“One of the things that set human beings apart from animals is that we are designed first and foremost for relationship…Therefore, relational ability must be fostered from the beginning. The constant presence and touch of the mother as she carries, strokes, and comforts form a critical component that helps the baby to learn how to regulate his or her own emotions. This ability is the cornerstone of thoughtful decisions and the ability to experience emotional intimacy later,” (1).
Breastfeeding infants on cue, especially in the first three months after delivery (the fourth trimester) is vital not only to the nutritional health of the infant, the establishment of the maternal milk supply, and growth of the baby but also the neural development. “We know that a baby has virtually all his or her neurons in place by 18 weeks gestation, all 180 billion of them…[and] will need to develop a rich synaptic network over the next three-plus years… the number of synapses (connections) doubles between 18 and 28 weeks of pregnancy, again by birth at around 40 weeks of pregnancy, and yet again by the time the baby is 8 months old,” (1).
“A 4th Trimester perspective acknowledges that intensive caregiving is necessitated by infants’ biological needs and requires substantial adjustments and sustained investment by a primary caregiver, usually mothers. Infants are as dependent on their caregivers in the weeks and months after birth as they were leading up to delivery… and expect to be held and cared for,” (2)
Stress can cause a rewiring of brain synapses. “As little as ten minutes of crying alone causes baby’s blood oxygenation to decrease, blood pressure to rise, stress hormones to release, and even tiny brain bleeds to occur…[and with regularity] actually rewires the baby’s brain to become anxious, depressed, and/or to experience other unhealthy states,” (1).
Infants are born to seek relationship and attachment. Breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact help to provide healthy attachment and bonding. Feeding on cue (demand feeding) is vital to this relationship.
Kathy Parkes, MSN-Ed, RN, IBCLC, FILCA CHC
Professional Development Educator
1. Williams, N. (2016). Designed for relationship. Retrieved 8/1/20 from http://www.ezzo.info/designed-for-relationship
2. Tully, K.P. and Ball, H.L. (2018). Understanding and enabling breastfeeding in the context of maternal-infant needs. in Breastfeeding: new anthropological approaches. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 199-211. Retrieved 8/1/20 from [PDF] dur.ac.uk
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