Baby Steps Blog

Newborn as Human Being

I don’t usually gush about doctors, but I do want to give a shout-out this week to pediatrician Susan Slowinski. Our kids started going to her practice when she started in Bellows Falls – and my son was so fond of her that he argued with me about having to find a “grown up” doctor. He still calls her up and asks her questions when he’s ready to travel, and as far as I know she never tells him to shut up and go somewhere else. (Hey – I have good stories about our other BMH pediatricians too….)

One time Mike came home and said “Dr. Slowinski said I should appreciate you more. She says you are respectful of babies.”

I have mused on that statement since. I sincerely believe that babies should be treated as human beings – and I’ve got research behind me on that. You may laugh, but here are some amazing facts about newborns, and the dates when “the research” told us they were true.

Babies know who their moms are.

Back in the 1980’s we were often told our babies couldn’t see us, didn’t know who we were, and didn’t prefer us to other people. Really, they were hardly even human beings. It took the research a while to get out to the public – but researchers say there was a “major theoretical shift” that happened around 1970. Part of this was due to Harry Harlow and his horrific studies on baby monkeys. (It’s thought that the Animal Rights movement owes its start to Harry Harlow too – these were the little monkeys that were given wire “mothers” who fed them or soft, fuzzy mothers who starved them. The babies would choose to starve of food because they need the soft and fuzzy so badly.)

Babies know their own mom’s smell.

MacFarlane did these “olfaction” studies in the early 1970’s. He placed a small pad that a mom had worn and one from another mom near a newborn – and the newborn would reliably turn toward the smell of their own mother. This was published in 1975. It was considered amazing when I had my first baby in 1981 – many people didn’t believe it.

Babies know the voices of their moms and dads.

And they will preferentially turn towards those voices – not the voice of any nurse or doctor. (Not even the lactation consultant!) T.Berry Brazelton of Boston – one of the pediatricians who changed the face of parenting in the 1970’s and beyond – published information about this for the general public in 1974. DeCasper and Fifer did more research on this in 1980.

Newborns prefer their mother’s face.

This was published in 1989 by Bushneil, Sai and Mullin. They found that this was true at 12- 35 hours of life! (We see this in the Birthing Center every day, when babies and mothers stare transfixed at each other. Dads do it too – it just hasn’t been studied that I know of.) If you’d like to read about this go to http://infantlab.fiu.edu/Articles/Bushnell%202001.pdf

Babies know their own mother’s nipples.

Porter and Winberg worked on this one in 1999. There are special glands on the areola – Montgomery’s tubercles – that exude special antiseptic oil that cleans the breast area. Apparently this helps the baby find the breast, because it smells like the amniotic fluid that the baby knows as home! Watch babies looking for the right spot at http://www.biologicalnurturing.com/video/bn3clip.html

Next time we’ll look at some of the “hardwiring” babies come with. They have personalities even in the womb!

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