Secure Babies Grow Up To Be Secure Adults

June 12, 2008

Human biology dictates that babies are born expecting to be fed from their mother's breast and in constant physical contact.  Indeed research has found a correlation between how much a baby is held and his physical and emotional health.  When a human baby is separated from his mother he physically enters a state which the biologist call a "protest-despair response. "  At first he cries in protest.  When his cry goes unanswered he enters the despair mode and consequently defense mode in which his stress hormones shut down gut function, digestion and growth.   Still, popular parenting theory warns us not to respond too quickly to our baby's cries or to spend too much time holding them.  Researchers at Harvard University Medical School found the effects of letting your baby cry continue on into adulthood.

Cross Cultural Comparison--Secure Babies

The Harvard Research is unique in that it includes examinations of brain functioning, emotional learning and cultural differences.  Comparing Western culture to more traditional societies in which mothers sleep with their babies and respond quickly to their cries, explains cross-cultural differences in the children's emotional response and ability to cope with stress.  The researchers found that putting babies in their own rooms causes them stress as does leaving a baby to cry.  Stress causes changes in the formation of the baby's brain and nervous system, which leads to incidents of post-traumatic stress and panic disorders when these children become adults.  On the other hand, physical contact and reassurance make children more secure and better able to form relationships as adults.

Secure Babies Grow To Be Secure Adults

They recommend that parents "keep their babies close, console them when they cry and bring them to bed with them, where they'll feel safe."  They recommend letting your toddler sleep near you as well, perhaps on a mattress on the floor near your bed.

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