BEING PRESENT — PART TWO

We all think our autobiographies are terribly interesting, and most of the time we are right. But children live now. They will be interested in your story later, when they become fascinated by their own, as adults. Observe your tendency to project your own experience onto your children. When you do that, you respond not to them but to a long-gone you. It doesn’t help them. If that long-gone you needs attention, get it in the therapist’s office. Try to see your child without that filter.

For example, when you hear your baby cry, do you analyze its meaning through your own autobiography? Perhaps you were left to cry for hours alone in a crib because a pediatrician told your mother to “let her cry it out” or not to “spoil the baby.” So when you hear a baby cry, especially your own, it triggers those feelings of abandonment and fear in you. The unthinking response would be to get the baby quiet at all costs so you don’t have to re-experience that pain. You may empathize with a feeling that is yours, not your baby’s, and so your response doesn’t fit your baby’s need. True listening begins in your child’s infancy when you begin to practice removing your autobiography in order to understand your baby’s language and to mirror appropriately what he tries to tell you. This requires getting into present time with your whole being.

Early childhood experts, doctors Eileen and Tom Paris say it well:
“Learning the developmental themes of bonding, mirroring, and separating and the skills that support them from early on will give your baby the best possible start. These themes are ongoing and lifelong. We all need to be attached and bonded. We all need to feel understood, and we all need to be respected as individuals with experiences and feelings of our own”

Sometimes your baby may need to cry, in the warmth and safety of your presence. Your practice is to be present with her, mirror with your expression and speech what you hear, and check yourself for autobiographical projection, until you are sure your baby feels heard and can be comforted. Breathing deeply and relaxing can get you through this. Each time you do it, you will find it is less stressful and more interesting. You will find yourself engaged in the process of learning from your baby. You learn to accept your baby’s pain in the same way you feel his pleasure, without the attachment of craving, but with the compassionate love that is true non-attachment. Practicing in this way affects the way you love everyone else in your life as well. It teaches you how to be more truly compassionate, not only with the suffering of others but with yourself. This sets the foundation for your relationships and your child’s for the rest of your life.

Being present with your children requires that their well being is your top priority. After you have decided to be present, you will revisit that decision often and begin to find ways to do it that fit your lifestyle. You will design your lifestyle to fit this decision. Rather than just another “should,” being present for your little ones will become a fun, creative, and exciting endeavor that will teach you valuable lessons and bring joy to the most mundane of your everyday experiences. One dad said, When my wife goes away on business and I’m at home with the baby, I don’t expect to get a lot done. I have learned to take a deep breath, shut off the computer, and give my baby my undivided attention. A great thing about this approach is that it gives me a rewarding break from things that only seem important, and I get back in touch with what really is important.”

Cultivate a deep curiosity about your child, or each child if you have more than one. This curiosity opens you to the moment and allows you to discover all the things that make him unique. Your interest, in turn, invites your child to show you how unique and beautiful she is because a child who has not been judged and beaten down knows he is special and wants to share himself with you. Your delight feeds her joy, like an ever nourishing figure eight of love between you.

Advertisements

BEING PRESENT — PART ONE

In every spiritual tradition in the world you will find the key to true enlightenment is to “be here now.” That means to be in the present, in the moment, with no thought in your mind about the past, the future, or what is happening anywhere but where you are. A simple teaching, but increasingly difficult to achieve in a world in which we are constantly bombarded by distracting stimuli. But it is only difficult because of the way we are raised and conditioned, not because it goes against the natural flow of who we are.

In older times this teaching was easier to follow because the center of life was relatively small. It must have been more natural to keep your mind in the present if you lived in a village or on a farm with no transportation except a horse or mule and no television or radio or other technology, and in order to survive, you had to move from task to task each day. I noticed this in my travels to India years ago. In the country villages, not much that went on beyond the compound made any difference. Each day was concerned with what was going on at the moment, and plans for the future were limited. Ruminating on the old days was the pastime of the elders, whose memories served as teachings for you. I believe this is one reason I found it so much easier to meditate in these places — the present moment permeated all existence, and the pressure to be somewhere else was not there.

The Girl with the Pot on Her Head

There is a fable I often heard in India, in different versions but with the same ending. A simple, orphaned village girl lived in a hut, and her only possessions were a cow and a jug for its milk. Each day she took the jug full of milk to the market to sell.

One day this girl became possessed by ideas about the future, as she set the jug of milk on her head and began to walk to the village market. In her mind, she began to plan. If she could save half the money from this jug of milk, and so on each day for so many days, she would have enough money to buy a goat. Then if she could make cheese from the goat milk, and take it with her to the market and sell both milk and cheese, she could double her money. She went on like this until, in her mind, she could attract the most handsome and prosperous young man in the village to be her husband, and life for her would be so much easier! At that moment, she felt so much happiness she jumped for joy. The pot on her head clattered to the ground, spilling all the milk and breaking into a thousand pieces.

Being present doesn’t require that we have no dreams or plans for the future, but it does require that we set aside times to make those plans in a way that involves concrete steps with reachable goals, and that we then return our minds to the present moment to experience it. We may also need to set aside appropriate time for reviewing the past in order to learn from it which remembering to return our minds to the present again, for the present is all we really have. The past and the future don’t exist, so if we miss the present moment we are living in a world that doesn’t exist and therefore does not matter and doesn’t nourish our souls.

Process and Goal

Being present allows you to give yourself more to the process rather than the goal. Modern people are very goal oriented; we want machines to do all the processing for us so we can have the result to enjoy right now. You don’t need to build your own car or bake your own bread to be in the present when you enjoy having them. But because much of what we really want is not what we think we want, it is hard for us to enjoy the process of each day’s passing.

We think we want a new car. It will bring us happiness, a feeling of security and accomplishment, and make our lives easier. When we get a new car, our minds are on something else we want for the exact same reasons, and we begin to complain about the car payments and dream about a day when we no longer have to worry about them. But by the time that day comes, we will either have new car payments or something else to worry about. Most of what we worry about never happens, and when we achieve our goals the feeling of satisfaction and joy we get only lasts a limited time, then we must have new goals and achievements to look forward to.

I learned this fairly quickly as a writer and an artist. The published book and the “Best of Show” awards have their moments of true joy, completion, and satisfaction about a job well done. But by the time those moments arrive, my mind was usually well into another project. I realized early on that the doing of the thing is more important than the result.

The process itself is a kind of meditation for me. I learn about timeless things from the concrete work that comes from my mind, heart, and hands; patience, perseverance, faith, flow, and presence. Misery only comes when my limited mind takes the driver’s seat. I begin to worry about selling or showing my work, or I compare my work with that of others, or obsess about how others will judge it. I have many examples of art pieces that I sent to juried or judged shows, and that came back with comments from the judges. On one piece, there are comments about certain aspects “needing work,” while another judge at another show will praise those same things a “excellent, very fine work.” Ideally, I listen to both, see whether the criticism has any learning value, and then put them both away in favor of what I think and feel about the work.

A recent example is when I was giving the keynote speech at an international conference of the International Association of Infant Massage in Spain. I had prepared a speech that I was very excited about. Knowing the importance of visualizing what I want, I did so. When it was time to give my speech, the outer atmosphere was completely different than what I had imagined — the room was a kind of party atmosphere, with no chairs for participants! Speaking to a big group of people standing threw me off completely. I began to speak, and searching the room for friendly faces, I managed to focus on a few people who were solemn and didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves at all. As the moments went by, I became stressed, my mouth dried up and I had to drink water every few minutes. I left out a large part of the speech in a desperate attempt to end it. I managed to get across most of what I wanted to — but the moment was almost ruined for me. I’m pretty sure the audience didn’t think it was a disaster, as I did.

I berated myself, what had I done wrong? Isn’t it good to visualize a great outcome? I finally realized it wasn’t completely my fault; the environment wasn’t made suitable, and thus was pretty difficult to overcome; I told the organizers what had happened and requested a different kind of venue if I were to speak again. When I got home, I analyzed it from the point of view of what I had done. It was a lesson for me — to be flexible and try not to be attached to the external. Being able to be present with what is there and still do my best would be my visualization in the future.

The Terrible What-If

Many baby boomers were brought up on the idea of “what-if” because our parents were so profoundly affected by World War II and the Great Depression. The question of “what-if” is based on an assumption of permanence, that if we just get it right, we can achieve a state of permanent peace, harmony, prosperity, security, and happiness, and we can prevent bad things from ever happening. This is a false premise because impermanence is the stuff from which the entire universe is made. Nothing is permanent. So if we wish, we can “what-if” ourselves into the grave.

The fact is, most of our fears never occur. To dwell on and fear what could happen in the future robs us of the enjoyment of the moment. If you string all the present moments together, you have a beautiful, impermanent, constantly moving, growing, changing life. You get to experience it when it’s happening, not as a memory or a false projection of your mind. This doesn’t get us off the hook in terms of taking responsibility to appropriately plan our lives, secure our futures, and tend to our family’s well being. Taking time to do that is part of being an adult, and not taking that responsibility is to insist on never growing up, which is a type of craving.

Craving occurs when the mind becomes the master rather than the servant, and, as master, it blows its power all out of proportion and would have us believe we control or can strive to control just about everything. This causes us to worry, desire, regret, obsess and seek endlessly for pleasure and relief.

With our plans in place and a flexible attitude, we can then enjoy the present moment with all our hearts. With our children it is particularly important to understand craving, because falling into its traps robs us of moments we can never retrieve.

With our Children

When you massage your baby or change his diaper, use the opportunity to be fully present. Empty your mind, just for this short time, of anything else and be in the same space as your baby. Experience life through her eyes. Breathe deeply, relax, and allow your love to communicate through your hands, your eyes, your expression, and how you speak to and handle your baby. Using the “love bucket” concept, this is the time to fill your baby’s chalice to the brim. The stress of daily life, both good and not so good, can drain that chalice. It is your job to continually fill it again to overflowing. In this way you return the favor; your baby teaches you how to be present and you can give him the gift of inner security for life.

Our babies have a rich gift they give to us freely and openly, 24 hours a day. If you have ever longed for or fantasized about going to a far off land to sit at the feet of a spiritual master and receive the teachings that will free your soul to enlightenment, guess what? Your master has decided to come to you, through your own body— indeed, made out of your own body— and she has nothing better to do than offer you her wisdom at any moment you choose to receive it. Remember this when, just as you fill with pride at how cute and good your child is, he bites your new friend’s leg or kicks over her best vase. Remember this as you watch your baby nurse or sleep, with the total surrender of one secure in the now and empty of mental cravings.

THE EFFECTS OF BABY MASSAGE ON ATTACHMENT BETWEEN MOTHER AND THEIR INFANTS

A study was made from June 2008 to February 2010 in Turkey. There were 57 in the experimental group, 60 in the control group. Between the dates of the study, all healthy mothers giving birth for the first time and their healthy babies were included. Data were collected about their demographic characteristics and by using the Maternal Attachment Inventory (MAI). All mothers were assessed on the first and the last days of the 38-day study period. In the experimental group, the babies received a 15-minute massage therapy session everyday during the 38 days.

The MAI was developed to measure maternal affectionate attachment. This is the unique, affectionate relationship that develops between a woman and her infant. It persists over time, and is a key element of maternal adaptation (Muller, 1994). The MAI consists of 26 items representing maternal activities and feelings that indicate affection. Before development of the MAI, maternal affectionate attachment had been most frequently determined by observing the rate or pattern of maternal attachment behaviors (Muller). Observational measures, however, are time-consuming and generally difficult to apply in a clinical setting. In addition, there is little agreement that one behavior or group of behaviors constitutes evidence of maternal attachment. By direct measurement of mothers’ feelings through the MAI, these validity concerns in relation to interpreting mothers’ behaviors can be avoided. Although mothers’ feelings about their infants are not sufficient to define the complexity of mother–infant attachment, they are thought to be indicators of the probable presence of attachment.

For the study, massage techniques were a combination of effleurage and petrissage to the baby’s face, neck, shoulders, arms, chest, back, waist and legs. The effleurage consisted of smooth, long, rhythmic strokes up either side of the spine and out across the shoulders, with both hands working simultaneously, while the petrissage consisted of gentle kneading. Additionally, slow steady pressure was applied intermittently to the shoulders, neck, face, and lower back. All massages were demonstrated by the same trained person and mothers were advised to choose a moment when both she and her child are relaxed and calm; a half hour after the baby had eaten was recommended.

Baby massage education was given twice at the first home visit and the second home visit (15th day). The mother’s application of baby massage was observed at the second home visit and evaluated for correct technique. These babies received 15-minute massage sessions every day of the week for 38 days; the number of massage sessions are a minimum of 30 and a maximum of 38. The researcher followed a detailed visit-by-visit protocol to help women improve their health-related behaviors, the care of their baby, and observed the status of baby massage application. On the last day of the study, the MAI was filled out on the last home visit in the experimental group.

There was no significant difference found in the pretest mean value baseline of the MAI score in both groups. The posttest mean values of the MAI of the experimental group mothers were significantly higher than those of control group. There was a significant difference between groups. The results of the study have shown that baby massage is effective in increasing the mother–infant attachment.

When maternal attachment levels of experimental group mothers applying massage to their babies and control group mothers not applying massage to their babies were compared in posttest measurements, it was found that the maternal attachment of the group applying massage significantly higher. Maternal attachment of the control group also increased in the posttest measurement; however, this increase was very low when compared to the experimental group.

The relative youth of the mothers and the fact that they were undertaking the primary care of their first baby increased compliance with the study and attachment. This may explain the minor increase in maternal attachment behavior of mothers in the control group.

In Turkish culture, children are very precious and important. Women want to have a child as soon as they get married. If a woman does not have a baby, she is exposed to negative reactions from her husband and his family. Being a mother is very important, in particular, to have a male baby is extremely important. For this reason, it is expected that maternal attachment level naturally increases. The aim of this study was to determine how baby massage affects this increase. This result confirms the hypothesis of the study—baby massage strengthens the attachment between mother and baby. Most of the mothers in both groups were 26–35 years of age group, who are graduates of secondary school and not working. Traditionally, these women’s common goal is to get married and give birth to a child in the eastern part of Turkey. However, educated women have more roles than being a partner or a mother.

The first year of life is extremely important in terms of the baby’s psychological development. It is during this period, that the sense of basic trust is formed. The relationship between the mother and the baby has been the subject of several research studies (Muller-Nix et al., 2004; Zeanah, Borris, & Larrieu, 1997). Attachment is an emotional and expected condition between the mother and the baby that begins in the first days of life.

Attachment theory is an assessment of the response to the baby’s physical and emotional needs (Mills-Koonce et al., 2007). According to Mercer, maternal attachment begins during pregnancy and continues with delivery. Maternal attachment is a unique, tender loving relationship that develops between the mother and the baby; its consistency leads to the development of feelings of trust in the infant as a result. Postpartum attachment and care between the mother and the baby is important for the baby to lead a physical, spiritual, and emotional health in life.

Mothers have an important role as the primary caregiver. If the relationship between mother and baby is inadequate, the baby may have severe developmental and psychological problems (Brandt, Andrews, & Kvale, 1998). Attachment is therefore accepted as one of the fundamental processes in order to improve psychological development and to establish the baby’s relationship to the outside world (Wilson et al., 2000).

A healthy attachment is also of great importance in the determination of the baby’s character and habits. The first touches greatly strengthen attachment behavior (Kavlak & Şirin, 2007). The sense of touch is very important in the newborn period and infanthood for perceiving the environment. Proper stimulation of the baby’s sense of touch affects psychosocial development positively.

Massage is one of the easiest and most natural ways of establishing a sense of touch and eye contact which improves attachment between mothers and babies. The early contact between mother and her newborn gives confidence to the mother’s breastfeeding, in addition to developing the mother’s attachment behavior (Matthiesen, Ransjö-Arvidson, Nissen, & Uvnäs-Moberg, 2001).

Ferber et al. (2005) determined that mothers who applied massage to their premature infants achieved an easier interaction. Lee (2006) also reported that baby massage encourages the interaction between mother and baby. Moore and Anderson (2007) found that skin-to-skin contact between mother and infant affects the infants’ health, decreases their crying, and increases the mother–infant interaction. Onozawa, Glover, Adams, Modi, and Kumar (2001) reported that the mother–infant interaction was increased among those mothers who had performed massage on their infants.

In 2009, Kavlak and Şirin studied healthy babies and mothers to evaluate and determine validity and reliability of the Maternal Attachment Inventory (MAI) scale for the Turkish population. Moreover, Bal Yilmaz and Conk (2009) studied mothers who had 15-day-old healthy babies to investigate the effect of four months of massage application on sleep duration, growth and development of babies, and mothers’ anxiety levels. Bal Yılmaz and Conk reported that infants’ sleep duration was increased when their mothers spent more time with them and massaged them. In a study conducted with mothers who recently delivered healthy babies, İnal and Yıldız (2005) investigated the effect of massage applied for 6 months on the babies’ growth and mental-motor development. Inal and Yildiz found statistically significant results that infants who received massage gained more weight and increased their mental–motor development. In a study conducted with premature and low birthweight babies and their mothers, Sarıkaya Karabudak and Öztürk (2008) reported that regularly applied baby massage positively affected weight gain and the mental–motor development of babies.

Massage is one of the oldest forms of treatment in the world, having first been described in China during the second century B.C. and soon after in India and Egypt. Maternal attachment depends on two important factors; (a) interaction between mother and her baby and (b) sensual contact between them. Baby massage is the simplest and easiest way of communication, that makes contact between mother and her baby. In eastern Anatolia, Turkey, the families have many children. The mothers who live in this region generally avoid touching their babies. The main reasons are cold weather conditions, socioeconomic conditions, and swaddling. In addition, there is no work regarding the effects of massage on mother-infant attachment in Turkey up to now. For this reason, this work has been carried out to determine the applicability of baby massage in Turkish families and its effects on the level of maternal attachment. It is of note that the Turkish edition of Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents (Vimala McClure, Bantam/Random House, NY) has been in production in 2018.

Infant massage for primary caregivers and high-risk babies is now used more often. It is reported that massage regulates the baby’s sleep, respiration and urinary requirements; decreases colic and stress; and affects mother–infant interaction in a positive way. Studies have determined that mothers giving massage to premature babies have more interaction with their babies. In their studies, Moore and Anderson (2007) found that skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the baby in the early period affected the health status of baby, decreased crying and increased mother–infant interaction.

Infant massage is a simple, cheap and effective technique supporting infant development. It is accepted as a new practice that is gradually gaining popularity by being applicable to both the babies and their mothers; it can be performed independently. However, many mothers do not know that they can communicate with their babies by touch as they think that they may easily hurt their babies. Those mothers should be instructed by using various interactive methods such as tactile, visual, auditory contact. For those families who cannot have direct early contact with their baby for various reasons, nurses should advise them that this situation would not directly cause a problem. Their concerns should be alleviated because although early contact is a factor that strengthens attachment development, it is not an essential prerequisite.

The effects of massage in terms of mother–infant attachment and other general benefits for baby health should be considered; all medical personnel, especially nurses, should encourage mothers to apply massage to their babies. Encouraging the use of massage provides an important contribution to healthy babies. In the literature, the effects of baby massage on the maternal attachment levels in mothers with healthy infants and weight gain of preterm infants have been investigated. Mothers with babies who were born prematurely or had some defects or illness, have more risk of attachment deprivation. Accordingly, it might be suggested that nurses include baby massage among the routines of mother and baby care in both healthy and ill babies, and that facilitating baby massage and mother–infant attachment should be included in the internal training given to neonatal nurses as well as providing counseling to the mothers in this regard.

RESEARCH FINDS THAT MATERNAL SEPARATION STRESSES THE INFANT

A woman goes into labor, and gives birth. The newborn is swaddled and placed to sleep in a nearby bassinet, or taken to the hospital nursery so that the mother can rest. Despite this common practice, research published in Biological Psychiatry provides new evidence that separating infants from their mothers is stressful to the baby.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against co-sleeping with an infant, due to its association with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. This notion has been debunked in the last couple of years, by the physician who first made a case for it. Safe co-sleeping has been shown to positively impact breastfeeding, infant and parent sleep.

Dr. James J. McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame says, “It is a curious fact that in Western societies the practice of mothers, fathers, and infants sleeping together came to be thought of as strange, unhealthy, and dangerous. Western parents are taught that cosleeping will make the infant too dependent on them or risk accidental suffocation. Such views are not supported by human experience worldwide.” Research has suggested that many mothers who have been diagnosed as having postpartum depression are actually suffering extreme fatigue from waking to go to their babies at night.

Having done research on sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), Professor McKenna believes that low-level arousals, which did not actually awaken either parent, give the baby practice in arousing himself. This can lessen a baby’s susceptibility to some forms of SIDS, which are thought to be caused by failure to aruonse from deep sleep to reestablish breathing patterns.

Professor McKenna says that millions of years of cosleeping and night feeing have not developmentally prepared young babies to “sleep through” in a solitary crib, involving, as this does, long periods of deep sleep. Videos taken show that cosleeping mothers, even in deep sleep, seem aware of their baby’s position and move when necessary to avoid overlying. Some of the lowest rates of SIDS are found among cultures where cosleeping is predominant.
It is standard practice in a hospital setting, particularly among Western cultures, to separate mothers and their newborns. Separation is also common for babies under medical distress or premature babies, who may be placed in an incubator.

Humans are the only mammals who practice such mother-infant separation, but its physiological impact on the baby has been unknown until now. Researchers measured heart rate variability in 2-day-old sleeping babies for one hour each during skin-to-skin contact with mother and alone in a cot next to mother’s bed. Neonatal autonomic activity was 176% higher and quiet sleep 86% lower during maternal separation compared to skin-to-skin contact.

Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, commented on the study’s findings. “This paper highlights the profound impact of maternal separation on the infant. We knew that this was stressful, but the current study suggests that this is a major physiologic stressor for the infant.”

“Skin-to-skin contact with mother removes this contradiction, and our results are a first step towards understanding exactly why babies do better when nursed in skin-to-skin contact with mother, compared to incubator care,” explained study author Dr. Barak Morgan.

The research addresses a strange contradiction: In animal research, separation from mother is a common way of creating stress in order to study its damaging effects on the developing newborn brain. At the same time, separation of human newborns is common practice, particularly when specialized medical care is required (e.g. incubator care).

More research is necessary to further understand the newborn response to separation, including whether it is sustained response and whether it has any long-term neuro-developmental effects.

Skin-to-skin contact has known benefits, and certainly, most would agree that unnecessarily stressing a newborn is unacceptable. As further evidence emerges, the challenge to doctors will be to incorporate skin-to-skin contact into routine treatment while still safely providing the other elements of newborn medical care.

MOTHERS MAY EMIT ODORS THAT TEACH THEIR INFANTS WHAT TO BE AFRAID OF

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that mothers may emit odors that teach their infants what to be afraid of, even if the fearful experience is one that the baby has never been exposed to.
The research may help explain a phenomenon that has perplexed scientists for generations: Children may have intense trauma reactions to events that they never experienced, but that their parents did. For example, children of Holocaust survivors often exhibited nightmares, flashbacks and avoidance behaviors associated with their parents’ experiences, even if those happened before the children were born.
Researcher Dr. Jacek Debiec, who has studied grown children of Holocaust survivors, says these reactions seem too deeply rooted to be the result of simply having heard stories about the frightening events.
“Our research demonstrates that infants can learn from maternal expression of fear, very early in life,” Dr. Debiec said. “Before they can even make their own experiences, they basically acquire their mothers’ experiences. Most importantly, these maternally transmitted memories are long-lived, whereas other types of infant learning, if not repeated, rapidly perish.”

In the study, non-pregnant rats were exposed to an unpleasant electric shock whenever they smelled peppermint. After the rats became pregnant and gave birth, the researchers again exposed the mother rats to peppermint smell, this time in the presence of their newborns. The mothers exhibited physical symptoms of fear.
When the newborns grew to maturity, they were again exposed to the odor of peppermint. Though these rats had never been shocked when exposed to this smell, their levels of stress hormones rose in its presence, indicating fear. This reaction is particularly notable given that their prior exposure to peppermint had been when they were too young to see or otherwise observe their environments.

“During the early days of an infant rat’s life,” Dr. Debiec said, “they are immune to learning information about environmental dangers. But if their mother is the source of threat information, we have shown they can learn from her and produce lasting memories.”
Although the study was conducted in rats, the researchers believe that a similar mechanism may explain how parents (including fathers, if they are regular caretakers) transmit some fear to their children, such as fear of the dentist or extreme shyness. Other studies have already shown that babies can be calmed by the scent of their mother; perhaps they can absorb her fear, as well.

THE NEUROSCIENCE OF CALMING A BABY

Research published in the journal Current Biology shows that infants experience an automatic calming reaction when they are being carried, whether they are mouse pups or human babies.

Kumi Kuroda of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Saitama, Japan says, “From humans to mice, mammalian infants become calm and relaxed when they are carried by their mother.”

Being held in a mother’s arms is the safest place for a baby to be, and the mother can have peace of mind knowing her baby is happy, content, and relaxed. The fact that babies are neurobiologically wired to stop crying when carried is a part of our evolutionary biology that helps our species survive.

This study is the first to show that the infant calming response to carrying is a coordinated set of central, motor, and cardiac regulations that is an evolutionarily preserved aspect of mother-infant interactions. It also helps to have a scientific explanation for the frustration many new parents struggle with — a calm and relaxed infant will often begin crying immediately when he or she is put down.

With my babies, swaddling them created a compact posture and a sense of security that triggered a relaxation response when they were put back down. After massaging them every day for a few weeks, using “Touch Relaxation” (a conditioned response), massage time was another way they relaxed, and their sleep was sooner and more deeply than before.

Kuroda and colleagues determined that the calming response is mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system and a region of the brain called the cerebellum (Latin: little brain). The researchers found that the calming response was dependent on tactile inputs and proprioception. Proprioception is the ability to sense and understand body movements and keep track of your body’s position in space. They also found that the parasympathetic nervous system helped lower heart rate as part of mediating the coordinated response to being carried.

Both human and mouse babies usually calm down and stop moving after they are carried, and mouse pups stop emitting ultrasonic cries.

The idea that the familiar calming dynamic was also playing out in mice occurred to Kuroda one day when she was cleaning the cages of her mouse colony in the laboratory. She says, “When I picked the pups up at the back skin very softly and swiftly as mouse mothers did, they immediately stopped moving and became compact. They appeared relaxed, but not totally floppy, and kept the limbs flexed. This calming response in mice appeared similar to me to soothing by carrying in human babies.”

The cerebellum is always on guard to protect your body from danger and prepare you for ‘fight-or-flight’ by keeping track of everything going on in your environment. Scientists have known for years that the cerebellum is directly linked to a feedback loop with the vagus nerve which keeps heart rate slow and gives you grace under pressure. As adults, we can calm ourselves by practicing mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation which puts the cerebellum at peace and creates a parasympathetic response of well being. This appears to be the same response that occurs in infants when they are being carried.

The only time during the day that the cerebellum is allowed to let down its guard and go offline is during REM sleep when your body is paralyzed to prevent you from acting out your dreams. It makes sense that being picked up and carried would send automatic signals that allow the cerebellum to relax and create healthy vagal tone which would lower heart rates in infants.

The researchers believe that these findings could have broad implications for parenting and contribute to preventing child abuse. “This infant response reduces the maternal burden of carrying and is beneficial for both the mother and the infant,” explains Kuroda. She goes on to say, “Such proper understanding of infants would reduce the frustration of parents and be beneficial because unsoothable crying is a major risk factor for child abuse.”

“A scientific understanding of this infant response will save parents from misreading the restart of crying as the intention of the infant to control the parents, as some parenting theories—such as the ‘cry it out’ type of strategy—suggest,” Kuroda says. “Rather, this phenomenon should be interpreted as a natural consequence of the infant sensorimotor systems.” If parents understand that properly, perhaps they will be less frustrated by the crying, Kuroda says. And that puts those children at lower risk of abuse.

 

THE MAGIC THAT FUELS UNIVERSAL LOVE AND CREATIVITY AND IS IMPORTANT TO CHILDBIRTH AND PARENTING

Pleasure is fantastic, powerful medicine. Our bodies are designed to renew when we feel joy, our bodies blossom and mend through the delights of earthly pleasures. In humans, nitric oxide (not nitrous oxide in the dentist’s office!) is a signaling molecule in our brains, blood, lungs, and gastrointestinal systems, dilating blood vessels, raising blood supply and helping to protect our tissues. It is also a neurotransmitter that is active on smooth muscle, and it is abundant in both the stomach and erectile tissues in the penis and clitoris. The experience of pleasure such as orgasm is due to a release of nitric oxide, as is laughter, deep meditation, exercise such as yoga, aerobic activities and pleasure in consuming delicious, healthy foods.

The feeling of the release of nitric oxide only lasts a few seconds, but it is sensational, setting off many feel-good chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. You feel an incredible shift in energy and relaxation. It is the physical manifestation of vital power, called prana or chi. It is even what lights up a firefly! Research at Stanford University showed that nitric oxide is released when the egg and sperm meet, in a peak moment of universal creativity. There is an MRI video showing the moment a human sperm meets an egg, and a beautiful flash of light signals the release of nitric oxide.

Some women experience this moment, knowing they are pregnant at the time it happens. I experienced it with my second pregnancy. It is a bright, exquisite memory. It was late at night, and as my husband slept, I rose and walked to our second-floor window, gazing at the full moon. I smiled, touched my belly, and said, “Hello!” Researcher Herbert Benson, M.D., author of The Relaxation Response, said that nitric oxide is an essential element in “peak experiences of ecstatic flow. . . it is a biological mechanism that encompasses the dynamics of human belief, the creative process, the essence of physical and mental performance, and even spiritual experience.” The Universe uses this natural magic to enchant our earthly experiences and bring us toward endless happiness, or enlightenment.

Neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, the “bonding hormone” are produced and used in the brain and cells throughout your body. Oxytocin is released during orgasm, breastfeeding, and during loving contact with your baby and other loved ones. You experience a warm, happy, relaxed feeling when mood-enhancing neurotransmitters are released from the brain and gut as a result of positive events, thoughts, and emotions. You can increase the visceral joy in which your new baby floats by consciously being positive and having pleasurable experiences.

Fear and anger deplete nitric oxide, so it is helpful to cultivate your ability to feel joy and compassion and to release resentment. Actually, righteous indignation, such as when you stand up for the vulnerable or against exploitation, can release nitric oxide. Followed by actions that help you feel empowered and courageous, this kind of anger is right for you; it is only when passion makes you feel helpless, disempowered, and sad that it is not at all good for you.

There is another neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in how happy and calm we feel. It’s called anandamide. The name is taken from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “bliss.” Anandamide was discovered back in the 1990s by scientists trying to understand the effects of cannabis on the human body. They discovered that anandamide was part of the endocannabinoid system — a network of receptors and cannabis-like chemicals (endocannabinoids) found throughout our bodies. The endocannabinoid system regulates almost every biological activity including sleep, appetite, our immune system, pain, mood, reproduction, and memory.

Anandamide both reduces inflammation and is thought to have an anti-anxiety effect. The more anandamide we have, the happier we are. This direct link between anandamide and mental well-being got a further boost when scientists discovered that regions scoring highest for happiness, such as West Africa, South America, and Scandinavia, share a special genetic mutation. This means anandamide lasts longer in their systems before being used up. So in effect, thanks to their genetic abnormality, these countries are more resilient to stress and are generally happier.

High levels of anandamide in our bodies are linked to feelings of happiness and contentment, and a lack of them to depression and anxiety. Exercise is a great way to increase anandamide levels. Not only do we release endorphins, but scientists now know the infamous “runner’s high” is also attributed to a peak in anandamide and a release of nitric oxide. It has been shown that aerobic exercise causes an increase in anandamide levels, which is associated with mood-enhancing effects. Because anandamide is a euphoriant and aerobic exercise is associated with euphoric effects, it has been proposed that anandamide mediates the short-term mood-lifting effects of exercise by exercise-induced increases in its synthesis. It has been shown that an individual’s mood improves for the remainder of the day following physical exercise and that one’s mood is positively correlated with overall daily physical activity level.