Friday, August 20, 2010

The Magic of Mothering

In Raven Lang's classic Birth Book, there is a section in it about "imprinting" (I think it has been established that human "imprinting" after birth doesn't technically exist, but when this book was written in 1972 it was one of the ideas). Anyway, there was a section about research done with baby goats done to look at the ability of a mother to protect her offspring from environmental stress. They separated twin goats and put some in rooms alone and the others in rooms with their mothers. The only difference in the room was the presence of the mother. An artificial stress environment was created involving turning off the lights every two minutes and shocking the baby goats on the legs ( :( ). After the babies were conditioned like this, they were tested again two years later. This time all the babies (now adult goats) were in rooms alone and were again "treated" to the lights off and shock routine. The goats who had been with their mothers during the early experience showed no evidence of abnormal behavior in the stressful environment. The ones who had not been with their mothers did show "definite neurotic behavior." Somehow, the presence of the mother alone served to protect the baby goats from the traumatic influences and keep them from being "psychologically" disturbed in adulthood.

Except for feeling sorry for the baby goats, I thought this information was very cool. How magic are mothers that just by being there we can help our babies--even if there is still something stressful going on, our simple presence helps our babies not be stressed by it and continue to feel safe. Magic!

This was included in the book because of the idea that birth may be a stressful environment for a baby and if the continuity of motherbaby is maintained after birth (immediate skin-to-skin contact and opportunity for breastfeeding), the baby does not become stressed or "neurotic." But...if the continuity for mother and baby is broken by separation (baby whisked away for weighing or whatever), both mother and baby are stressed by this and it may have an impact on their future relationship and behavior. The book also talks about how the sound of the baby's first cry has a sort of "imprinting" effect on the mother in that her uterus immediately begins to contract and involute after hearing her baby's first cry, whereas mothers who are immediately separated from their babies and do not make contact with them have a higher likelihood of postpartum hemorrhage (I have no idea if this has been debunked or not since the book was written in 1972, but it was an interesting idea to read about).



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