Today, at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, some intriguing (but not really startling) data will be 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?