great article. thank you for taking the time to write this. It is so clear that babies are born ready for an environment so different from what we usually give them. They have instincts they are born for a time that no longer exist and we really need to start respecting that.
The Second Nine Months:Exterogestation and The Need to Be Held
by Elizabeth Antunovic (©2009 Boba Inc.)
- Gestation Outside of the Womb—”Exterior Gestation”
- Continuing Relation Between Mother and Child
- Birth Due to Large Head
- Mother’s Body Regulates Developing Systems
- Crawling Completes Exterior Gestation
- Human Developmental Periods Longer than Apes-Except Gestation
- Humans Born With 25% Adult Brain, Apes 50%
- Advantages to Developmental Incompleteness
- 2/3 of Total Brain Growth by the End of the First Year
- Primal Need for Maternal Proximity
- Immaturity of Newborn Hardly Respected
- Time Together and Unrestricted Breastfeeding Spaces Children
- Constant Proximity Allows for Ecological Breastfeeding
- Mothers Benefit Physically and Emotionally
- Lays the Foundation for all Later Learning
- Infant Environment Need Not be Structured or Complex
- Mom is the Best Teacher, Life- the Best Classroom
- Holding Provides More Opportunities for Observing and Processing
- Carried Babies Receive Optimal Sensory Stimulation
- Institutionalized Infants and Failure to Thrive
- Mother Infant Intimacy/Touch Linked to Physical Growth
- Lack of Touch Negatively Impacts Immune Function
- Importance of Touch to Survival
- Mother Infant Touch Maximizes Opportunities for Positive Emotions
- Increased Neurological and Mental Development in Touched Premature Infants
- Preemies need Touch, Rhythm and Pressure to Thrive
- Enclosed, Protected and Safe
- Wearing Your Baby Mimics the Enclosure and Pressure of the Womb
A joey stays in his pouch until his “exterior gestation” is complete and he is able to move away from his mother on his own. Like a joey, human infants are also born immature. In fact, human infants actually remain helpless longer than infants of any other species and like some marsupials must also go through a distinct period of gestation outside of the womb. Although birth may be seen as a separation of mother and infant, babies need anything but separation. Nature intended that they be held on their mother’s bodies after birth until they complete their gestation out of the womb. This period of exterior gestation needs to be respected not just a sentimental matter but one that has a profound and major impact on an infant’s physical, emotional and psychological development.
Simple observation of a newborn clarifies her helpless nature. She needs warmth and nourishment. She cannot move herself away from danger and cannot use words to communicate her needs. She is challenged to use her nervous system to figure out space and her relationship to it, to breathe by herself, to circulate oxygen and nutrients to her entire body; to eat, digest, and eliminate. It is clear that the newborn goes through a transformation that does not occur instantly but gradually lasting most of the first year of her life. During this time the infant must be carried everywhere. She has a long way to go before she can even somewhat manage for herself.
In his book Touching, The Human Significance of the Skin, Dr Ashley Montagu talks of the importance of the mother-baby relationship after the baby has already been born. He describes the relationship between the two as “naturally designed to become even more intensive and interoperative after birth” than while the baby was gestating or growing in the womb (Montagu, 1988, 75).
“Birth no more constitutes the beginning of the life of the individual than it does the end of gestation. Birth represents a complex and highly important series of functional changes which serve to prepare the newborn for the passage across the bridge between gestation within the womb and gestation continued out of the womb.” (Montagu, 1986, 57)
Human babies are born early out of necessity. Nurturing the baby in a manner that represents the intimacy of pregnancy as closely as possible until this “exterior gestation” is complete offers the baby the optimal environment for his immature systems. This means the baby should be in constant proximity to her mother, either in her mother’s arms or worn on her mother’s body with a piece of cloth or other baby carrier.
Despite the fact that babies are carried by their mothers in the majority of the world, more and more tiny babies are spending most of their days alone in plastic containers, bouncy seats, and strollers and spending their nights alone in bassinets and cribs deprived of their mother’s touch and presence. Nature didn’t intend it to be this way. A mother and her infant are hard-wired to expect unity and for that unity to continue after birth.
“Although intrauterine experiences can exert influence on the infant’s subsequent development, the experiences it has during the ten months or so after birth are of greater experience…a continuing symbiotic relation between mother and child designed to endure an unbroken continuum until the infant’s brain weight has more than doubled”(Walsh).
The human infant is usually born 266 1/2 days from conception due to her large head and the rapid growth of her brain that takes place during the last three months in the womb. Significant brain growth and standing up on two feet to get around (and subsequently a rearrangement and narrowing of the pelvis) cost humans decreased maturity at birth (Trevathan, 144).
The usual pattern of completing half the adult brain size before birth was not possible. The baby’s body was too large and so was her head. The combination of increased brain size and a mother’s narrower pelvic outlet (due to standing), caused a major change in human’s gestation length. Because of this significant brain growth, behavioral development and maturation of systems were all delayed until after birth. In utero gestation was interrupted and the baby was born because it needed to be.
If babies stayed in the womb for a more extensive period of time and their brains continued to grow at the rate which they are wired to grow, the head would be too large to pass through the birth canal and would place the baby’s own life, the life of the mother, and that of the whole human species, so to speak, in jeopardy. Even though the baby has not adequately matured, it is born. (Montagu, 53)
When a baby is born she needs to breathe on her own; provide oxygen and nutrients to her entire body; adjust her gastrointestinal system to the new function of ingesting, digesting, and eliminating. She will use her nervous system to find out about her environment and her place in it. Yet, human physiology does not direct all of its own functions; it is interdependent. The regulatory information acquired by infants from their mothers also impacts cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms, immune function and hormone levels. In her book The Vital Touch, Dr Heller describes how a baby uses her mother to help regulate her own systems. She explains, “while in contact with the mother the infant’s systems are kept at a regular tempo. But apart, the newborn must work doubly hard to maintain physiological harmony”(Heller, 31).
We are always growing and changing. To some doctors it may seem a slippery slope on when to draw the line and say that that developmental systems are no longer immature. In 1944, Portmann was the first to suggest that in order for a newborn human to achieve the state of development of a newborn ape, the total gestation would be roughly around 21 months. Kovacs pinned it at about 18 to 20 months. Bostok had a different idea. He reported that the ideal gestation for a newborn human would be when quadrupedal locomotion (movement on all fours) begins- when she is able to escape from danger by her own means. For the human infant, this means “crawling”. What is fascinating is that the average time it takes to for an infant to crawl, or for exterior gestation to be complete by Bostok’s terms, is 266 ½ days after birth- exactly the same time as gestation within the womb! (Montagu, 1986, 54). From Bostok’s idea, stems the whole “nine months in and nine months out” idea.
Apes’ gestation differs from humans by only a couple of weeks. They actually spend slightly longer in utero than humans do. Their usual onset of puberty is when they are eight or nine. They complete their growth when they are ten or eleven and their lifespan is from thirty to thirty five years. When we compare the length of our developmental periods to theirs, the first eruption and last eruption of permanent teeth, the onset of puberty, the completion of general growth, and life span, all of our developmental periods are longer than theirs (Montagu,1986, 51). Gestation in the womb is the only exception.
Although apes too are born in an immature condition, they remain immature for a much shorter time than humans do. They take about a third of the time to lift their heads, sit up by themselves, and to stand and walk. They are born on average with 50% of their adult brain whereas humans are born with only 25%. The maturation that other mammals complete before birth, the human has to complete after birth.
For a human infant to attain half of her adult brain size it would take about 18 months gestation (Trevathan, 144). As aforementioned, this is precisely the time period that infants begin to move about by their own means and crawl. Both crawling and the attainment of 50% of adult brain size indicate that exterior gestation is completed roughly nine months after birth.
There are advantages to being born in an early stage of brain development. It is actually adaptive to be born at a more underdeveloped stage because the everyday world provides more diverse sensory input than the closed environment of the womb. “Advantages gained at being born “earlier in the gestational cycle” include greater plasticity. We are flexible and bendy. We are exposed earlier to environmental stimuli when born into this big world which is important for learning” (Trevathan, 149).
When a lamb is born, for example, in order to survive, he simply has to get up and learn to follow his mother. It is a reflexive instinctual pattern of action. Humans are different. “The infant is not a passive creature who is shaped by his environment, but is constantly exploring, trying to learn, and bring the environment under his control” (Karen, 203). Being born earlier in the gestation cycle allows us to figure out our environment and our place in it with our moms by our sides. Being born earlier gives us a more open intelligence and helps us work our logic skills. Being “developmentally incomplete” does actually facilitate more creativity and individual personality (Pearce, MC, 10).
Even though infancy only accounts for roughly 2% of our lifespan, an incredible 80% of an infant’s total brain growth will take place by the time she turns two (Heller, 110). An infant’s brain increases from a mere 25% at birth to 60% of the volume of the adult brain by the end of the first year alone that’s almost 2/3 of the total growth of the brain occurring within a very short window of time (Montagu, 1986, 55-6). In the first year a baby’s brain will grow faster than it ever will. When a child turns three she will have already completed 90% of her brain growth.
Even though ape infants mature faster than human infants, they still remain in constant proximity to their mothers for an extended period of time usually until the nursing relationship subsides which averages (three!) years or more. “Given our exterogestation…separations from our body earlier than any other mammal defies logic” (Heller, 29).
Nursing and close proximity to mother for three years or more may be the norm in most of the world but is certainly not the norm in the West or in Anglo-speaking countries. Many feel that too much carrying will actually spoil their babies. There is a strong movement of parents who are ditching the baby manuals and tapping into their intuitive care for their children. In Katie Allison Grangu’s book Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child, she calls on parents to trust what their instincts tell them stating “Instead of feeling that you should put him down, rest assured that he is exactly where he needs to be” (Granju, 273)
Although we may live in the modern age,
“our brains remain grounded in the Stone Age… nearly all of our biochemistry and physiology are fine-tuned to the conditions of life that existed when we were hunters and gatherers. And in that lifestyle, babies were kept on or near their mothers, their source of safety. After eons of such behavior, the baby’s brain evolved through natural selection to expect life to be a “womb with a view”, with the mother’s brain hard-wired to provide that closeness” (Heller, 4).
Nature intended for babies to be with their mothers, especially at a time when their brains will grow more than any other time in their lives. Babies could not have been born developmentally incomplete and left alone most of the day or separated from their mothers if we were to survive as a species. “No matter however numerous its advantages, however, retardation of growth rates and birth at an earlier stage of gestation could never have occurred had there not been compensating care taking behavior on the part of the mother” (Trevathan, 149).
In the eyes of the newborn she is not even differentiated from the mother. They are a single unit, a mother-infant dyad. Yet, despite these obvious signs of dependency, the actual physiological and neurobiological immaturity of the newborn is hardly respected. For a baby to be made prematurely “an individual” and separate to her from her mother in the first moments, days, weeks or months after birth does indeed present a challenge for that individual’s future growth, security, and stability. The importance of the mothers and infants being “in touch” and together during this critical developmental period cannot be stressed enough. “If parents fully understood the implications of their influence on their child, especially in the beginning of his or her life, the necessity for abundant touch and affection would never even need to be considered” (Caplan, 36).
In her book the Continuum Concept, anthropologist Jean Leidloff explains,
“A baby deprived of the experience necessary to give him the basis for full flowering of his innate potential will perhaps never know a moment of the unconditional rightness that has been natural to his kind for 99.99 percent of its history. Deprivation, in the degree to which he has suffered its discomfort and limitations in infancy, will be maintained indiscriminately as part of his development…” (Leidloff, 48)
Nature has provided us with a biological way to space children allowing the mother to care for her child for a longer period of time. This gives them both time that they need together to form a deep lasting bond (Jackson, 45). The Kung San children remain in constant skin contact with their mothers and frequently and unrestrictedly breastfed. Although they use no forms of western birth control their children are spaced three to four years apart (Shostak, 67). Although with “cultural breastfeeding” there may be no effects on a mother’s fertility whatsoever, when a mother and infant participate in the human biological norm or “ecological breastfeeding”, women remain in lactational amenorrhea (absence of periods due to unrestricted breastfeeding and constant proximity) and babies are spaced naturally.
“Ecological breastfeeding is a form of nursing in which a mother fulfills her baby’s needs for frequent suckling and her full time presence and in which the child’s frequent suckling postpones the return of fertility”. This is different from “cultural” breastfeeding. Although overlooked by many medical professionals ecological breastfeeding and natural child spacing is backed empirically. When following the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding a natural child spacing effect of 18-30 months between births is the average. (Kippley, 8)
It is called “ecological” because it describes the relationship between two organisms, both mother and baby, and how they affect each other. A mother can naturally spend more time with her baby during such an important period of development. Her body knows that she is giving so much to her baby that her body is not ready to provide for and nourish another life so soon. The mother’s reserve energies are not depleted with menstrual bleeding during this time when her ovulation is suppressed.
Not only does the baby needs her mother, the mother benefits from having her baby close. After a trying birth process the mother is reassured with the feeling of strength and fulfillment when she holds her baby close to her chest. The baby is reassured by her mother’s touch, the warmth of her mother’s body and the security of being held in her mother’s cradled arms. After birth, when the baby latches on to the breast, the mother’s uterus contracts and begins to reduce in size. The nursing creates surges of “love hormone” or oxytocin that help intensify a mother’s bond with her baby and the willingness to mother her child. She becomes more and more enraptured by her baby and her baby enraptured by her. This nursing relationship and intimacy between mother and baby that follows plays an important part in establishing a lifelong basis for the feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and contentment.
Infancy lays the foundation for all later learning. The more work our baby’s brain does, the more it becomes capable of doing and the more it hungers for new knowledge. The importance of the first years if life on brain development can hardly be denied as they “directly and permanently influence the structure and eventual function of his or her brain” making it all the more critical for a baby to be held by her mother, especially during her exterogestation period, when her brain is developing more than any time in her life (Eliot, 38). For many abilities the critical period can extend throughout childhood and even up to adolescence but for others, “it closes within the first months or years of life before most parents even knew that their baby’s mental development was even vulnerable”.
“Synapses that are rarely activated—whether because of languages never heard, music never made, sports never played, mountains never seen, love never felt-will wither and die. Lacking adequate electrical activity, they lose the race and the circuits they were trying to establish…As long as an excess number of synapses are present the brain remains maximally plastic and can develop in a variety of ways, but once those synapses are gone, the critical period is over, and it must make do with its existing circuitry there’s no trading up for a faster computer”(Elliot, 32, 38).
Eliot does not deny that later learning is possible, but definitely contends that learning is not as easy as it is for a child- a reason as to why older people may tend to be more fixed in their ways and not as creative as young children. Sensory experience is important in the first few years while the brain is in its height of plasticity. Sharon Heller goes as far as to say that “not capitalizing on all the sensory experiences in our infant’s world is tantamount to educating adults by limiting their access to the library” (Heller, 110).
Yet “capitalizing” should not be interpreted to mean that artificial “learning environments” should be created. “Trying to press academic skills onto youngsters with devices like alphabet flash cards is not only a little silly, but also risks setting up a pressured environment that may ultimately interfere with your child’s learning…each child weaves his own intellectual tapestry.” (Healy, 20, 31).
“Experiences in the environment need not be elaborate as in the installation of mobiles over the child’s crib or the broadcasting of musical recordings. Rather simple and routine aspects of the physical environment such as noise, light and temperature variations… touching the baby, cooing and smiling at the baby and otherwise talking to him or her contribute to development.” (Bauer, 33)
Infant brains instinctively seek stimulation from very simple experiences that help organize the nervous system instead of overwhelm it. Toys are far less important than a nurturing caregiver. Infants need an environment that stimulates them to do their own exploring manipulating and wondering. A mother’s arms provides this just perfectly. As doctor and family psychiatrist Peter Cook states it, “a child’s maturation occurs at its own accord. You don’t have to make it happen.”
The question that often arises is whether we should begin with “educating” the child earlier in a more formal setting. In his book The Myth of the First Three Years, Bauer is mostly skeptical of public policy that focuses on “educating” children, which often involves taking children from their families and placing them in a more stimulating environment in the first three years of life. Some policy makers are trying to get the public to believe that they should be starting formal education earlier, advocating Head Start programs for children as young as one year hoping to take advantage of the time when the brain is growing more than ever. But policy makers and early childhood education advocates may overlook the fact that,
“We are designed to grow and be strengthened by every event, no matter how mundane or awesome. The flow of nature and seasons, people, apparent catastrophes, pleasantries-all are experiences of interaction to be enjoyed and opportunities for learning.” (Pearce, 28).
Although the intent may be to best or “optimally” equip our children fully for life, these first three years are when the child needs his mother and his family most.
At a time when her brain is growing more than it ever will in her lifetime it is important to recognize that exterior gestation is meant to take place on the mother’s body, not in a container and certainly not alone and out of sight. A stroller with smart toys hanging from it or being toted in a plastic container with a cuddly stuffed animal is no substitute when it compares to view and all the varied sensory stimulation made available when carried by his mother.
Carrying a baby in arms naturally enhances the nourishing relationship between mother and baby. In addition to being nourished physically and psychologically, babies that are held during the period of exterogestation are nourished by a whole sensory world that moving through the day with their mother provides . When carried in her mother’s arms the child gets a safe place from which to view the world. It is from this safe known place that babies learn about the unknown. When a baby is in a calm and alert state and in touch with her mother, she is in the optimum state for observing and processing all that is going on around her. These different opportunities for learning create the sparks for the neurons in her brain to grow and branch out and meet and intertwine with other neurons. The more these neurons grow and branch out, the greater the brain growth.
Although an infant’s brain is built on stimulation, toys or products that soothe fall short of producing the entire sensory world that we produce for our babies when we carry them on our bodies. Every hug, every playful squeeze, every kiss and caress gives her tactile stimulation. With her body pressed into her mother’s she gains proprioception—an awareness of her own body and her body’s place in space. She gets auditory stimulation with her mother’s gentle explanation, whispers, and songs sung especially for her. When carried the swaying and the rhythmic rocking of her body stimulates her vestibular system- giving her a sense of balance and a secure feeling in space. She receives olfactory stimulation with the scent of her mother, and if she nurses gustatory stimulation with the changing taste of her mother’s milk. She has a great view when carried upright and is privileged to great visual stimulation as she takes in the sights of the world. She even gets kinesthetic stimulation as mother changes position when carrying her.
In 1915, Dr Henry Chapin a New York pediatrician, revealed that babies placed in institutions in ten different cities in the United States had virtually a 100% death rate despite food and medical care dying from what the doctors called “failure to thrive” or “marasmus”—wasting away (Montagu,1986, 97). Chapin, appalled by this, ended up organizing a new system of dealing with the babies and started to board them out instead of leaving them in the institutions
When studies were done to find out the actual causes of marasmus, where and why it happened, it was actually found to occur “quite often among babies in the “best” homes, hospitals, and institutions and among babies receiving the “best and most careful attention”(Montagu,99). It became evident that it was actually in the poorest homes where although good hygienic conditions may not have been prevalent, that the infants were thriving.
The difference was that the poorer mothers were the ones who held, stroked, caressed and nurtured their babies. When medical establishments began to recognize this some hospitals made it the rule that nurses were to “pick up the infants, carry them around and ‘mother’ them”, at least three times a day. As a result the mortality rates dropped drastically. (Montagu, 99)
Not only is mother-infant intimacy and physical contact important for brain growth but for overall physical growth. Infants who are severely deprived of touch do not secrete growth hormone. Patton and Gardner published records of children who were maternally deprived and not only the mental but physical disturbances that occurred with one three year old’s bone growth “being just half of the bone growth of a normal child”(Montagu, 244).
Some have argued that the deficiency of growth hormone ensures that the body will not waste its energy on growing but on finding a way to survive. Institutionalized infants deprived of touch will not secrete growth hormone, yet upon contact, and tactile stimulation will begin to grow again. (Montagu, 202-203)
Touch is so important to the healthy development of an infant that a lack of stimulus and touch actually causes high amounts of the toxic stress hormone cortisol to be released. High levels of cortisol in the blood not only negatively impact growth hormone levels but it also negatively impacts immune function.
The Developmental Psychobiology Research Group at the University of Colorado Medical center reported how monkeys separated from their mothers for a brief period of time stopped producing leukocytes, to fight off infection. When reunited with their mothers their immune system returned to normal and started producing leukocytes again. (Montagu,199)
Our skin is our largest organ. We need to be touched in order to thrive.
“What the child requires if it is to prosper it was found, is to be handled and carried, and caressed, and cuddled and cooed to, even if it isn’t breastfed. It is the handling, the carrying , the caressing, the care giving, and the cuddling that we would here emphasize, for it would seem that even in the absence of a great deal else, these are the reassuringly basic experiences that the infant must enjoy if it is to survive some semblance of health”. (Montagu, 100).
Neurologist Richard Restak puts it well as he states, “Touch, it turns out is as necessary to normal infant development as food and oxygen. Mother opens her arms to the infant, snuggles him, and a host of psychobiological processes are brought about into harmony”. (Walsh, Biosociology, 62)
The most crucial fundamentals to survival and healthy development is touch. When allowed to bond with their babies mothers give their continuous, loving presence and touch automatically. All mammal mothers seem to know that their babies need to be touched instinctively. The baby assures herself that all is well largely through the messages that she receives through her skin. When a newborn is held in her mother’s arms it helps to maximize the opportunity for joy, happiness and other positive emotions. This attributes to lifelong mental health.
When a baby is held close to her mother her cues are easier to read. Communication between them is made easier. When her cues are responded to, she learns that she can “trust” that her needs will be met, that she is loved, and will be provided for. This sets the foundation for her fundamental self-esteem and the foundation for all subsequent relationships that she will have in her life. She is not bonded to material things like a stuffed animal to hug, a soft blanket to cuddle or an artificial nipple, but she looks to her mother or a real person for comfort.
In 1977 perinatal psychologist Dr. Rice explored the impact that daily increments of tactile stimulation would have on premature infants. The experimental infants were undressed for a full body massage with their mothers four times a day for one month and rocked and snuggled for an extra five minutes at the end of the massage. The control group of infants were given the routine hospital care without the massages or the cuddling. After four months “the experimental infants were significantly superior to the control infants in weight gain, mental development, and most markedly neurological development (Walsh, 62). The experimental group became more attached to one another as well. Soon after she developed the first scientifically researched massage program called RISS (Rice Infant Sensorimotor Stimulation) that clearly demonstrated neurological improvement as well as overall improvement in the growth and development to premature babies.
Preemies need Touch, Rhythm and Pressure to Thrive
We underestimate how important it is to infants to be held and stroked and caressed. Babies are born expecting a “womb with a view”, as Ashley Montagu puts it. They need to be covered, warm, and enveloped. They need to be continuously embraced as they were in the womb. Premature infants placed in incubators tend to push themselves into the corners of their beds. They seek out that familiar feeling of containment. When preemies were placed on oscillating water beds that mimicked the motion and tactile stimulation of the womb, the infants started to gain weight faster and were released sooner from the hospital (Field, 45-51). “The closer the external environment to the internal environment, the more a baby stabilizes and can turn his attention to growth and development. (Genna, 64)
“A wide and well-respected variety of research from different fields of study—including child development, psychiatry, neonatology, and anthropology—has revealed that humans literally require sufficient physical touch in order to develop to their optimal potential”. (Granju, 268)
In the womb, all of baby’s needs are met automatically. The temperature is constant, the pressure is constant and the sounds of the mother’s heartbeat and voice are rhythmic and soothing. The baby is enclosed, protected and safe. And then “out of a totally protective, secure, nutritive, life sustaining and nurturing womb, we are born, helpless”(Palmer, 21).
But mothers are tuned by evolution to provide a safe holding place during their babies continued growth, one where nutrition, protection, warmth and proximity are all taken care of. The familiar comfortable environment of her mother’s body reassures her baby by telling her that she is in a secure place, that she will be provided for, and that she is contact with the world and “not airily suspended in it” (Montagu, 1896, 157). It is from this secure base from which exploration of her world can happen.
Dr Pearce describes the womb as a place that offers three things to a newly forming life: ”a source of possibility, a source of energy to explore that possibility, and a safe place within which that possibility can take place.” (Pearce, MC, 18) Mothers can create and imitate that place outside of the womb too.
Carrying a baby in arms or wearing a baby in a wrap or sling mimics the enclosure and supportive pressure of the womb. And like the womb it offers a protective and safe environment and a superb position to view the world which is especially important considering that the brain is growing faster in early infancy than any other time in that person’s life. The movement of the mother as she goes about her day rocks the baby just as she was rocked in the womb and is soothing and familiar. The wrapping together of baby and mother facilitates nursing and all of its psychological and physiological benefits. Most importantly the baby receives tactile stimulation she is touched, kissed, stroked, caressed and held close by her mother. She knows she is loved and trusts that her needs will be met.
“Our silent and most potent language, touch, is the medium through which parent and infant communicate and become attached, each tender touch strengthening the bond between them, It nurtures our infants’ psychological growth, stimulates their physical and mental growth; assures smoothness of physiological functions like breathing, heart rate and digestion; enhances their self-concept, body awareness, and sexual identity; boosts their immune system and even enhances the grace and stability of their movement” (Heller,5).
Science is reconfirming what the first mothers who stood upright knew intuitively- that her arms provide the optimal environment, after transition from womb to the world. Nature intended that a mother and her infant expect this unity and for that unity not to end at birth. Not only is a mother’s body is prepared and designed to continue the gestation of her baby after birth but her baby has biologically adapted to expect this for survival. Carrying a baby in arms or in a baby carrier provides this extended nurturing experience. By nurturing baby in a manner that represents the intimacy of pregnancy as closely as possible until this “exterior gestation” is complete the baby has access to all she needs to develop and grow physically, mentally, and emotionally into a secure and joyful individual.
*When writing this paper the “mother/infant” relationship is intentional. When the biological mother is not available, an adoptive mother caretaker or guardian takes this role.
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