celebrated today throughout much of the world, we want to shine a big spotlight on the critical role mothers play in the process of a child’s development. The importance is so much broader and deeper than most people realize.
Mom’s job begins early! Shortly after conception, before she even knows that she is pregnant, the mother becomes her child’s physiological regulating system. This means that throughout the nine months of pregnancy, mother’s and baby’s biorhythms, heart rates, hormonal balances, sleep patterns and many other physiological systems are locked into mutually beneficial, reciprocal bonded patterns. Whatever happens to one has an effect on the other. Mother’s body provides the sensory and biochemical environment that shapes the baby’s brain. Because of this, the state of the mother’s own body, in relation to her environment, is mirrored in the baby’s developing brain and nervous system. When a mother feels safe and is nurtured, her baby’s brain reaps the benefits. When a mother feels unloved or unsupported, is threatened, anxious, and fearful, her baby’s brain suffers.
What begins in pregnancy continues and expands dramatically at birth. Nature simply assumes that the relationship that started at conception will remain throughout the first years of life. How a mother is able to fulfill her role as her baby’s physiological regulating system affects how her baby’s brain develops and thus affects the baby’s future.
Mother is, and always will be, her baby’s first and most influential teacher.
Nature intends that direct intimate contact with mother’s body will provide the pleasurable stimulation, the emotional nurturing, and the essential nutrients needed for her baby to develop a normal and healthy brain and nervous system. This means that decisions regarding issues like feeding and sleeping arrangements are very important and need careful consideration. Modern culture tends to rule in favor of decisions that separate mother from baby and the consequences of this decision may be greater than we think.
Consider breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is part of nature’s magnificent design for getting this whole process started. It is important for the baby’s development for many reasons – ideal nutrition for human growth and development, antibodies for a strong immune system, skin to skin tactile stimulation which affects all motor function and cements emotional bonding, and what neuroscientists refer to as the “mutual gaze”, a fascinating exchange that takes place most effectively during breastfeeding. The “mutual gaze” is that moment when mother and baby’s eyes are locked in a visual dance of tender mutual admiration. It’s a moment that has been celebrated in art throughout history. It turns out that all of those artists were on to something important. Brain imaging studies show clear evidence of a surge of activity in both mother and baby during these exchanges. We now know that the baby’s developing emotional intelligence is greatly affected by the number of such exchanges in early life.
The same thing can be said for so many of the other ways in which mother and her baby are designed to interact. In everything from sleeping arrangements to daily care and child rearing, nature intends for the mother to be in close proximity to her baby so that she can respond to the baby’s biological and physiological needs in a timely and loving manner.
Another reason that mother is so important is that she is, and always will be, her baby’s first and most influential teacher. Nobody understands her baby in the way she does and nobody ever will. Instinctively, mother knows exactly what her baby needs and when he or she needs it. It has always fascinated us how extremely effective the maternal instinct is. In our work with brain-injured children, the first question we ask when taking a developmental history is, “Who first suspected that something was wrong in the child’s development?” If you look at over 40 years of our histories you will find that 90% of the time the answer to that question is either mother or grandmother. The truth is that mothers almost always know. Unfortunately, professionals often disagree with mother’s suspicion, causing her to mistrust her instincts and brush her worries aside. The result is that far too often precious time is lost because when mothers are able to trust their instincts they are rarely wrong.
So, as we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, take a moment to be mindful of the beautiful ballet being performed by mothers and their babies and marvel at the paradox of simplicity and complexity that it represents. Nothing can quite replace the nurturing touch and love a mother provides for her baby. Through this tireless and wonderful dedication to her little one, she nurtures all of humanity.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you wonderful mothers!