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Session 3/13

Page 2/5: Topic Introduction A: Why is physical stimulation so important to normal brain development and attachment?

Topic Introduction A: Why is physical stimulation so important to normal brain development and attachment?

For millions of years, mammals have developed physical contact between mother and baby. You will see dogs; cats, cows or any other mammal lick their puppets often after birth, and give them close physical contact by lying next to them. This is not only to keep them clean, licking also “starts” the animal puppet’s brain and makes it become active, and physical contact is also an important “starter” of attachment and the emotional bonding between puppet and “mother”. A puppet not being licked after birth will probably die after a while because of a lack of brain activity. ”Depression” really means “low activity“, so baby depression stems from a lack of physical stimulation, causing a low brain activity level. Institutionalized and abandoned babies are particularly exposed to a lack of this stimulation, having lost their first caregivers or being in undermanned institutions. Many dysfunctional parents are not able to stimulate their babies physically, and many children are not enough stimulated before they reach the institution or the foster family.Mammals are born with a very immature and unstable brain, and in the start of life, brain activity can only increase and stabilize if the baby is often stimulated by physical contact.

Touching (skin contact) after birth is also very important for “starting” the attachment system.
Problems in early attachment are seen if mothers of new-borns are prevented from touching and taking up their new-born whenever they feel the urge to do so.

For example in hospital studies of birth practices: When new-borns are taken away from the mother according to a fixed schedule during the day, the mothers will more frequently experience feelings of guilt, be more insecure in understanding and interpreting how the baby feels and what it needs and be more insecure in taking decisions about baby care.
If the physical separation periods are very long, mother may lose the feeling of attachment to the baby and perceive it as a stranger. The feeling of bonding depends on free access to physical contact between mother and baby for a long time after birth.

Premature birth and birth complications are not only a problem for the physical condition of the baby, the fragile new-born will often be separated from the mother for medical reasons (incubators, etc.), and this can have a negative effect on both the baby’s brain activity and the mothers feeling of being attached to the child. In many neonatal hospital units, mothers are no longer isolated from their new-born for this reason.

You can find a lot of videos on YouTube for example showing baby massage techniques
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When human tribes started moving around, we had to find other ways of stimulating and feeding babies.
So, female humans only have two breasts on the top front of the body, and native people carry their babies on the arm. This is probably why humans were able to spread all over the globe: even a mother with a newborn baby can walk for long distances, and thus groups of humans were able to move from camp to camp. Also, human babies have large heads at birth, so like kangaroos we have to give birth long before the baby brain is ready to function itself.

You can say that for the first nine months after birth, we are talking about “finishing pregnancy outside the womb” – only at nine to twelve months after birth is the baby achieving stable brain activity.


10 minutes

Please study the pictures and videos and discuss:

  • How did you parents and grandparents stimulate babies? Did they carry them on the body?
  • Did they use any of the stimulation tools you can see – cradles, hammocks, etc.?
  • If you have or have had babies, did you use any of these tools?
  • Have a look at the children younger than one year in your professional care:
    • Do you often carry them on the body?
    • What do they sleep in?
    • How much of their waking time do they spend in a bed or something that does not rock or move? (such as a bed, a playpen or a pram that is not moving)