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In a Psychology Today post entitled “Where Are the Happy Babies?” Darcia Narvaez Ph.D. points out the all-too-common sight of distracted, dazed, and unhappy babies she seems to encounter more and more these days. She goes on to ask:
“Why are so few babies ‘glowing’ anymore?”
In her answer to the above question she offers an overview of babies’ needs and their brain growth within their first year of life, concluding:
“What does the baby want/need desperately in the first two years when the brain is growing so quickly?
Think: EXTERNAL WOMB.”
Yes! That’s what it takes to raise a happy, alert, engaged, glowing baby. The external womb!
What does that mean? Below is a quick overview of her thorough and powerful list, but go ahead and read the original article for more detail.
– Constant Touch
Constantly holding and carrying baby “keeps DNA synthesis and growth hormone going. Separation from a caregiver’s body shuts both down.”
– Caregiver Responsiveness
Babies aren’t capable of self-care at birth, but they are capable of nonverbally expressing their needs and discomforts. Prompt responses to their needs help their bodies and brains grow and keeps them calm. If they have to cry to get their needs met, their cries release cortisol…which kills brain cells.
– Stress Avoidance
For their first several years, around age five according to Narvaez, children’s brains aren’t capable of dealing with loud noises or any sort of sudden distress. As the caregiver compassionately comforts the child, the child is slowly being coached to calm themselves. It takes time, years even, but it’s well worth it.
– Discomfort Avoidance
Helping baby avoid discomfort by nursing, changing, carrying, rocking, or providing non-nutritive suckling increases their confidence that their needs can and will be met regularly. This confidence grows and stays with them into toddlerhood and beyond.
– Crying Avoidance
The more babies are left to cry, the more they develop a stress-reactive brain that has a harder time calming itself. Narvaez points to cultures in which babies don’t cry because they’re not separated from their caregivers, or left unfed or untouched.
– Breastmilk and Feeding on Request
It’s been scientifically proven over and over that breastmilk provides benefits that formula cannot recreate. As long as momma isn’t malnourished, breastmilk gives babies all those benefits and feeding on request, or on demand breastfeeding, ensures that no “opportunities to provide brain-building nutrients will be missed.”
I know that all doesn’t sound easy, and Narvaez admits that while babies need round-the-clock, responsive caregivers parents can’t do it alone. We need more support from extended families, workplaces, and society to focus on family time, health, and wellbeing.
Until then, sadly, distracted, dazed, and unhappy babies may just continue to be the norm.
Source: “Where Are the Happy Babies” via PsychologyToday.com