Mom, I Cannot Do Without You”
By “Awake!” correspondent in Sweden
BIRTH is a revolution in the life of a child. The infant comes out of fluid and darkness into air and light. Breathing starts. Temperature control begins to function. The brain starts receiving entirely new impressions that must be sorted and filed away. The eyes have to get used to light, and the ears to completely new sounds. Nourishment must now be taken in through the mouth.
Before birth, the development of a baby is regulated by laws that link it to its mother. Is it reasonable to assume that these laws suddenly cease to apply right after the infant’s birth? Many researchers agree that during the child’s early life, mother and newborn baby interact harmoniously, as if according to some law. This is very important for the infant’s continued development.
The Law of Interaction
Just after birth, the law of interaction begins to apply. It is reflected in the mother’s instinctive desire to hold the child close to her, and the child’s searching for the mother’s breast. When the baby’s chin touches the breast, the infant starts a head movement toward it until the mouth finds the nipple. The child’s mouth opens, sucks with the tongue as a pump, and then closes. The swallowing mechanism begins to work. The baby’s sucking triggers a reflex action in the mother, causing the uterus and cervix to contract. This contributes toward helping these organs to return to their original form.
Newborn babies are not, as many believe, passive or lazy. Just as the infant eagerly sucks milk, it actively takes in information from the world surrounding it. The cells of the nervous system are molded by the information that is received and processed by the brain. It is vital that the infant get just the right amount and the right kind of information. This is so because the most important period of the brain’s development comes during the last three months of pregnancy and the first fifteen months of life.
Especially while nursing, the infant receives much important information about the outside world. All the child’s senses are stimulated at that time. The infant perceives the warmth and smell of the mother’s skin. It feels her with its sense of touch. The baby looks almost continuously at her face as she feeds it. It listens to her voice and heartbeat. The sense of balance is stimulated in the nursing position—the fluid in the inner ear is set in motion—one of the many stimulations necessary for the brain to develop properly.
Also, the child must work hard to get food from the breast. This lays a basis for the child’s power of concentration and endurance, abilities that must be developed. A nursing child that gives up too easily risks its life. Here the mother is truly needed.
The Infant’s Sight
The visual power of a young child is much greater than once thought. Recent experiments show that the world of the newborn baby is not a diffuse, gray mist without contours. Examination of newborn infants has shown that the gaze fastens preferably on complex patterned surfaces rather than on plain ones. A frontal view of the human face turns out to be the most stimulating and attractive visual object for the infant.
Psychologist R. L. Fantz made a thorough test of forty-nine babies from four days to six months of age to find out their visual interest. He had them look at several test objects, including a human face. What were the results? The infants of all age levels showed the greatest interest in the face pattern. Fantz concluded: “Innate knowledge of the environment is demonstrated . . . by the interest of young infants in kinds of form that will later aid in object recognition, social responsiveness and spatial orientation.” So, it seems that from birth we search for the important, stimulating and meaningful human face.
Since the activity of a person’s pupils turns out to be a measure of the brain’s intellectual and emotional activity, much research work has been done regarding pupil reflexes in small children. One researcher found that the sight of the mother’s face caused the greatest dilation of the pupils even in infants less than one month old. Often it is the mother’s face that prompts the first smile, a reaction unique to humans and a sign of good emotional activity in the brain. So, it may be that a very important function of the mother is to provide stimuli that play a role in the maturing of the child’s nervous system.
Not only do the visual impressions originating with the mother cause the infant to smile or react in other important ways, but sound also is important, and it is the female voice that provides the best stimuli. How vital, then, is the mother’s warm, quiet talking to her baby, or her soft cradle song!
When the baby cries, the mother instinctively picks it up and usually holds it to her left breast. This enables the baby to hear the heartbeat—something of no little importance in the infant’s development. Experiments with children indicate that those who were allowed to listen to normal heartbeats increased in weight, cried less and slept better than children who were not permitted to hear such sounds.
Skin Contact and Stimulation
The feel of the mother’s skin evidently also plays a role in the child’s development. Child psychologist Anne-Marit Duve observes: “Since the activity of the pupils clearly shows the degree of brain activity, we have reason to believe that a high degree of skin stimulation, a high degree of contact—not the least the contact connected with nursing—can stimulate the mental activity, which in turn can lead to greater intellectual capacity in adulthood.” So, when the child is picked up, patted, bathed and dried, the mother’s touch stimulates its skin in a way that may be of great importance later in life.
Father and Mother Equally Important in Different Ways
Many researchers agree that the child must be bound to one person by close ties and must establish a “one-to-one” relationship with someone in order to be able to develop further in all aspects of life. It is most natural and biologically most correct that this relationship be established with the mother. However, it is agreed that the father’s role is at least as important, though it is different. The father’s role, among other things, is to use his usually superior physical strength and his constructive mental faculties to build up the conditions necessary to make the close relationship between mother and child as effective as possible.
We recognize this pattern from ancient times. In the past, the mother almost always had her child with her wherever she went. She often carried it, perhaps on her back, while working. She lifted it up, rocked it, cuddled it, sang to it and pressed it to her breast. The father, on the other hand, provided for the family materially and brought from the outside world information that his children needed.
This is the pattern of life that the Bible describes as existing among the Hebrews. There was a special closeness between the mother and the children. Hebrew mothers breast-fed their children until they were about three years old, or even five years of age. After the child was weaned, the father began to look after its upbringing and education.
Today, however, children often are with baby-sitters, or in day nurseries and nursery schools. They spend much of the active part of the day with people other than their parents. But when circumstances do not require this, is it wise? Many people wonder whether this pattern of life has not increased mental problems, including depression, among children. Child psychologist Anne-Marit Duve states: “Clinical experience leads me to suggest that much sorrow is lying and fermenting in many young minds because the bearers of them have, early in life, lost their most important foundation in life—their mother.”
Recent research appears to indicate that the woman who wishes to have children must accept her role as a mother for the sake of both herself and her children. It is not just a matter of physical pregnancy and then giving birth. Apparently another “pregnancy,” which researchers call “mental pregnancy,” takes over immediately after birth and continues until the child is fully developed. This “pregnancy” also is connected with the mother.
How truly important a mother’s role is! The statement, “Mom, I cannot do without you,” is no exaggeration. It is clear that our Creator, Jehovah God, had in mind distinct roles for men and women. When their respective roles are rightly esteemed, parents are able to give their offspring the best possible basis for a good start in life.