The Neuroscience Behind a Mother’s Touch

03.01.2020 Home & Motherhood
Christine Dionese
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In today’s busy, hyperstimulated society with information coming in from all directions, new parents often wonder and debate over what’s best for keeping their baby calm. 

Turns out, a mother’s intuition and neuroscience research are matching up to help answer these questions to do best by our babies.

The latest in neuroscience research suggests that babies who are often carried tend to experience less stress and are calmer. The benefits are so lasting, in fact, that they may carry on generationally. According to Kumi Kuroda, researcher of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Saitama, Japan, babies are neurobiologically wired to cease crying when carried — a key part in our evolutionary biology that helps our species survive. 

The cerebellar region of the brain in the parasympathetic nervous system mediates this observed calming response. When babies are picked up, the calming response is referred to as proprioception. Proprioception is bodily awareness — being aware of our body in both time and space. 

Kuroda observed that once a baby’s body made contact with their carrier and they were aware they were being held, their heart rates slowed.

The cerebellum is directly involved in our fight-or-flight response to the environment, and one of its biggest jobs is to help ensure a sense of safety in the world. Because we live in an overly stressed culture, we’ve discovered various methods to calm this response, like regular meditation, which soothes the cerebral response, reducing that fight-or-flight response. 

Now, let’s marvel at how simple, yet sophisticated infant biology is and the impact of prolonged crying on cerebral tissue. When an infant cries and is ignored for a substantial length of time, the result can be critical to both their immediate and long-term wellbeing. Forming brain tissues can suffer from severe inflammation when a baby’s crying is ignored long and frequently enough. 

When a baby cries, but is comforted by being picked up and carried against their parent’s skin, the inflammatory cascade of neurochemicals is avoided. Instead, oxytocin, the “love drug” is produced, which creates the bond of love and trust that tethers children and parents. A calm baby is a thriving baby. 

A baby whose body has eliminated stress gives room for its brain to evolve and grow.

Kuroda’s study, has compelled inspiration for research into the epigenetics of keeping babies calm and has further substantiated the idea that “mother’s intuition” is in our DNA. 

One intriguing Plos One study showed that mother’s carry some of their infant’s DNA in their organs and brains which suggests that this biological data is specifically useful for infants to be able to communicate their needs so strongly to their mothers. 

There’s a threat to the re-emerging trend of attachment parenting right now where parents are undermined and shamed into thinking that they should not co-sleep and/or should let their babies “just cry it out.” This threat stems from passed along, outworn thinking where parents assume their pediatrician, government agencies, or, sometimes, even family members know more than they do. However, research shows that trusting your intuition is best. Parents need to claim confidence and consider all variables — just like a good scientist would — and then check them against their intuition. That’s how you truly know you’re making the right choice. 

Christine Dionese, co-founder of flavor ID is an integrative, epigenetic health and food therapy specialist, as well as a wellness, lifestyle, and food writer. She has dedicated her career to helping others understand the science of happiness and its powerful effects on everyday human health by harnessing the power of the epigenetic landscape. Christine lives, works, and plays in Southern California with her daughter and husband. Her podcast, Well Examined explores the depths of personalized wellness and sovereignty for modern living. 

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