You could take it as an insult, but God does not rely on our capacity for rocket science when it comes to seeing that the next generation is cared for. Instead he evidently front-loads the system to make a few things obvious.
For example, a nursing mother’s breasts gush forth milk in response to sounds her hungry baby makes — you know, just in case she can’t figure out what is called for when her newborn is frantically mouthing anything that comes near. Next thing she knows, her breasts start to tingle and the front of her shirt is milky. It is not the most subtle of hints.
But considering how tiny and vulnerable babies are, it’s a hint to heed. Down through history and still in many parts of the world, everything rides on the baby getting his special food, and so, overwhelmingly, as the hints are followed the system works. Interestingly, this “hint”, this milk-ejection reflex, subsides after the first few months of nursing. By that time a nursing mother and her baby have sync’d up well and the mother recognizes her baby’s subtlest signs of hunger.
This kind of pre-programming for the benefit of the baby’s survival doesn’t stop with the feeding system. Though vulnerable and apparently helpless, babies are powerfully able to elicit the kind of care that actually builds their brains.
Anyone who has been around a young baby who is in a state of quiet alertness has likely had the pleasant experience of being drawn into eye contact and interaction with the baby. And it turns out that this kind of interaction that comes so naturally actually helps to physically frame the brain for future sociability.
It was once thought that babies’ brains were fairly complete at birth, but science has shown that they actually are rather open at birth, ready for custom-wiring according to the baby’s own experiences and environment. Neural pathways in the baby’s brain develop in response to the experiences the baby has. When experiences are repeated, a threshold is reached that cues the brain to hard-wire that pathway, and experiences that aren’t repeated leave pathways that are eventually subject to pruning.
Thus the baby’s experiences form a physical framework for organizing the brain. Although it sounds abstruse and complicated, you actually aren’t expected by God or Nature to be a rocket scientist. You don’t have to understand it. Babies from the dawn of time have wooed their mothers to participate in the very interaction that will optimize his brain for relationship and communication.
And mothers from the dawn of time have, by their close proximity–including smell, voice, facial structure–naturally evoked that state of quiet alertness that ideally promotes the baby’s ability to elicit interaction. Meanwhile the baby’s nearness, smell, softness, etc, evokes a pleasant hormonal reaction in the mother that heightens her sense of satisfaction in caring for her baby, making her more likely to stay near, stay involved.
Another example: parents of newborns quickly notice that motion soothes their babies. The baby fusses and seems uncomfortable, so we normally pick the baby up, and magically the act of pulling him upright, cradled against our bodies, seems to render him more content, more comfortable. We mentally file this discovery away for future use. Scientists have discovered it too! A study showed that carrying reduces crying in infants. Parents could have told the scientists this one.
But did you know this? The study examined what happened when babies were carried more than just the normal holding for feedings and soothing of an upset baby. Babies who received extra carrying cried between 40 and 50% less each day than the babies in the control group. Why?
A mother once told me that since her newborn settled down when she picked him up, he was manipulative. Could the babies in the study who were held more have been satisfied at having gotten their own way? No–newborns aren’t capable of forming, executing and reflecting back upon the success of plans to dominate the will of others.
Yet what does account for the fact that when we pick up our newborn baby he quiets almost as if by magic? There are many reasons, many of which are probably unknown to parents, and certainly unknown to the baby, who somehow is nevertheless programmed to elicit the very care that helps him develop.
For instance the motion of picking up the baby stimulates the baby’s vestibular system. It turns out that this important system (which helps regulate our sense of balance) needs motion–up and down and side to side–as it develops. You can watch new parents unknowingly develop their babies’ vestibular systems as they gently rock their babies in their arms, up and down, side to side.
Possibly of greater significance, the close contact as well as the need-and-response loop between baby and parent builds a close attachment.
Attachment is the word used to signify the basic trust and connection that builds between the baby and his primary caregiver (usually mother) as these interactions unfold. This first relationship becomes a working model for the baby’s future relationships.
For further thinking and information:
Gather tips for developing attachment: Parenting And Child Health: Attachment
Do the nerd thing and learn about the chemistry that promotes attachment behavior: The Chemistry of Attachment
Curious how this information might relate to the ideas in Gary Ezzo’s book, Babywise?: Designed for Relationship
Read a wonderful book about the amazing abilities that newborns are born with: Your Amazing Newborn by Dr. Marshall Klaus.
“Mother and Baby” is a beautiful print by Barb Kilby, a western KY artist and mother of 4. Available through her Etsy shop.