Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Stone Age Babies

What instincts are babies actually born with? In 1891, a certain British Dr. Louis Robinson* set out to prove that instincts had indeed been passed down through time from our prehistoric ancestors, the primates. He tested 60 newborns during their first hour of life and was “triumphantly successful in proving this Darwinian point” in the author’s words, for he showed that “by watching these babies, after being helped to grasp a rod with both hands, all could actually cling and swing by it, and be suspended, supporting their weight with their little hands by the half minute. The baby monkey who could cling best to its mother as she using hands, feet and tail while she fleed in the best time over trees, or to get at more inaccessible fruits in time of scarcity, would be the baby that lived to bequeath his traits to his descendants, so that to this day our cradled human babies would keep their clinging powers as a reminiscence or our former treetop days.” Interesting, but I am not going to try that one at my next birth.
We do know that babies are born knowing how to suck. We even know that babies have been seen via ultra sound sucking their thumbs. A recent trend in Australia, which is quickly gaining interest in Europe and the U.S., is suggesting that immediately after birth, when babies are placed on their mother’s chest, no one interferes with the baby but instead allows him time to rout around, raising his own head, unassisted, and finding the nipple himself. We know from observing his earliest reflexes that a baby appears to step or ‘walk’, when held upright and his feet touch the ground. This is also called the Dance or Walking ReflexResearchers have taken this reflex and shown that the newborn can and indeed does crawl, much like puppies and kittens or piglets at birth, and will actually push his way up his mother’s tummy with his feet until he can independently latch on. He can see short distances and the dark areola or bull’s eye first attracts him through sight. Then his incredible sense of smell guides him on. A fascinating study was done in England in 1990 on this called, “Delivery Self-Attachment” by Dr. Lennart Righard, and Margaret Adlade.** They took 72 mother-infant pairs and found that if the baby was left naked on their mother’s abdomen for at least one hour immediately after birth, these babies began crawling unassisted after about 20 minutes and were suckling by 50 minutes in the group that had un-medicated deliveries. Half of those from the group of medicated deliveries eventually did find the nipple without help, but the remaining half of the 2nd group did not. UNICEF*** recently published a video called “Breast Crawl” to educate their medical teams around the world of infant-led early nursing and unassisted latch.
Herd animal babies also have this early scent instinct. A baby sheep will lick his mother’s nipple after birth and immediately imprint her scent that way; should he wander off, he will still be able to know when he has again found her and that it is indeed his mother. Human babies’ sense of smell is equally inherent: if you took your nursing pads and placed them on one side of your baby while he is lying down, and place another mother’s nursing pads (or bra or shirt) on the other side of him, he will always turn toward yours. Colostrum smells surprisingly similar to amniotic fluid which is why, the UNICEF study says, the newborn is attracted to the nipple. They also suggest that the infant’s crawling action massages the uterus, causing it to contract, and avoiding hemorrhage.
So, we know thus far, his instincts include his sense of smell, ability to suck and crawl, and he is also born with a sense of touch. He has been completely enveloped by your body for the past nine months. It is not time for enforced separation. Our First World, Western culture is the only place in the world where babies are separated from their mothers at birth, taken to a nursery, often brought home to a separate room from our bed room, placed in a separate bed and forced to ‘learn’ to sleep alone. What he learns instead, in truth, is that his cries will not be answered. He will grieve his ‘lost’ mother. There is nothing in his experience to tell him that she might ever return. He is not capable of placing her ‘somewhere else’ from where she can come back to him. She is simply gone. He has no concept of time. ‘Now’ is an all-encompassing ‘forever’. She is gone. Babies in institutions who were separated at birth often fail to thrive, especially if they aren’t tended by the same nurse at the same time every day. They grieve, loose their appetite, sleep poorly, waking often to look for their mother, give up, and grieve again. If they do survive, they grow up with very disturbing attachment deficits. We see this in children who are in foster care, having bonded with their foster mother, often several foster mothers in succession, in several foster homes, and if they are ‘lucky’ and are placed for adoption, often refuse to bond with the newest mother while they are still grieving the last mother; the adoption fails, the file stating ‘severe emotional problems’. Many states in the U.S. have laws prohibiting foster parents from adopting foster children they have come to love (and successfully bonded with), siting the fact that the adoptive parents have been on a waiting list for a child longer than they have.
Baby geese make noises as soon as they hatch and their mother responds immediately with her own sound, unique for each brood each year. This initiates a life-long bond with her baby goslings. Human babies also seek this bond with their mother’s voice. We usually respond quite enthusiastically whenever our baby coos or makes any noise, for that matter. Motherese is the name we have given the high pitched way in which we often speak to babies. The first documented use of the word baby-talk, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was in 1836. Motherese and parentese are more precise terms than baby talk. Most caregivers, not only parents use distinct speech patterns and vocabulary when talking to young children. Motherese can also refer to any language spoken in a higher, gentler manner, which is otherwise correct English or Spanish or Chinese, etc., as opposed to the non-standard, shortened words in baby talk. It is usually delivered with a "cooing" pattern of intonation different from that of normal adult speech: high in pitch, with many glissando variations. Baby talk is also characterized by the shortening and simplifying of words. Baby talk is seen to be more effective than regular speech in getting a baby’s attention. Studies have shown that infants actually prefer to listen to this kind of speech. Some researchers, including Rima Shore (1997), believe “that baby talk is an important part of the emotional bonding process between the parents and their child that help the infants learn the language.” Other researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Wisconsin confirm, “That using basic baby talk helps babies pick up words faster than usual and that infants actually pay more attention when parents use infant-directed language, which has a slower and more repetitive tone than used in regular conversation.”
Human language development has intrigued emperors, kings and scholars alike for many centuries. The Greek historian and scribe Herodotus recorded that Egyptian King Psamtik, in the 7th century B.C.E. proposed an experiment with babies to determine the "mother" tongue of humanity. He suggested Hebrew was the original language, but allowed that Greek, Aramaic or Arabic might have preceded Hebrew. To test his theory, he devised an elaborate system to test several dozen babies. They were taken away at birth and raised by specially trained wet nurses who could feed, bathe and dress them, but were instructed not to play, talk or sing to the babies.  He never got a chance to prove his hypothesis because all of the babies failed to thrive and died before they were old enough to speak intelligibly. Perhaps this should tell us something about bonding, too.****

Many Western doctors hold the belief that we can improve everything, even natural childbirth in a healthy woman. This philosophy is the philosophy of people who think it deplorable that they were not consulted at the creation of Eve, because they would have done a better job.

Dr. Kloosterman, Chief of OB/GYN, University of Amsterdam, Holland

          Babies already know a lot when they are born: they can smell, suck, crawl, and see more than we have given them credit for in the past. They turn their head upwards, seeking their mother’s face, after they have sought out the nipple which is so color-coded to make it easier for them. Mothers turn their face toward their baby’s and a form of imprinting begins between both. We know that bonding is reciprocal; that not only the mother needs to bond with her newborn, but that her baby does also. He first looks for her eyes and only later, when speech becomes the next priority does he begin to take in her lips and her entire face.
   Nature does not make mistakes. If we could strip our lives of all distractions: electronic, material, interactive, over-scheduled, rushed events and to-do lists, and return to a time when the present moment was the most important thing in that space within all of eternity, and could focus on the one (albeit tiny) person before us, just for that short time, I believe we can bond with our babies properly. It will take time. It cannot be sandwiched in between a myriad of errands nor work if scattered into minute fragments throughout days or weeks. It can be done. We must try.

*The Biography of a Baby, by Milicent Shinn, Houghton Mifflin Company, U.K. 1900
**Dr. Lennart Righard,MD, and Margaret Adlade, RN, BSN, MS, The Lancet, Vol. 336:1105-07, 1990, U.K.
***See unicef.org/india and breastcrawl.org
****Paraphrased: About Language Development, a paper by Enzo Silvestri, 2008

STAY TUNED... this is one chapter of many that will appear in Stone Age Babies in a Space Age World: Babies and Bonding in the 21st Century© pending by Stephanie Sorensen

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