How Babies Adapt To Their Mother’s Physiological State
The classic New Years image where old Father Time represents the year that has just ended as the New Years baby with a pennant emerges on stage, heralds the iconic star of a conference I recently attended in San Diego. Sponsored by the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH), the international congress addressed scientific and psychosocial discoveries focused on “the conscious baby.”
Founded in 1983 by Canadian psychiatrist Thomas R. Verny MD and David Chamberlain PhD, APPPAH began as a small group of people who shared an interest in the sensitivity and awareness of babies.
Barbara Decker, Membership Coordinator and Parent Educator, explains: “Her premise is that babies are having experiences in the womb that are welcoming or unwelcome, they experience fear or love that is imprinting the baby in the womb.”
Members agree that prenatal experiences in the womb, as well as labor, delivery, and breastfeeding are formative for babies and parents, while establishing patterns of sociability that extend throughout life. lifetime.
True to their mission to educate people, researchers present scientific discoveries to show that babies are sentient and sentient beings. Evidence shows that what a baby experiences during conception, pregnancy, and birth creates life-long consequences.
Dr. Verny’s keynote address marked the beginning of the event detailing advances in neuroscience and their relevance to pre and perinatal psychology. As Decker explained, “Neuroscience is showing that chronic stress hormones flowing through the mother are producing architectural changes in the baby’s brain preparing him for a life of fear and protection rather than love and compassion. The next nine months until birth provide the foundation for healthy emotional intelligence and self-esteem or a life of fear and need to protect. “
Developmental researcher Katharine Monk, PhD, of Columbia University, presented important discoveries about what she calls “the mother-baby dyad during pregnancy.” Due to the development of its brain, the fetus perceives the life of its mother and is affected by it. Monk details how, by mid-pregnancy, most of the 80-90 billion neurons that we adults possess are already produced. Neuronal migration (when neurons move toward their locations) peaks in mid-pregnancy, with 40,000 new synapses forming every second in the late third trimester.
By the third trimester, the motor, visual, auditory, frontal, and temporal networks of the fetus are operational. After birth, babies prefer their mother’s breast milk to that of another mother because the smell of amniotic fluid is similar to that of breast milk. Babies prefer the voice of their mother to that of another woman, since after nine months together, the baby has become used to the prosodic tones of his own mother.
Monk emphasizes that although the fetus is hidden, it is still receptive to maternal transmissions and that this time it represents an excellent opportunity for intervention. Neuroplasticity refers to how influences shape the brain throughout development. Monk cites research showing that brains are shaped differently based on the mother’s anxiety during pregnancy. The mother communicates with her fetus, through the cortisol that crosses the placenta, to prepare herself for a dangerous world. The correspondence between the baby and his environment considers whether the parents and the child are a good fit. If a reactive baby has a reactive mother, they will both be uncomfortable.
An intervention that Monk has developed begins in pregnancy and focuses on three areas. These include optimizing the regulation of the baby who believes that a mother wants the best for her baby, thus learning tools that will help her baby sleep. Mindfulness is another focal point. This healthy practice is introduced to teach the mother skills to regulate her own subjective and physiological state. And finally, psychological and developmental education is included so that the new mother learns what to expect from her baby.
Monk’s intervention, which she calls PREPP (Practical Resources for Effective Postpartum Parenting) begins with visits during pregnancy, after delivery, and during the postpartum period. Participating moms have zero burnout and staying on track reduces the incidence of postpartum depression by 50%. This robust protocol must be implemented everywhere. Its success lies in the fact that it removes the stigma of seeking mental health treatment for postpartum depression and instead recognizes the mother and child as a dyad – the intervention is for both.
Another expert speaker on moral development highlighted the importance of the developing brain.
Psychologist Darcia Narvaez, PhD from the University of Notre Dame, presented her research “The Evolved Nest: What Children Need to Thrive.” Narváez considers the first 18 months of life to be a crucial time for brain development, denoting the need for an enriched protective environment that she calls the evolved developmental niche, also known as “the nest.”
The benefits of the nest include self-regulation, such as how the child copes with unexpected events and adjusts to stress. The child evolving from the protective nest evokes an agile intelligence about how to get along in the world and with the world.
Nest components include a relaxing birthing experience; breast-feeding; responsiveness to the baby’s needs; affected; outdoor play – to develop the implicit right brain; and adult caregivers who provide respite and training for new parents. According to Narváez, the context is (based on the development of our brain at birth) that we should be in the womb for another 18 months. When the nest is not provided, the baby suffers.
A relaxing birthing experience includes connecting mother and baby with skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth to encourage lactation (milk defines us as mammals, that is, they have mammary glands). Breast milk is liquid, which means that babies must digest it frequently. Breast milk is live food and can detect through the baby’s saliva if the baby has a virus and the milk produces the antibody to the virus. If the baby weighs very little, breast milk detects it and produces more fat.
In short, Narváez advises us to return tenderness to all relationships with young children and adolescents. The nest provides that tenderness and includes: relaxing labor, breastfeeding at the request of babies, responsiveness (don’t allow babies to cry themselves to sleep as it creates cortisol that melts their neurons), affection (no spanking or coercion), free outdoor play, and friendly adult caregivers that foster a positive climate for the child to feel loved. When the niche is provided, optimal development will occur.
Drs. The work of Verny, Chamberlain, Monk and Narváez does justice to APPPAH and represents the caliber of academics contributing to the conversation. The association offers many educational opportunities, including an online course for educators of pre and perinatal psychology, as well as regional and international conferences. A visit to their website will introduce you to their archival multimedia resources.