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The I-Baby: A Baby’s Brain On Technology

April 11th, 2013 by avatar

Regular contributor Kathy Morelli takes a look at babies and media and technology exposure.  If you are working with expectant families or with families parenting young children, you have an opportunity to share the impact of media on developing brains.  Take a moment to read today’s post and share how you bring up this topic with the families you work with. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility. 

http://flic.kr/p/DVbyu

Today’s babies are definitely digital natives! They grow up in a world saturated by media. The research about the effects of media on child development is in its infancy (no pun intended). 

On one hand, some research suggests when the developing brain is over-exposed to multi-tasking, attentional and learning difficulties can result. On the other hand, other research contradicts this finding. Additionally, there are lots of claims from DVD and TV producers that using their media enhances learning and social growth. 

What’s a parent to believe?

First Off: Parent with Awareness and Moderation

Put some perspective on this issue by reframing parenting around media issues as similar to parenting around other issues. 

Parenting with awareness and moderation through the infant years, around any topic, depends on three important tips.     

Tip One: Parent, Heal Thyself 

Encourage parents to be aware of their own emotional reactions to their baby. Have them own their emotions as their own, not their baby’s.

If the parents themselves have felt abandoned as a child, they may need to do their own hard emotional work, centering on their reactions to their baby’s dependency needs. Feelings around their own issues persist no matter what media is in use in the house. Parents should recognize them as their own feelings and work to own them. 

Tip Two: The Baby is an Individual  

All the statistics and information in the world doesn’t change the fact that each baby is an individual, with individual needs.

All babies need one-on-one attention from their caregivers, but some need more than others. Some babies cry more than others, some have colic, some are calmer and quieter than others. And learning occurs differently in each individual.

Have the parents look for clues. If their baby needs more attention than they think he needs, remember he is an individual and cannot be compared to other babies in their life. If their baby has a negative reaction to some type of media, have the parents either reduce its use or don’t use it at all. It might be a signal that he needs more interactive attention from the parent.  If the baby seems confused, frightened or agitated by some imagery or sounds from media, don’t force him to watch it. Cut it out of the home’s media diet. 

Tip Three: Baby, It’s YOU

There is no substitute for the parents. Have parents plan to spend meaningful time with their baby. A baby’s healthy development depends on attentive, personal, touchable, multisensorial, fully embodied experiences.

Newborn Baby’s Brain – Not So High Tech

First, an infant’s growth is intertwined on all levels; physical, mental and emotional growth are all related. In other words, brain development, movement, emotional development, and language are all inter-related and unfold together, at a biologically prescribed pace.   

Second, in the first three years of life, there are multiple critical periods (windows of opportunity) when a baby must be exposed to particular life experiences in order to learn particular skills. If these windows are missed, it’s extremely hard (or impossible) to learn the skill at a later time in life. The windows of opportunity are biologically based on brain development (Zero to Three, 2012). 

For example, vision and language are two skills dependent on critical windows of time. Acquisition of binocular vision and depth perception depends on a normal early experience with vision in the first few weeks of life.  Language skills must be acquired before five years of age, or there is little chance of developing language later in life (Zero to Three, 2012).  

Third, babies are born with immature brains. Experts estimate in order for the human brain to be fully developed at birth, the gestational period should be 18 months.  But human babies come out in nine months in order to compensate for the size of the human female pelvis (Christakis, 2009).  

Many baby experts refer to the first three months of life as the “fourth trimester” (Karp, 2003).  In the fourth trimester, a baby is still very fetus-like.  At at the beginning of life, a baby’s brain is only a quarter of its adult size and will grow about 20% in just the first three months of life. Her brain structures are in place, but are waiting to grow, based on her experiences. (Stamm, 2007). 

Think of the huge differences between a four day old baby and a four month old baby. That four month old child is cooing and smiling right at their parents, enticing them to connect! That newborn is depending on the parents to connect with her to help her grow (Marvin & Britner, 2008).      

The time between birth and two years old is naturally and biologically a period of extraordinary growth. An infant’s brain naturally grows based on genetics and interactive experience (Zero to Three, 2012; AAP, 2011; Stamm, 2007) 

The Infant Brain – How Babies Learn  

Babies Learn by Social Interaction:  Popular hype says any type of stimulation helps the infant brain grow and learn. But the consensus of child development specialists everywhere is  normal infant development depends on normal social stimulation  involving all the senses (touch, sound, sight, smell) (Vygotsky, 1978; as cited in Fenstermacher et al, 2010).   

What is normal social stimulation with all the senses?

It is responsive care by the parents (caregivers) using all the senses, including skin to skin contact, movement (swaying, walking, gentle dancing), holding, feeding, cuddling, talking,  loving direct eye contact, smiles, gentle play, comforting, and mature acceptance and modulation of your baby’s changing feeling states (angry, happy, sad) (Cozolino, 2006; Wallin, 2007). 

Emotional Attachment Style is Learned: A baby’s emotional template is encoded neurologically based on her earliest experiences with her parents and other caregivers. The biological attachment sequence enacts no matter what type of care a baby receives.

A good quality, secure attachment is created by good quality and consistent interactions between baby and parents. The human brain is plastic, so the attachment template is continuously updated and developed throughout life, but it is much easier on a person to begin life with healthy connectivity patterns, than to correct them as they go along (Wallin, 2007).        

Neglect & Abuse Affect Brain Growth: Research shows children growing up in neglectful and abusive homes, who are rarely spoken to, who do not have the opportunity to explore, may fail to develop the neuronal pathways necessary to learning (Zero to Three, 2012).

No Media vs Hey, It’s Educational!   

Parents of the under two set are understandably concerned by the conflicting messages out there about screen time.

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP, 2011) strongly discourages any media consumption by children younger than two.

The AAP’s policy statement is based on research findings that media time tends to elbow out time spent in unstructured, creative play time and interactive activities with a parent or caregiver.  High quality, multi-sensorial interactions with a consistent caregiver are essential for healthy child development.

Yet, media is an integral part of our culture. On the average, 100% of children under two watch 1 – 2 hours of media every day and 14% watch over 2 hours a day (AAP, 2011).  40% of all children younger than two years live in households where the TV is on all day long as background noise (Courage & Setcliff, 2009). 

So what’s a parent to believe?

Does media consumption hurt babies?

Many parents say they are comfortable with allowing their under 12 month babies to watch educational media. There are a lot of educational firms pushing DVDs for the under 12 month old set, claiming learning enhancement and improvement for school readiness.

Are their claims substantiated by research?

The Research

What follows are some key points from the research about media consumption, learning and attentional effects on the developing brain.

Media, the Developing Brain and Attentional Difficulties

In 2004, Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH of the University of Washington, reviewed data from an existing study. He found an association between children under three who watch on average more than two hours a day of television and attentional difficulties. In 2007, further studies by Christakis and his colleague, Fred Zimmerman, found the attentional difficulties were more precisely linked to program content. That is, cartoons and fast paced media seem to be linked to attentional difficulties, but not educational and appropriately paced programs. Christakis theorizes that over-stimulation of the developing brain with flashing and changing sights and sounds might be harmful to the developing brain (Christakis and Zimmerman, 2007; Christakis, 2009; Zimmerman et al, 2009).

On the other hand, there are researchers such as Tara Stevens and Miriam Muslow (2006) who feel the evidence linking media usage and attentional difficulties is highly correlational and Christakis and Zimmerman did not properly account for other factors in their information. Clearly, there is a need for the National Institute of Health to fund a large scale study to see if and how the digital native brain is affected by media saturation.   

How Babies Learn from the Screen 

Video Deficit Effect: Research about screen learning versus live learning indicates infants learn less from video than from live interactions; this is called the “video deficit effect.” The video deficit effect persists to about three years of age (Barr, Muentener, & Garcia, 2007; Zack et al, 2009).

The video deficit effect is mitigated by repetitive viewings, media content design and the context in which the media is used (Barr, 2010).

Repetition: So, babies under 12 months will retain behavior after seeing it performed once by a live model. But it takes repeated viewings for a baby to learn the same behavior from a screen.   

Content design: Retention of information is also enhanced in the under 12 month set by story content. If the story lines are simple, in sequence, and uninterrupted by multiple story lines or commercials, retention is enhanced. (think Teletubbies).

Context: In addition, if the media is in the context of a family situation, that is, if there is an appropriate adult moderator present, to discuss, distract and limit screen use, retention is enhanced and deleterious effects are reduced (Christakis, 2009).

Individual learning differences: In addition, there are differences in how and how fast individual babies learn. In general, at about the age of 12 months, a child becomes capable of seeing something on a screen and then performing it himself. But there are individual variations, and these variations persist into toddlerhood (Barr, 2007).     

But, as discussed above, child development specialists agree infants primarily learn via social-interactional-sensorial methods.

Educational Claims

Let’s take a look at the claims made by current educational DVDs targeted at infants.

In 2010, Susan Fenstermacher and her colleagues conducted an overview of 58 popular DVDs (culled from a total of 218 made between Fall 2007 and Spring 2008) marketed as educational to parents for their infants. A total of 17% of 686 claims made by the producers were that the DVDs provide socio-emotional educational content. However, the researchers found that only 4% of all the scenes were socio-interactional in content and these scenes were not of high quality.

In general, producers of DVDs do not use research-based child development learning principles, despite their claims. Of course this may be changing as these producers begin to use child development experts as content consultants.  

Language Development and Media

Language: Research shows babies learn language from being directly spoken to by their caregivers. Babies don’t learn language from the television or from observing conversations between adults, they need direct attention.

Matthew LaPierre and his colleagues (2012) found that children from eight months to eight years are exposed to over 4 hours of TV a day. This can be reduced by not having a TV in the child’s room.

Studies have shown that having the television on at home all day as background noise causes language delays and reduced interaction between parents and children (Kirkorian et al, 2012; LaPierre, Piotrowski & Linebarger, 2012).

Profoundly, a study of 1000 infants found that babies who watched over 2 hours of DVDs a day had poorer language assessments than babies who did not watch DVDs. Specifically, for each hour of watching a DVD, a baby knew 6 – 8 words less than babies who did not watch DVDs (Christakis & Zimmerman, 2007).

On the other hand, in 2010, Allen and Scofield found that 2 year olds can learn simple words from very simplified content, from a video.  They found the Blues Clues format was good for this.

Again, the research is not yet complete, but still points to the benefits of parental awareness and judicious use of media.   

Reality vs Fantasy in the Young Mind

Remember babies brain structures are not yet developed. The lower brain centers, the emotional centers, with structures such as the amygdala, are fully formed at birth. The amygdala is in charge of emotional designation. But the neo-cortex, the logic center is not fully formed until the early twenties (Cozolino,2006). Thus, the capacity to differentiate between fantasy and reality is limited in babies, toddlers and children. Babies are wired to empathize with the emotions of the people around them and have the capacity to do so. And remember that babies do retain information from repeated viewings.

For an example of how differently children view reality than adults, studies show children believe that many planes hit the World Trade Center, not just two, as the event was shown over and over again on TV.

So keep in mind babies/toddlers and adults have a different understanding about fantasy and reality as applied to what is viewed on the screen and they also can “catch” emotions from the people around them and from the screen. 

Five Tips for Parents: Media & Infants 

So, when it comes to media consumption, think about parenting a young baby with awareness and moderation. Some age appropriate media is ok, and its ok to for parents to take breaks with a TV show, but don’t let it edge out stroller walks, hikes in a baby back pack in the woods, and bonding time. 

Tip One: There is no substitute for the parent.

Studies indicate using media over 2 hours a day steals precious interactional learning time from the baby.  Encourage parents to help their baby grow by being present with her.

Tip Two: Like any parenting decision that needs to be made, make the decision from a place of awareness and in moderation.

Tip Three:   Be aware of how much your TV is on.

Again, research has found that children in the US are exposed to over 4 hours of TV a day. Reduce this time limiting the number of TV’s in the home, and not putting a TV or computer in the child’s bedroom.

Tip Four: Those educational DVDs? Well, research shows they make a lot of claims and the content is not based on research.   

Since some studies have implicated attentional and language deficits in babies who view more than two hours of media per day, limit the amount of media with your infant. A baby’s primitive brain learns socially and with many senses involved: touch, smell, sight, sound. A baby’s early interactions and experiences are encoded in the brain and have lasting effects. Choose media that has child development consultants working on the production.  

Tip Five: Think twice about exposing your young baby/toddler to violent imagery on the screen. Remember repetitive showings increase retention, babies are naturally wired to empathize with emotions and studies show that children have a different perception of reality and fantasy than adults.

Five positive ways for parents to interact with their babies: 

  • Consistently interact with a baby using prolonged eye contact, gentle skin to skin touching and smiling
  • Actively watching appropriate media with a baby is a way for parents to get a needed sitting rest and also enhances learning and mitigates negative effects
  • Baby massage is a wonderful tool for parents. Studies show it reduces anxiety and depression in both parents and babies (Field, Hernandez-Reif, M. and Diego,  2006)
  • Teach her to regulate her emotional states by appropriately soothing her when necessary. She is learning how to accept and tolerate her own emotional states from parents, so remain calm and consistent.
  • Remind parents that they don’t need to be perfect, they just need to be good enough!

 References 

American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Communication and Media (2012). Policy Statement: Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years. May 15, 2012 from  http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/128/5/1040.full.html

Barr, R, Muentener, P, and Garcia, A. (2007). Age related changes in deferred imitation from television by 6-18-month-olds.  Developmental Science,10(6), 910-922.  

Christakis, D (2009). The effects of infant media usage: what do we know and what should we learn? Acta Pædiatrica, 98, 8–16.

Christakis, D. and Zimmerman, F. (2007). Associations between content types of early media exposure and subsequent attentional problems. Pediatrics, 120(5), 986 -992. doi: 10.1542/peds.2006-3322

Courage, M. and Setliff, (2009). Debating the impact of television and video material on very young children: Attention, learning, and the developing brain. Society for Research in Child Development, 3(1), 72-78.

Cozolino, L. (2006). The neuroscience of human relationships. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 

Fenstermacher, S. K., Barr, R., Brey, E., Pempek, T. A., Ryan, M., Calvert, S. L. and Linebarger, D. (2010). Interactional quality depicted in infant and toddler videos: where are the interactions?. Infant & Child Development, 19(6), 594-612. doi:10.1002/icd.714

Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., & Diego, M. (2006). Newborns of depressed mothers who received moderate versus light pressure massage during pregnancy. Infant Behavior and Development, 29, 54-58.

Kirkorian, H. L., Pempek, T. A., Murphy, L. A., Schmidt, M. E., & Anderson, D. R. (2009). The Impact of Background Television on Parent–Child Interaction. Child Development, 80(5), 1350-1359. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01337.x. 

LaPierre, M., Piotrowski, J., and Linebarger, D. (2012).  American children exposed to high amounts of harmful TV. Unpublished paper presented at International Communication Association’s annual conference (Phoenix, AZ, May 24-28, 2012).

Marvin, R.S. & Britner, P.A. (2008). Normative Development: The ontogeny of attachment. In J. Cassidy & P.R. Shaw (Eds),  Handbook of Attachment, (pp. 269-294). New York: The Guilford Press.

Stamm, J. (2007). Bright from the start. New York: Penguin Books.

Stevens, T. and Mulsow, M. (2006). There is no meaningful relationship between television exposure and symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics, 117(3), 665-672. Retrieved May 21, 2012 from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/117/3/665.full.html

Wallin,D.J. (2007).  Attachment in psychotherapy. New York: The Guilford Press.

Zack, E., Barr, R., Gerhardstein, P., Dickerson, K., and Meltzoff, A.N. (2009). Infant imitation from television using novel touchscreen technology. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27, 13–26.

Zero to Three (2012). General brain development. Retrieved May 15, 2012 from  http://main.zerotothree.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ter_key_brainFAQ#bybirthZimmerman, F. J., Gilkerson, J., Richards, J. A., Christakis, D. A., Dongxin, X., Gray, S., & Yapanel, U. (2009). Teaching by Listening: The Importance of Adult-Child Conversations to Language Development. Pediatrics124(1), 342-349. doi:10.1542/peds.2008-2267 

American Academy of Pediatrics, Babies, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Newborns, Parenting an Infant , , , , , , ,

Teaching Opportunity for Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educators During World Breastfeeding Week

June 28th, 2012 by avatar

  Lamaze International and Babies R Us are joining together to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week and we need your help.  Would you like to promote breastfeeding and share your wisdom with new parents at Babies R Us stores across the country in conjunction with World Breastfeeding Week?  Are you a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator?  Preference will be given to LCCEs for this exciting opportunity.  Educators,  read on and consider participating in this event, sure to be fun and worthwhile for both you and new parents.

World Breastfeeding Week is August 1- 7, 2012.  On Saturday, August 4th, selected Babies R Us stores will host a breastfeeding information session from noon-3 PM. Lamaze Educators will present a 1 hour information session on Nursing Basics for New Moms beginning at 1 PM.  As you are aware, breastfeeding is often the next challenge after childbirth, and this session is a wonderful opportunity to reach new and expectant parents in a casual yet informative gathering, helping moms and babies get their breastfeeding relationship off to a healthy start.

How New Moms Will Benefit

  • Free info session conveniently located in one of many Babies R Us locations
  • Free handouts on breastfeeding resources
  • Access to experienced Lamaze Educators who can answer questions and make referrals
  • Accurate information based on Lamaze International CBE curriculum
Benefits for Participating Lamaze Educators
  • Opportunity for you to meet expectant families in your community
  • Introduce families to all the valuable Lamaze International resources available to them
  • Join other educators and birth professionals around the world in celebrating World Breastfeeding Week
  • Help new mothers get breastfeeding questions answered accurately
  • Share best practices for new nursing moms
  • Earn up to 5 alternate credits for Lamaze contact hours towards your recertification
  • Receive handouts and material that promotes breastfeeding to new moms

If this opportunity sounds exciting and of interest to you, then please contact Stephanie Burt by email (or phone 301-275-6899) to let Lamaze know that you are interested in participating in this nationwide event.  Lamaze International continues to be a leader in the childbirth field by creating ways for new parents to receive information in easy, accessible formats right in their own communities. Don’t miss this chance to connect and help mothers and babies, while celebrating of breastfeeding with others around the world.

Please don’t forget to come back and tell us your experience in this community outreach event, reaching new moms and their babies. What a great way to support new families and share your teaching skills at the same time.

 

 

Babies, Childbirth Education, Continuing Education, Healthy Birth Practices, Healthy Care Practices, Newborns, Parenting an Infant, Uncategorized , , , , , ,

Celebrating Mother’s Day: Part One: Infant Attachment

May 8th, 2012 by avatar

This is a guest post by Jessica Zucker, Ph.D.

Part One: Fortifying Parenthood: Infant Attachment

Part One is about managing expectations about infant attachment and how to foster the infant bond

Infant attachment: Easier than we think

Parents are often burdened by internalized expectations surrounding attachment. Cultural pressures seep into our pores, clogging our hearts and minds with a million different ideas of how we “should” raise our children.

Super Mommy messages drain the life force out of genuine connection and intuitive responsiveness. Cultural pressures egg women on to embody unattainable perfection from head to toe, leaving us feeling compass-less and insecure when we need to trust ourselves most.

Laying the groundwork for healthy attachment relationships with our children may be easier than we think.

If we strip away the external frills, media hype, and ever-present “shoulds” of baby-dom we can plunge into the basic elements that make up healthy connection and fruitful development.

Let’s focus our energies on the burgeoning relationship with our children rather than culturally-bound trends handed down from generation to generation. We find presence of mind is the most powerful conduits for connection with our children.

What follows are some enriching tidbits about attachment and simple steps you can take with the aim of laying a foundation of emotional health in the relationship with your child.

Q: What is attachment

Attachment is the process, as well as the quality, of the relationship an infant forms with caregivers. Attachment can occur with biological and adoptive mothers, fathers, stepparents, grandparents, and any other consistent person in the child’s life.

A baby’s initial relationship experiences with primary caregivers creates the infrastructure for subsequent relationships, How the child views connection, how she experiences her self, and the world around her, is influenced by her early relationships.

With repeated experiences of predictable care, the infant learns about trust and security. Growing up in an environment infused with safety and intentionality ensures healthy social and emotional development.

“Children with a history of secure attachment show substantially greater self-esteem, emotional health and ego resilience, positive affect, initiative, social competence, and concentration in play than do their insecure peers” (Wallin, 2007).

Q: What are some concrete ways to set the stage for my child(ren) to experience a secure attachment?

Research shows it is the quality of the infant-caregiver interaction rather than the quantity of care that establishes the health in the attachment bond.

In other words, the caregiver’s sensitivity to the infant’s gestures and expressions during interactions is of paramount importance.

Repeated instances of feeling cared for results in a child’s establishment of behavioral expectations for future interactions, inside and outside of the home. Optimally, she learns to expect that people can provide safety, spontaneity, and continuity.

Research shows the number of hours spent together is not necessarily equated with security of attachment. For example, if a mother is home with her child full-time feeling depressed, notably overwhelmed, and appreciably disconnected from her infant, the distressing quality of their interactions may deleteriously impact the child’s sense of poise and/or interpersonal security. Thus, having a nuanced sense of what makes you feel the most present with your child will benefit the emotional health of your family.

The caregiver-infant patterns of communication hold great potential in establishing a secure attachment. Consistent maternal attunement facilitates the infant’s ability to freely explore the world around her, engage in spontaneous play, and rely on the caregiver to provide loving responses.

Security is further felt when the caregiver illustrates thoughtful actions and mindful behaviors.

Positive behaviors to reinforce secure attachment include:

  • narrating for your child the events of the day as you move from one activity to the next,
  • prolonged gazing and smiling, cuddling and comforting, skin to skin gentle touch,
  • calmly and consistently tolerating the variety of emotional states your baby exhibits as she begins to take in the world around her.

Babies often feel distressed and unequipped to modulate their changing feelings. Infants depend on the attachment figure to help them manage and tolerate their emotional experiences. This requires caregivers to “bear within herself, to process, and to re-present to the baby in a tolerable form what was previously the baby’s intolerable emotional experience” (Wallin, 2007).

Ideally, during the initial months of your baby’s life, she learns that caregivers are able to gracefully navigate challenging moments with love and understanding.

Caregiver consistency, responsiveness, and sensitivity yields infant flexibility, resilience, and a sense of attachment security.

Q: How do the earliest moments between infant and caregiver impact future relationships?

Healthy development and attachment security flourish when resonant, competent, attuned, loving, and consistent parental behaviors mark the initial months of a baby’s life.

Babies bask in a comforting balance between connection and exploration as a direct result of environmental safety and trustworthy role modeling.

Sensing that the world is a safe place reinforces self-confidence, trust in others, and a feeling that love and growth are generative.

Conversely, when infants experience their caregiver as threatening or regrettably unstable, fear of closeness can prevail.

Our internal compass for establishing and navigating relationships is initially arranged through seminal infant-caregiver interactions.

Simply put, when early life feels melodic and predictable, the world and others in it feel approachable. The template for how we come to understand what it means to be in relationship with others is set up during infancy and into toddlerhood. These formative relational patterns persist as we journey into adolescents and adulthood.

Book References:

Siegel, D. J. & Hartzell, M. (2003). Parenting from the inside out: How a deeper understanding can help you raise children who thrive. New York: Penguin Books.

Siegel, D. & Payne Bryson, T. (2011). The whole-brain child. New York: Random House.

Perinatal and Postpartum Mood Disorders: Perspectives and Treatment Guide for the Health Care Practitioner (2008). S. D. Stone and A. E. Menkin (Eds).

 New York: Springer Publications.

Wallin,D. (2007). Attachment in psychotherapy. New York: The Guilford Press.

Wiegartz, P. (2009). The pregnancy and postpartum anxiety workbook. Oakland, California: New Harbinger Publications.

Web Reference:

Early Moments Matter: PBS Toolkit

http://www.earlymomentsmatter.org/

Dr. Jessica Zucker is a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles specializing in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health with a focus on transitions in motherhood, perinatal and postpartum mood disorders, and parent-child attachment. Jessica studied at Harvard University and New York University. She is an award-winning writer and a contributor to The Huffington Post and PBS This Emotional Life. Dr. Zucker is currently writing her first book about mother-daughter relationships and issues surrounding the body (Routledge). Jessica consults on numerous projects pertaining to the motherhood continuum. Visit Dr. Zucker’s website at  www.drjessicazucker.com

Twitter: @DrZucker

Authoritative Knowledge, Babies, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Parenting an Infant, Uncategorized , ,

Keeping Baby Close: The Importance of High-Touch Parenting

August 3rd, 2010 by avatar

A couple of weeks ago, at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, some intriguing (but not really startling) data were presented at the annual Brain Development and Learning Conference: mothers who touch their babies more often can alter their offspring’s genetic expression and foster calmer babies who will grow up to be increasingly nurturing parents.  For those of us in the childbirth education arena, this is not surprising in the least.

For years, folks who promote safe, gentle birthing practices also tend to favor gentle parenting practices.  High-touch infant care falls under this category.  Famed pediatrician/author Dr. Sears calls it Attachment Parenting.  Others call it Kangaroo Mother Care (a philosophy which is often only thought of as being used with premies or newborns but can, in fact, be carried on throughout infancy).  Others, still:  Baby wearing.

The basic idea?  Keep your baby close by, offer skin-to-skin contact as a means of warming and/or comforting, bonding, teaching your child that you are there for her for the most basic of needs and that you are a tender, loving resource.

When our three kids were infants, we did the same thing I see thousands of other new parents doing:  we hauled our kids around in their detachable infant cars as if we were carrying around a utilitarian bucket of potatoes.  Because, let’s face it:  it’s easier, right?  No buckling and unbuckling the five-point harness every time we got in and out of the car.  No disturbing baby when he’s asleep in his bucket.

My friend who is an awesome mama, prenatal yoga instructor and doula, practiced baby wearing reverently with her two boys in their infancy.  As I observed her–always showing up with her little one snuggled into a wrap on her chest (or hip, as the baby grew) I pondered the realities:  doesn’t her back ever get sore?  Doesn’t she sometimes want her own space?

I imagine, the answer might have sometimes been ‘yes.’  But I also know that Gloria has a bond with her children like none other and was able to put aside the short term gains of her own comfort for the long term gains of what baby wearing likely fostered in the bond between mother and child.  And, I imagine, many “baby wearers” will tell you that they are comfortable wearing their babies–especially if fit with an appropriate sling/baby carrier.

Heres the thing:  with physical closeness comes psychological closeness, and you can bet those two boys of Gloria’s learned to trust their mama for their every need, early on.  Do kids who weren’t kept close as infants not trust their parents?  No, not necessarily.  But there are degrees of trust and psychological closeness and, where on that scale do you think a kiddo falls, who was kept close to his/her parents as an infant?  Just think of the inherent message baby wearing…attachment parenting…kangaroo care…sends:

I am here for you. Always. Your well-being is so important to me that I will make sure I am close by to recognize when you need something. You are not alone.

I also ponder the messages being sent to a baby who spends a ton of her time in her infant car seat:

My convenience is more important than your being comforted. I hold you (literally) at arm’s length because it is easier for me. I will take you with me according to my schedule (as opposed to being home for baby’s nap time–thus avoiding the concern about removing a sleeping baby from her car seat) rather than one that is more advantageous for you.

I know I am simplifying things here.  But really, when you consider implied messages contained in our daily actions, the messages we send can be deafening, and are sometimes different from that which we’d really like to be relaying.

I recently learned about a new product hitting the markets…designed for a similar rural population as the one I wrote about, here.  In an earnest attempt to create a life-saving product for premature babies born in developing countries  a product has been developed called the Embrace–a sleeping bag-looking “portable incubator” with a pocket in the back for an inserted heat pack.

I applaud the Stanford researchers who’ve come up with this, and their aggressive goal of saving hundreds of thousands of teeny tiny lives at $25 a pop (this is an entrepreneurial effort).  But I also have to wonder, what about good-old skin-to-skin contact?  Studies have repeatedly shown that babies’ body temperatures (and heart rate, breathing rate and blood sugar levels) remain more stable when held skin-to-skin vs. when placed in an incubator.  Would the money otherwise spent in R&D, developing new and newer baby warming technology be better spent on community health education campaigns, instead?  What do you think?

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