How A Baby Learns To Love
I was lucky enough to fall in love with my first baby, even before she was born. I knew that she loved to get up early in the morning, just like me. She was pretty mellow – I actually got scared one day that she wasn’t kicking me enough, and went to the hospital to make sure she was okay. (She was!) Even today, she definitely knows how to chill!
Science says that even before our babies are born, they are learning about life. In the womb, babies sense and respond to the environment of the womb. The world is a golden place with reassuring sounds, from the gentle whoosh of the placenta to the voices of mom, dad, the woof of the dog and the purr of the cat snuggled next to your belly!
I work with new moms and dads every day at the BMH Birthing Center. It makes me laugh when I ask, “Have you watched the videos yet?” We have this idea that people are going to watch and learn from baby care videos, in addition to hands on teaching. What actually happens?
Moms and dads are hanging out, looking at their baby’s face.
I love it! Dads intuitively hold babies like a football, with the baby’s butt against their chests and looking the baby in the eyes. They hold the baby at just the right focal point for the baby to really see them. Moms often hold babies next to their heart – again at just the right place so the baby can focus on them.
The babies are entranced, enthralled. They are very “right-brained” at this early stage, their brains primed to learn about the world around them by the love hormone, oxytocin. (Oxytocin makes us have labor contractions, give birth, helps us make babies, and then helps us grown and learn.) Our babies are learning about “the big picture” . They are very tuned in to how they feel inside.
Every time we respond to a baby, we let them know what the world is all about. Picking up a baby when they feel lonely, holding a baby to help them become neurologically organized, talking to them when they are ready to be sociable, feeding them when their blood sugar is letting them know they don’t feel quite right – these are the ways we let them know they are important. And they are powerful – when they talk, important people listen and change the world for them!
An amazing thing happens as this goes on. The baby – and the mom, the research hasn’t been done with dads yet – are wonderfully rewarded for doing things right. By three months we know that when a baby looks at mom, his brain lights up like fireworks. The dopaminergic portion of the brain goes wild! It is so powerful, it looks like the brain on crack or meth.
Whoa! And guess what – mom’s brain is doing the same thing.
So next time you see a mom and a baby who look absolutely addicted to each other, smile at them, enjoy the fireworks, and give them a thumbs up. These are moms and babies whose lives are changed forever!
Researchers at Harvard have found that this kind of loving, respectful parenting actually changes a baby’s genetics. For the better! Read ‘How Early Experiences Get Into the Body‘
And if it’s you doing the loving, and someone tells you that you are holding your baby too much, or responding too quickly to your baby’s needs, or too much in love, you can look them right in the eye and say, “Thanks.” Then go on doing what you are already doing, knowing that you are raising a real, wonderful human being:
- Play with your baby – use your body to play, too!
- Love on her/him
- Respond to your baby’s cries
- Touch – cheek to cheek, massage, “grooming!”
- Enjoy plenty of eye contact
- Show her the world – from the safety of your arms
- Respect who he or she is – help them grow into the person they are uniquely meant to be
…in order to develop normally, a child requires progressively more complex joint activity with one or more adults who have an irrational emotional relationship with the child. Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number one. First, last, and always. (Urie Bronfenbrenner, a founder of Head Start)