Skin-to-skin contact is
BASED ON MOTHER
Mothering is biology ... and that biology sees the mother and infant as a DYAD, a single unit. SSC is good for mother’s brain and body also
There is a modern mindset that maintains that “mothering” is something old fashioned, something that is discriminatory and fosters gender inequality: the politically correct word is “parenting”. Fathers and mothers should share equally the load and work and trouble of being parents.
To respond bluntly – parenting is possibly “politically correct” - but it is biologically incorrect. There are basic biological principles, embedded in the DNA and the neural circuitry of babies and their mothers, that vouch for a unique biological role for mother. In terms of breastfeeding, this at least is incontrovertibly a unique maternal role. If we saw breastfeeding as purely nutritional (which it is not), and formula as adequate replacement (which it is not), this might possibly work. Breastfeeding is a great deal more. Breastfeeding is about providing total basic biological needs, and a place of safety and security. It is about all the sensations that fire and wire circuits in the developing brain. These circuits fire and wire emotionality and sociality at the root and core of these capacities. Within the safety of this dyad, the baby can grow and develop within a secure attachment, to develop as a strong and independent individual. Importantly: at the baby’s own very slow pace, never as a forced march.
Perhaps unfairly, I suggested above that parents should share the “load and work and trouble” of being parents. In so far as this is how it is perceived: something went terribly wrong in the birth process. But for parents that were separated from their offspring in the first critical few days of life, this is almost certainly the truth of how they perceive the situation. We talk about “critical periods” for developing newborn brains; there is however something called MATERNAL NEURONAL PLASTICITY around the time of birth (this link for rat). This also works as a critical period. Hormones of pregnancy increase branching in key brain areas (e.g. amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus) and these are fired into new circuits by specific stimulations from the newborn. One of many of such changes involve dopamine and oxytocin circuits in reward centres of the brain (caudate, amygdala, frontal lobe). When activated, mother feels an intense sense of reward – effectively she becomes addicted to making sure the baby is well and safe. This becomes the primary focus of existence. So … the idea that caring for an infant is “load and work and trouble” mans that these pathways were not fired and wired in the mother. Mothers and fathers can do an excellent job of being fantastic parents without having fired these pathways, but it is a lot more work, it is tougher. Specially as they are given all sorts of conflicting advice. Much of this advice is about how to make the infant adapt to the parents’ life style and needs, rather than ensuring the baby’s developmental priorities.
Parents who have this early wiring also have increased sensitivity to their infants’ signals . They are better able to tell if the baby is having an emotional wobble and needs a cuddle, or a physical upset and needs attention, or needs sleep or food. This enhanced “being in tune with baby” leads to a calmer mothering environment, often described as ”behavioural synchrony”. Parenting is so much easier, as it comes in an almost instinctive way. This sensitivity is also responsive to infant development: mothers are able to give the right amount of stimulation at the right time, they do not overwhelm their babies, while still helping them stretch and learn as they grow. The concept of a “secure attachment” as the foundation for subsequent healthy development (as first described by Bowlby) is now generally accepted. I am suggesting here that this secure attachment has a biological component that is greatly enhanced in early critical period interactions between mother and infant. Attachment we can measure scientifically after one year, maternal sensitivity we can show is enhanced before that.
I propose that the term BONDING is applicable to these deeper biological processes taking place in limbic brain circuitry at birth. In the mother this is the platform for MATERNAL SENSITIVITY, and in the infant the platform for SECURE ATTACHMENT. Subsequent optimal development is the result of long term dyadic interplay of sensitivity and attachment. (Along with secure attachment as an “upstream effect” in the baby, is SELF-REGULATION as a down stream effect on the infant physiology.)
I recommend a book, FREE DOWNLOAD, by Peter Cook , called
MOTHERING DENIED – How our culture harms women, infants and society.
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