Wednesday, July 22

The Science of Parenting: Crying and separation

It is one of the hardest things - to see the baby cries especially when it is our own. It often makes the parent feels helpless and that is an awful secondary feeling. Not only is prolonged crying is hard to bear, it is also bad for the baby. The chapter on crying and separation in this book shows how stress from prolonged crying and separations can affect baby's developing brain. If you forget everything else, please do remember that crying is your baby's intense bid for you to help her with her overwhelming feelings and frightening bodily sensations. This is because her brain in not yet developed enough for her to manage them on her own.

Why do babies cry??!!

  • Babies are sensitive, raw and vulnerable to stress.
  • They cry for various reasons - tiredness, hunger, over- or under-stimulated, fear of threats or shocks, the environment is not conducive - too bright, too harsh, too cold, too hot, too sudden and so on.
  • Amygdala, which is important alarm system in the lower brain, is perfectly on line at birth. Its main function is to work out the emotional meaning of everything that happens. When it senses that something threatening is happening, it communicates to hypothalamus, which then control the release of stress hormones which can then prepare the body for fight or flight.
  • Babies need help in managing this awful feeling. If they are left to manage this on their own, the higher brain may not develop the necessary wiring to be able to perform these stress managing functions. As a result, they may stay feeling stressed for hours or even longer. Without intervention from the caregivers, the brain's key response systems are in danger of being permanently wired as "over-active". The consequence of this is that they grow up having trouble turning off the over-sensitive alarm systems of the lower brain.

The most important thing you can do

  • Calm down a crying baby and avoid prolonged crying.
  • You also need to have the mental and emotional space in your mind to really hear and take her panic and pain seriously.
  • Older babies are awash with new feelings especially when they experience panicky separation distress and when they are increasingly clear about likes and dislikes, what frightens or displeases them. Since they are not able to communicate in language yet, they cry to express their needs.

What happens in the brain when babies cry?
    When babies cry, the stress hormone - cortisol- is released by adrenal glands. If the baby is soothed and comforted, the level goes down. If not, it remains high.
  • For prolonged period of time, cortisol can reach toxic levels that may damage key structures and systems in a developing brain; as mentioned earlier it would be permanently wired for over-sensitivity.
  • Early stress can cause cell death in hippocampus, which is a very important structure in the brain. It shrinks because of cell death within its tissues.
  • This could result in chemical imbalances in the brain. Chemicals that are essential for emotional systems are opioids, noradrenaline, dopamine, serotonin and they are still being established in an immature brain.

The science of comforting.

  • There are 2 autonomic systems - sympathetic (Aroused) and parasympathetic (Calm & Centered)
  • With prolonged crying sympathetic becomes overactive while parasympathetic – VAGUS nerve- becomes under active.
  • The more responsive you are, the greater your regulation of her body arousal system will be and the more long-lasting the effects. Many parents are not aware that a child's bodily arousal system is still developing after birth and that it is super sensitive to stressful experiences such as being left to cry on her own.

How to soothe your baby?
Do things that will stimulate the anti-stress chemical system in the brain.

  1. Touch & Massage
  2. Sucking is comforting. Help her to find her fist or thumb to suck.
  3. Only use pacifier when she is utterly inconsolable. Main reason is because mouth is vital for communication and forming of sounds pre-speech. Also vital for oral exploration.
  4. Use movement & rocking – rhythmical movement resembles the security of the womb
  5. Low sound eg from washing machine or spin dryer resembles the security of the womb.
  6. Provide novelty – toys.
  7. Avoid over stimulation. When baby is over-stimulated bring him to a quiet, low lit room.

Separations and time apart.

  • When you need to be separated and the baby cries, you have to take her intense feelings seriously. Do remember that you are her world, her everything, you represent her very safety!
  • The separation distress system in a baby is genetically programmed to be hypersensitive. Hence, your baby is NOT being “needy” or “clingy” or difficult or manipulative.
  • Because the verbal centres are not online yet, you are not able to tell her that you will be back. Hence, she will not know that you have not gone FOREVER.
  • Separation hurts small humans in much the same way as a physical pain. Thus, avoid pushing your children to independence long before they are ready.
  • Stress is NOT good for baby. Period.

Childcare issue

  • It is important to get a nanny/child minder who adores little children and is great at responding to both joy and distress when you consider childcare.
  • Your child needs to be held in familiar arms when you are not there.
  • There are evidence to suggest early separations and depression may be linked.

The NEED to cling. Why?

  • It is to bring down his bodily arousal level and high levels of stress chemicals.
  • Baby is trying to change the emotion chemical imbalance in his brain to a calmer and more positive state.
  • This is what research reveals. Mothers who had attended promptly to their crying babies had children who cried much less than those whose mothers had left them to cry. Prolonged clinging is far more likely when a parent has not handled the child's dependency needs well.
  • As the child grows, the separation distress in his lower brain naturally become far less sensitive. This is because of the development of the higher brain which inhibits this system.
  • Beware of false independence. It is extremely shame-inducing for a child to be in a state of desperate need and he is met with rebuff or criticism or to be told to be a big boy.
  • It is tough job. Bear in mind the long term investment that you're making – the long-term anti-stress effects of repeated activation of oxytocin in the brain from all that physical affection. Infants with more loving touch were better able to handle stress and were psychologically stronger.

I learn best when I reproduce what I have read so this serves my need. I don't mind sharing the information but again if you can afford the time it is best that you pick up the book.

Science of parenting part one is here

P.S. Your discretion is advised.

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