In part One I introduced why I felt the need to write about this.
Part Two looked at the infant’s amazing senses and critical periods of development.
In Part Three we continued our learning of epigenetics and the microbiome, and explored the dependency and interrelationship of newborn infants with their mother, father, and others special to them.
In part Four we will review how separation can impact on the infant’s life, and when separation has occurred, how we may be able to address this and the effect later in life, to soften its impact and enable some resolution and healing.
Early care can profoundly alter an infant throughout their life and effects of separation can be extensive. To a baby it is a life - death situation when separated from their mother. Separation disrupts an infant’s behaviour and development 1 and there is extensive research on its effects especially if repeated. Effects not only for the infant, their mother, father, and family but also on society.
Sharon King, author of ‘Heal your Birth Heal your Life’ 2, writes of life long anxiety, hypervigilence, fear and shame, the inability to regulate ones emotions, an exaggerated stress response and decreased resilience, all relating back to separation at and around birth.
Gabor Mate 3. 4, also writes extensively on this subject and includes a long list of effects, especially if separation continues during early childhood. Depression; socio-moral immaturity; relationship problems; trust, low self esteem and attachment problems; disconnect with others; behavioural and learning issues; aggression, violence and addiction; a feeling of being disempowered, rejected, unloved, unwanted or abandoned which may even lead to mental illness and or suicide; physical illness such as asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. All can relate back to separation issues, many of which may have originated at our birth.
Klaus & Kennel (1976) 5 research, informs us that “a mother’s interaction with her child during the first few hours of life critically affects her attitude towards her child for at least the next 5 years”.
Lack of maternal feeling for her child increases her potential for child abuse. We need to ensure that as parents, families and health professionals, we honour and respect the mutual need for maternal and newborn infant skin to skin contact to optimise their attachment and bonding.
My research, training and knowledge 6, 7, has enlightened me to many health concerns that originate from feelings of separation and the very specific biological response to something experienced. These include skin disorders (eczema, psoriasis, rashes …), eye disorders such as conjunctivitis, squint, some cornea / lens disorders, and those involving the tear ducts and eyelids. Others involve the ear, nasal mucosa, sinuses, and more. Also when we feel isolated, abandoned and unloved, a biological process is activated in a specific part of our kidney, the kidney collecting tubule which results in retaining fluid and oedema in our body.
I have witnessed specific cases including; a mouth ulcer that linked back to separation of a premature infant from her mother, isolated and alone in her incubator; a second time mother unable to breastfeed her first child presenting with eczema on her breast in the precise places he put his hands while breast feeding; conjunctivitis in infants separated then reunited with their mother … and more.
We have established the need for skin to skin nurturing and that separation of a newborn baby from their mother is their primary cause of stress 8. So what if a premature, well, or unwell baby is temporarily separated from their mother after birth? Are they permanently affected by the loss of their early contact period? Research informs us that bonding and attachment are so vital for survival it can be compensated if a strong mother - infant connection occurs when they are reunited. However, the longer the separation, the greater the risk of insecure attachment. 9, 10.
How can we reduce and mitigate the effects of separation for well, unwell and premature infants, at birth, in the following days and weeks, and at a later stage in life
First, consider if the baby needs neonatal specialist care immediately following their birth. Can that be done while the baby is skin to skin on mum. If it is not essential, maybe it can wait for a little while. As Jill Bergman writes, “observations and tests can be done while leaving the newborn in his or her safe place”. 8
Studies have shown us that the effect and how we respond, depends on how we perceive the experience. A newborn infant who knows they are being helped may have less effect than another, even from a similar experience. By anticipating, observing, listening and responding to all baby’s protest signals (varying heart rate, breathing, colour, oxygen levels, hand and body postures, facial expressions, cries), we can avoid their brain flooding with cortisol, and their resultant disassociation ‘tuning out’ response and consequent wiring emotional pathways associated with ‘the world is a dangerous place, I am not safe, nobody loves me …..’
If mum is unable to be present initially, as is the reality currently in many neonatal units, having dad close can offset some effects. Tuning into his little one, providing partial skin to skin with his gentle loving hands, and quietly speaking to his baby enables soothing connection. Soft materials, dimmed lights, soft sounds, an overriding calmness, dad believing and telling him or her the nurses and doctors are helping him / her, can enhance baby’s increased feelings of safety. In this instance ensure a high priority for full skin to skin initially on dad (or significant other) then onto mum as soon as possible.
Keep something that has mum’s smell on it near baby - a blanket, head sheet, little octopus (the small knitted or crocheted soft toy gaining popularity in neonatal units 11). Mum’s voice on a tape may also provide comfort.
We know that energy travels through time and space so encourage a mum who is physically separated from her baby, to create an energetic connection. To close her eyes, breathe in and out of her heart 12, 13. Then to imagine her baby is on skin to skin, and see, feel the touch, hear the sounds, smell, ‘taste’ the sweetness of her newborn baby. Breathe. Others present can guide her in this and quietly step back and allow the connection. Practicing this energetic connection before baby is born creates knowing and maybe increased connection post birth for mother and infant. Hypnosis, Matrix Reimprinting 14, Reiki, and other therapies have taught us we can connect energetically through time and space with someone anywhere in the world and in our past.
Since 1974, Doctor David Chamberlain, a California psychologist, author and editor, began using hypnotherapy to discover and resolve traumas arising in the womb and at birth. In 1980 he demonstrated that babies remember birth and their memories are reliable 9. 14. This phenomena is repeatedly demonstrated in Meta-Health, EFT, and Matrix Reimprinting sessions. We now know these memories are stored in ‘our field’ and can be revisited through our subconscious brain. Another vital fact is our subconscious mind does not know the difference between past, present and future. So when a person has suffered the trauma of separation all is not lost. Fortunately, human beings are capable of recovering from many types of trauma with appropriate insight, support, and healing techniques. 9
If you or your loved ones experience or have experienced any of the above, you may wish to explore this with a practitioner such as one who like myself is qualified in Matrix Reimprinting 14 who can gently and safely guide you back to your birth experience and help you release trauma you are unconsciously holding. You may be surprised, how, like many others who have felt the relief of freeing trapped emotions and trauma created at their birth and in their young childhood, you can change your perspective to give you a freedom you never thought possible.
Bowlby in his ethological theory of attachment suggests that infants are born with an innate need to form an attachment bond with a caregiver to increase their chance of survival 15. 16. 17. 18. He also claims that “being skin-to-skin during the first hour after birth sets a pattern of behaviours between mothers and infants that supports continued body contact and carrying, and thus normal brain development of the infant” 9. Interestingly, Dr Prescott’s research 9 observed that cultures that carried their babies on the mother’s body throughout the first year of life, were more peaceful cultures. Those that did not, were more violent cultures. What a huge impact this has on our society on so many levels.
Two videos you may enjoy, are produced by NIDCAP, an organisation providing education and guidance for hospitals in meeting the needs of newborn infants and their families. As stated in the video, care given to premature babies “will impact on their future and that of their parents” 19. 20 (‘Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program. Voice of the Newborn’).
It is time to address the effects of separation from an individual and a societal perspective. A loving, caring attuned relationship between an infant and their mother, father, and family has wide implications for society. A society where nurturing care is fostered for all ages. Where every individual feels cherished, loved, connected and supported by others.
Situations may arise where the mother is unable to provide the loving care and skin to skin contact for her infant. At these times a mother or father figure can form a wonderful attachment and bonding with the infant and provide the necessary love and support.
I leave you with the wisdom of Nils Bergman a leading researcher on skin to skin for neonates 1. Every infant needs caring adults for their optimum neural development. All infants have highly conserved instincts and behaviours 21, but nothing can make sense for them without this.
Bring back the paradigm where the sacred bond of infants and their mother and father is not compromised. A world where they feel safe to grow and discover to their highest potential. A world where skin to skin care is cherished and enables every infant to feel safe, secure, nurtured and loved.
Part 4 References
1. Bergman, N. (2016). Skin-to-skin contact is our BIOLOGY. http://www.skintoskincontact.com/ssc-biology.aspx And a one day seminar with Nils Bergman I had the pleasure to attend.
2. King, S. (2015). Heal Your Birth, Heal Your Life. Silverwood: Bristol.
3. Mate, G. (2011). Dr. Gabor Mate on Attachment and Conscious Parenting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tdljIW86e8
4. Mate, G. (2011). When the Body Says No. John Wiley & Sons: New Jersey
5. Torngren, P. The Needs Of The Newborn In The First Few Hours Of Life
6. Markolin, C. The Five Biological Laws - Biological Special Programs - discovered by Dr. Ryke Geerd Hamer.
7. META-Health. (2017). Bio-Psycho-Logical Keys. Member access.
8. Bergman, J. (2011). Grow Your Baby’s Brain. The importance of skin to skin contact for every newborn. http://kangaroomothercare.com/jill-articles.aspx
9. Phillips, R, (2013). Uninterrupted Skin-to-Skin Contact Immediately After Birth.
10. Sears, W. (2017). Bonding with Your Newborn. http://www.attachmentparenting.org/support/articles/bonding
11. Prawelewe. (2016). Octopus for a Premmie. http://www.prawelewe.pl/octopus-for-a-preemie/
12. HeartMath. (2017). Quick Coherence® Technique. https://www.heartmath.com/quick-coherence-technique/
13. HeartMath. (2008). Mother-Baby Study Supports Heart-Brain Interactions. https://www.heartmath.org/articles-of-the-heart/science-of-the-heart/mother-baby-study-supports-heart-brain-interactions/
15. Chamberlain, D. B. (2013). Windows to the Womb. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley.
16. Chamberlain, D.B. (2015). Babies Remember Birth.
17. Cherry, K (2017). Bowlby & Ainsworth: What Is Attachment Theory? The Importance of Early Emotional Bonds. https://www.verywell.com/what-is-attachment-2794822
18. Lewis, T., Amini, F., & Lannon, R. (2001). A General Theory of Love. Vintage Books: New York.
19. NIDCAP. ‘Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program. Voice of the Newborn’. (2011 a). NIDCAP: Baby. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5xtNY6GCQQ
20. NIDCAP. ‘Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program. Voice of the Newborn’. (2011 b). NIDCAP: Nurse. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VKX2KUntLA
21. Swain, J. E. (2011). The Human Parental Brain: In Vivo Neuroimaging. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4329016/