Science Says: Mother-Baby Bonding Is the Best Medicine
By Jenny Rapson for The Mustard Seed Foundation of Dayton
All new moms want to do everything they can to keep their babies healthy, but often we don’t know what to do, so we follow our maternal instincts and baby care books and do, well, everything. We watch them like a hawk for signs of illness, make sure they’re always warm but not hot, and start reading to them before they can even smile. But according to a prominent endocrinologist and mind-body-wellness advocate Dr. Deepak Chopra, the strength of the emotional bond between a mother and a baby is more powerful than any other medical or physical precautions we can take for a baby’s health.
So what moms really need to do to keep babies healthy? Is CUDDLE them!
That’s right: when moms and babies bond, the physical health of the baby is impacted just as much as the emotional health. That’s just one reason why our goal here at the Mustard Seed Foundation is to keep moms and babies together, not only giving babies a great start in life, but also ensuring their life-long health.
An article at Parenting.com adds plentiful scientific evidence to back up Dr. Chopra’s claims. “In one study from Ohio State University, “ says the article, “rabbits that were cuddled by researchers were protected against the artery-clogging effects of a high-cholesterol diet. The love and attention affected the rabbits’ hormone levels, the study authors concluded, helping them withstand heart disease.”
If a stranger cuddling a rabbit can have such a positive health impact, how much more can a mother cuddling her own infant add to her baby’s health? The implications are astounding.
The truth is, the evidence that keeping moms and babies together is best for both of them has been on the books for years. For instance, it’s long been known that when a newborn baby nurses, the “love hormone” oxytocin is released. It hits the ”reward center” of our mama brains and makes us feel good, while also making us crave more of that feeling that bonding brings. And you don’t have to breastfeed to get that “love hormone” goodness. Parenting says, “Simply gazing into your baby’s eyes while bottle-feeding or just snuggling or massaging also unleashes the feel-good hormones in both of you.”
Touch isn’t the only bonding sense our biology uses to cement the bond between mother and baby. Our sense of smell gets involved, too. Pheromones, the chemicals we excrete to attract a partner, are excreted by our babies, too, making moms likely to be enamored of their little ones and encouraging physical bonding via touch. And even though newborns can’t even see clearly when they’re born, they can almost instantly identify their mamas by scent, proving once again that moms and babies are simply meant for one another.
When it comes down to it, Francesca D’Amato, M.D., a behavioral neuroscientist in Rome and a prominent bonding researcher told Parenting, “The mother-child bond assures infant survival in terms of protection, nutrition, and care.”
Did you hear that? “The mother-child bond assures infant survival.”
That’s a pretty important reason to keep moms and babies together and bonding during those first few crucial months of life and beyond. But here’s another: Dr. Chopra says positive bonding experiences with a mother and baby can actually alter a child’s DNA to be more resistant to illness. “Immune cells have memory of experiences,” he says.
According to Parenting, what Dr. Chopra means is, that when a baby is born, he or she is a “disorganized bundle of nerves.” They’ve just been thrust out of the warm womb and don’t know what to do with themselves. Bright lights, hunger, having their diaper changed—everything freaks them out! Newborns are under stress and they need to be cuddled and soothed to alleviate this stress. Science tells us that when we’re stressed, our immunity goes down, and we’re more susceptible to sickness. Babies who are not snuggled, hugged and bonded with physically are constantly stressed. Their immune cells remember this stress and their immunity can be permanently affected, even into adulthood. People who have experienced childhood trauma have a 70 to 100 percent increased risk of developing certain autoimmune maladies like Graves’ disease, Crohn’s disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Bottom line? Mother-baby bonding contributes more than any other factor the emotional and physical well-being of children throughout childhood and into adulthood. Let’s do our part to keep young moms and their sweet babies together—and therefore healthy in body and mind.