When Romanian orphanages opened their doors to journalists of ABC News 20/20 in 1990, it became clear to the world that the effects of depriving a child of a mother's love and care are frightening. Babies were isolated from their mothers, and were found nearly starved to death in Romanian state-run orphanages. Moms have a very important role to play in the development of your little one -- beginning with conception and continuing on through your child's earliest years of life.
Being a nurturing and loving mother has the capacity to change your baby's brain for the better. Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis took images of the brain that revealed that children with nurturing moms have a hippocampus that is 10 percent larger than those with mothers who aren't as nurturing. The hippocampus region of the brain is where learning, memory and stress regulation happen, so the bigger the better.
Research conducted on infant monkeys who were separated from their mother's at birth for the first six months of their life showed that these monkeys were more likely to come down with physical illness, suffer hair loss, become aggressive with each other and engage in repetitive motions and behaviors -- similar to an autistic child. It is no surprise that this study, published originally in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, led researchers to conclude that the lack of a secure attachment between a human infant and his mom has severe emotional and physical consequences for these babies later on in life.
In the Womb
Your role as mom begins to affect your baby's development while he is still growing inside of you. Your doctor tells you to refrain from alcohol and smoking while pregnant, and your doctor encourages a prenatal vitamin and proper nutrition to prevent harm from coming to your unborn child in utero, and to create an optimal environment for your baby to develop and grow. Along these same lines, if you are under a great deal of stress during your pregnancy, chances are that your little one will suffer some effects from this stress, although scientists are still gaining insight as to how extensive those effects will be.
The Importance of Touch
The reasons your pediatrician encourages skin-to-skin contact go beyond just facilitating a healthy attachment between you and your baby. This touch helps calm and soothe your baby, helping him to cry less and sleep more soundly. Physical contact with your baby also helps his development, regulating his stress hormones and increasing the hormones that are linked to emotional bonding. An added bonus for you is that the skin-to-skin contact also releases oxytocin in your own brain, reducing your stress levels and making you less prone to postpartum depression.