THE most important chapter from my books to date

Bonding With Your Baby:
an imperative for the 21st Century
Deliberate, mindful
bonding with your baby is no longer a warm, fuzzy, feel-good choice. It is
actually crucial, more than at any other time in history, that parents begin
bonding at the earliest possible moment, even prenatally. As a doula, you can
direct your clients in this direction from your first meeting. At this time
bonding is not taught as a separate subject. At best it is slipped in somewhere
between Boppy (as in nursing pillows), breastfeeding, and burping, if at all.
But bonding
must become an equally
significant topic in its own rite, included in every childbirth education
series that hospitals and clinics offer to expectant parents. It is not being
mentioned at this time.

All babies are at risk in
the 21st Century where in fact they are competing with innumerable
obstacles for our attention: electronic communication equipment that we are
afraid of doing without lest we miss something or someone, the myriad ‘stuff’
we are told they and we need, and the pressures (that we let?) time and money
put upon us. Never before in history have we attempted to so mechanize our
babies and the way we parent them. Never before have we failed so miserably on every
level of every factor needed for
healthy bonding. In our age of technology and consumerism, each one of us must
make a deliberate choice to bond with our baby at the deepest level possible
during the tiny window of opportunity that we are given, namely, prenatally, at
birth, and during the first year. Once this time has passed, it cannot be
reversed. It must become the priority of every parent to consciously plan to
make time, and attend to this little person who has no one but you to do this for him. 

You cannot assume you can
multi-task as a parent, at least not during this crucial period. Your baby is
not just a new intruding activity on your to-do list. Bonding is his or her
inherent right.
Bonding
presents a unique opportunity and a life-changing perspective to you as new
parents. Your new family will only be stronger for having these bonding tools
to work with as you begin this journey called parenthood.      
“Many Western doctors hold the belief that we can
improve everything, even natural childbirth in a healthy woman. This philosophy
is the philosophy of people who think it deplorable that they were not
consulted at the creation of Eve, because they would have done a better
job.”
~ Dr. Kloosterman, Chief of OB/GYN, University of
Amsterdam, Holland
Dr. Ala Alwan,
World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director General for Non-communicable
Diseases and Mental Health said in April, 2009, “It is a deep concern that
the global burden of disease attributed to mental disorders continues to grow, particularly in developing countries.
It is essential to prioritize, implement and fund projects on autism spectrum
disorders and other mental disorders in children in developing countries.”

Guess what? The
U.S. is also the 46th in the world in order of infant mortality. 45
other countries have healthier babies at birth than we do: Singapore, Hong
Kong, Malta, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Portugal, Gibraltar, Cuba, Taiwan, and
Macau, to name just a few. Our mothers’ chances of surviving childbirth fare
just as poorly here as well: 38 other countries are ahead of us in that too.
But as I write we
are being told that now, since 2011, women have surpassed men in the Western
World in holding more post-graduate degrees than ever before. Finally, we
(women) are smarter, more advanced, more intelligent, and more insightful on
all levels in mathematics, engineering, medicine, the sciences, and in all
other areas than ever before in history. Aren’t we clever? Yet we have more
problems with our infants and young children than many or most other places in
the world. What is wrong? How did this happen? I believe we have somehow, quite
falsely, assumed that our offspring would or could evolve along with us in
direct ratio to the fast forward we have plummeted ourselves into in the race
toward the 21st Century. We
must stop here and take a few things into account before considering such
assumptions.

Have you ever
wondered why we as humans have such large brains? This one is obvious: we are
smarter than any other animal. But our babies are more helpless than other mammals at birth. Have
you ever wondered why? Part of the reason is that, yes, we are the most
intelligent species, but our babies are born unprepared for survival. Our
brains grow so fast before we are born, and into the first year, however, that
if they kept growing until the rest of the body caught up and was as mature as,
say, a calf is at birth, their heads would be far too large for the birth canal
they must pass through.
The human brain triples in volume after birth, the
largest increase occurring in the first year of life. No other species even
approaches this extraordinary rate of postnatal growth.
Since our brains
are so advanced, they grow faster in the first year than the brains of any
other species. If we waited another three to six months to deliver our babies,
their heads would be too big to fit our frames. So Mother Nature had a toss-up:
make mothers’ hips even bigger than what we have now (Horrors!) or have babies born sooner than they are in reality ready
for. It is clear that they are not as mature as other little mammals and do
need us constantly, even more than the offspring of other species. Nature knows
this. Babies know this. Do we? We don’t act like we know it.

It is actually an
illusion to imagine that our man- or woman-made time machine should likewise
affect our babies, but we do in fact believe this. The truth is our babies are
just about as immature at birth as our fore-mother Lucy’s offspring were 3.18
million years ago. Consider Lucy (who currently resides at the Ethiopian
National Museum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), whose babies had to be carried and in
constant contact with her, 24-hours a day, day and night, for at least two years
or until they could walk. He (I am just guessing it was a firstborn son) had
constant skin-to-skin contact; was in constant proximity for eye contact with
his mother or whatever member of the clan his mother was interacting with
throughout the day–at an adult’s eye level, incidentally, and not lower as in
a crib or stroller where faces suddenly appear to loom above his and just as
quickly disappear. He nursed on demand. He had no need to cry. A grunt or his
reaching for a breast would be enough of a sign. His mother had enough time
connected to him that she could already easily “read” any signals or cues
coming from him. He listened to his mother interacting with others all day
long. We don’t know when she began speaking directly to him, though. Perhaps it
began when he spoke first, having listened to adult speech and figured out how
it worked.

We now know that
bonding is reciprocal. Even into the 21st Century, however, we can read from some
authors who are still considering bonding a mother-led phenomenon, whereas it
is actually reciprocal. When a baby searches his mother’s face, he is seeking
her gaze in return. If her gaze is not
there more times than it is
, she has also given him a clear message: this
is not how we humans interact,
though she gives him no alternative solution. When he reaches out to touch her,
he expects his hand will be held or caressed. When he first coos, a rewarding
sound from his mother will encourage more early speech. If parents are engaged
elsewhere either mentally or literally, while interacting with a cell phone or
texting, for example, and those overtures from your baby are ignored, that,
too, is a message: he isn’t being answered. Perhaps his voice may not be the
best way to communicate after all. He’ll have another try at it first: cry
louder, perhaps, to get the needed response. Or do something, anything, to get
your attention.

Sounds familiar?
But back to Lucy. Bonding was survival. Had she put her babies down, they
would have been mauled or eaten. And we would not be here today.
As a new parent, a
parent-to-be, or a midwife or doula, you are in a very unique position to be
able to bring this back to families who are unaware of the influence we each
actually have to return to bonding with our babies as we should. We are in fact
already generations away from when we should have been tuning in to those
earliest cues. I sincerely hope we can reverse this very destructive direction
our attachment relationships have gone.
The most basic factors
that influence bonding are touch or skin contact, smell, eye contact,
attention, and sound or hearing. We don’t know yet which factors in what order affect an infant’s earliest development,
i.e., whether touch is primary, or if language sits on the bottom of the
ladder, though one study of deaf mothers of hearing children regarding a lack
of vocal speech did not appear to negatively influence their babies’ overall
well-being during the first year or later on. We don’t know if 100,000 words in
a given time frame are required to ensure normal, adequate development, or if
only 5,000 will do, though a recent 2010 study has shown that more educated
mothers do directly address their children more than poor or less educated
mothers, and the long term outcomes are notably better.

We don’t know if
40 hours per week of skin-to-skin contact in the first month is enough to
guarantee a proper level of bonding or if 400 hours of some form of touch is
required. Breastfeeding already offers skin-to-skin contact every time your
baby feeds, but mothers who choose or need to bottle feed their babies can
supply the same skin-to-skin contact, too. We don’t know what the exact
formulae is in combining these factors that are necessary for successful
bonding, but what I have been observing is that somewhere between the high
levels of all factors in one of the refugee communities I was able to observe
over a ten year period, and the present poor connection on all levels of all
the factors that I have been observing more recently in a second refugee
population, there is a threshold that is being left far behind.

Another analogy
would be to consider how little food a person needs to survive. We can guess
that X amount of calories represent the barest minimum and less than that is
simply not sufficient to sustain life. The same is true in the realm of child
development. If we could only know how much of each factor is needed at minimum, or what combination of
what levels of all the factors as we know them, is necessary, then, I believe,
we would know the mystery behind all child development problems. But we cannot
measure hugs and kisses, caresses and bedtime stories, nor do I believe we
should ever have the technology to do so. What I do believe, though, is that we
should be intelligent enough to grasp the simple fact that as technology has
advanced, and as we have moved forward in intelligence and knowledge, our
newborns have remained immature, helpless little mammals who need to bond with
us, need us to bond with them, and that the rules of Nature really have not
changed in a very, very long time. We are giving birth to Stone Age babies in a
Space Age world, and we must rethink our present responses, and our often gross
lack of appropriate responses to their Stone Age needs. Until recent, western historic periods, no
human parents ever asked: Where will my baby sleep and how will I feed my baby?
Most human parents in the western world still wonder!


This and other chapters will appear in my book, Stone Age Babies in a Space Age World: Babies and Bonding in the 21st Century

STAY TUNED!

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