Why Babies Need Connection

Babies crave connection to other people, especially mama and loved ones.  Yet isolation and separation is common in most modern cultures, and that effect has trickled down to baby.  Has that changed us?  Does it change who our babies are and who they will be?  Many researchers say the answer is yes.

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Face to Face

I recently read a thought-provoking article by Suzanne Zeedyk on how the direction strollers face impacts baby development:

So the aim of our 2008 study was simple: to be able to confirm whether or not the direction that a stroller faces has a significant impact on how adults interact with their baby. The take home message of the study was that it does. We found that simply turning the buggy around doubles the amount of conversation that babies experience. The most surprising thing we discovered, once we looked closely at what was happening for children on High Streets in Britain, was just how infrequently babies seemed to be taking part in conversations with parents. Of the nearly 3000 observations that volunteers made of parent-child pairs, talking was observed in only 22% of those observations. Talking was twice as likely to be happening when children were being carried or walking (more than 40%) than when they were in strollers (less than 20%).

Babies get much more interaction when the stroller faces the caregiver.  Suzanne goes on to say that other studies have confirmed her results, and gives some nice examples of how child care providers and manufacturers are embracing the need for babies to connect.

Now lets re-read the last sentence of the above quote. When you carry your child, or she's walking alongside you, she's far more likely to see interaction.

Why is that important?  Why is it important to turn buggies around, to limit car seat time, to carry our babies, to let them walk along with us?

Babies need connection.  They need connection to us as caregivers, and they need connection to their culture and their world.  Forming these connections in infancy actually has an impact on how a child's brain grows.  It impacts how he or she is able to connect with others for the rest of his or her life.

The connections that we foster in our babies now matters.

Learning How to Love

Your baby's connection to you, his family, his community is impacted by how you care for him.  The connections your baby is forming right now impact her babies. It's a generational impact.

The kinds of mothering the baby receives can create new neural connections or strengthen existing ones. Mothering also trains that baby brain to release oxytocin in times of safety and comfort. In response to loving care, the neural network… begins to branch out. How many oxytocin receptors the baby brain develops, how sensitive they are, and how much oxytocin is produced depends a great deal on how much nurturing, love, and intimacy the baby gets in the first few months of life.” From The Chemistry of Connection

As you can see, the interaction and responses you give your baby have a huge influence.

baby-feet-bondingThey also benefit you positively. By responding to your baby, you strengthen your own positive responses and “feel good” hormones. Talking to your baby and connecting with him/her feels good to you, too. Responding to your child's needs is rewarding.

It may feel threatening if you were not raised in a connected family. Many of us weren't. Strollers, cribs, and daycare routines have been the way of life for a few generations now. But you can overcome your feelings and give your baby a connected start (pick up [raw]The Chemistry of Connection[/raw] to get a primer on how).

Part of My World

The stroller studies and oxytocin studies mentioned above seem to hint that babies need a lot of intimate interaction. This is true to an extent. But part of connection is simply being part of a family group. That may mean Daddy, grandparents, aunts and uncles, even adoring siblings make up part of the connection for baby.

Or it may mean baby is simply thereincluded but not the focus. Not isolated away (as a child in a forward facing stroller is, or a child in a playpen or crib in a corner). Rather, the child is there in arms, or at the caregiver's side. Perhaps baby is carried on Mama's back, or an older sibling's back.

The baby passively participates in the bearers running, walking, laughing, talking, working, and playing. The particular activities, the pace, the inflections of the language, the variety of sights, night and day, the range of temperatures, wetness and dryness, and the sounds of community life form a basis for the active participation that will begin at six or eight months of age with creeping, crawling, and then walking. A baby who has spent this time lying in a quiet crib or looking at the inside of a carriage, or at the sky, will have missed most of this essential experience.

Jean Liedloff wrote the above in The Importance of the In-Arms Phase (originally published in Mothering magazine, Winter 1989). She emphasizes how baby is involved and connected with her community. The child may not even be with mama, but is returned or returns to mama when connection and comfort is needed.

oxytocin-bond-babyAs Suzanne Zeedyk noted in the opening quote of this article, communication between baby and mother/care provider happens quite naturally in these situations. The baby may not be the focus of the outing or activity, but connection spontaneously happens through shared experiences.

Baby is able to watch and observe, and to make vital eye or physical contact. Babies need this connection to learn to trust. As noted above, babies need this connection to learn to love.

So trade your stroller for one that faces you. Or better yet, wear your baby facing your body (on your front or back), and include him on the journey of life.

When she starts to crawl, let her explore the world around while you're close by. When she comes back for comfort, take a minute to savor that connection. Your baby will learn so much – most importantly, the safety and security of genuine love.

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Photos by John Spade, Andrew Malone, Kyle and Kelly

About the author 

Kristen

Kristen is childbirth educator, student midwife, and a mama to 8 - all born naturally! She has spent years helping mamas have healthy babies, give birth naturally, and enjoy the adventure of motherhood. Find her on her website NaturalBirthandBabyCare.com and helping families through her online childbirth class MamaBabyBirthing.com

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