WHY BABIES CRY AND HOW TO LISTEN

Babies cry for many reasons, and it is important to learn your baby’s personality and his or her different cries so that you can respond to them. There are cries that mean, “I need affection,” “I’m hungry,” “I’m in pain,” “I’m uncomfortable,” “I’m tired and cranky and don’t know how to get to sleep,” and still others that are simply “venting” all the stress the baby takes in, adjusting to the world of non-stop stimulation.

Each cry can and should be responded to appropriately. Each baby will differ in his or her need for physical affection. Some need to be held nearly all the time for the first months before crawling. Others are curious and independent almost immediately. To force an infant one way or another is to disempower her and disrupt the flow of chi she needs to become strong, healthy, and independent.

Some people think that babies who cry always need to be calmed and shushed, or, conversely, should be left alone to cry it out. Neither is true. Infants should never be left alone to cry, unheeded, but sometimes they need to cry in the safety of a parent’s arms, without being shushed, to discharge stress. After a certain period, when they sense they are being attended to, they calm and usually sleep much more deeply.

QUOTE 13_n

To be responsive to your baby, read up on the art of “Active Listening.” When you talk to your baby with a listening heart, he or she knows it and you can see the quality of their cries change. Locking with you eye-to-eye, you will see your baby moving her mouth as if trying to speak.

This is one of the most important reasons for pregnant women to massage their bellies, and to massage their infants regularly after birth. You learn, as nothing else can teach you, what your baby needs, and his cries and fusses don’t distress you so much as inform you of what you need to do to respond appropriately and thus allow your baby to grow and blossom like a well-tended flower in your garden.

My book, Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents, was the first, comprehensive book to introduce infant massage to the West. The nonprofit organization I founded in 1979, the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM), has instructors in 71 countries. You can find an instructor and take a class — a great way to learn, have your questions answered, and be with other parents who value the crucial “fourth-trimester” bonding process.

CREATING A SAFE AND RESPONSIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR YOUR BABY

If you respond in the right way, you needn’t worry about when to wean, when to potty train, and all the other advice people want to give you. You will become an expert on your child, and you will naturally know and understand what she is ready to do and when. This gives you the confidence to listen to the experts and then go by your inner sense of what is right.

If you want to create a transition environment for your baby that imitates aspects of the in utero experience, you may want to get a baby pack that keeps your infant close to your body so he can hear your heartbeat and feel your warmth, your breathing, your rhythms.

BABY WEARING

Some pastel organza material draped over the cradle, can soften the light. Putting a warm cap on her head when going outdoors will prevent heat from escaping from her head. A baby monitor can help alert you to your baby’s sounds when she is sleeping and you are in another room. Other aids include a heartbeat simulator for the baby’s cradle and setting the volume low on your stereo or television.

SLEEPING TOGETHER

Some parents want to try family co-sleeping, which is a much-debated practice, particularly in the U.S. We practiced family co-sleeping until my youngest was around five years old. After doing a lot of research on this subject, I have concluded that the tales of accidental suffocation by “overlying” are real, but seem to be related to parents who co-sleep for convenience, who don’t take the precaution of removing any fluffy items from the bed, and/or they smoke.

When and if obstetricians and pediatricians give any information to new parents, co-sleeping is roundly discouraged. Unless expecting and new parents take the time to research the subject and 1) prepare, 2) find out what is the very best way for families to sleep together with a newborn, parents will be frightened and reject the notion, not realizing that sleeping together can reduce parental sleep deprivation and infant fussiness, irritability, and crying.

Dr. James McKenna, Director of the Center for Behavioral Studies of Mother-Infant Sleep at Notre Dame University 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 ‘co-sleeping’ will make the infant to dependent on them, or risk accidental suffocation. Such views are not supported by human experience worldwide.”

FATHER SLEEPING

After having observed how families in India sleep together in a very small space, I wanted to do that with my family. This arrangement, in my experience, allowed me to breastfeed my babies without having to fully awaken. The warmth of my body, my heartbeat, and odor, was just right for them. We could respond quickly to cries, chokes, or other needs. The babies could nurse frequently, giving them more antibodies to fight disease and helping them transition from womb to room.

Dr. McKenna goes on to say, “Human infants need constant attention and contact with other human beings because they are unable to look after themselves. Unlike other mammals, they cannot keep themselves warm, move about, or feed themselves until relatively late in life. It is their extreme neurological immaturity at birth and slow maturation that makes the mother-infant relationship so important.”

Dr. John Medina, in his book Brain Rules for Baby, says, “During the attachment process, a baby’s brain intensely monitors the caregiving it receives. It is essentially asking such things as “Am I being touched? Am I being fed? Am I safe?” If the baby’s requirements are being fulfilled, the brain develops one way; if not, genetic instructions trigger it to develop in another way. It may be a bit disconcerting to realize, but infants have their parents’ behaviors in their sights virtually from the moment they come into this world. It is in their evolutionary best interests to do so, of course, which is another way of saying that they can’t help it. Babies have nowhere else to turn.”

One of my fondest memories is when we were sleeping with our little ones in a family bed. Once, in the middle of the night, my 18-month-old daughter awakened to nurse. She looked up into my face and patted my cheek. “I like you, Mommy, I like you,” she said, then closed her eyes to sleep with a sweet smile on her face. Every time I remember that moment my heart fills with love, joy, and gratitude that this child has come into my life. Now that she is an adult with her own little girl, I share these memories with her and it still has the effect of bringing us close.

Dr. McKenna agrees that these types of interaction are beneficial for both parents and infants. He says, “Studies have shown that separation of the mother and infant has adverse consequences. Anthropological considerations also suggest that separation between mother and infant should be minimal. Western societies must consider carefully how far and under what circumstances they want to push infants away from the loving and protective co-sleeping environment. Infants’ nutritional, emotional, and social needs, as well as maternal responses to them, have evolved in this environment for millennia.”

Often a baby’s crying can lead to and respond to marital discord. Dr. Medina goes on to say, “If the infant is marinated in safety— an emotionally stable home— the system will cook up beautifully. If not, normal stress-coping processes fail. The child is transformed into a state of high alert or a state of complete collapse. If the baby regularly experiences an angry, emotionally violent social environment, his vulnerable little stress responders turn hyper-reactive, a condition known as hyper-cortosolism. If the baby is exposed to severe neglect, like the Romanian orphans, the system becomes under-reactive, a condition known as hypo-cortisolism (hence, the blank stares). Life, to quote Bruce Springsteen, can seem like one long emergency.”

“Infants younger than 6 months old can usually detect that something is wrong. They can experience physiological changes— such as increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones— just like adults. Some researchers claim they can assess the amount of fighting in a marriage simply by taking a 24-hour urine sample of the baby. Babies and small children don’t always understand the content of a fight, but they are very aware that something is wrong.”

Some parents reject co-sleeping because they are concerned about its impact on their sex lives. We found other rooms in the house suited quite nicely. This may not be an option everyone chooses, but I encourage you to read up on it before deciding. It can contribute immensely to the well-being of your whole family. My favorite book on the subject is The Family Bed by Tine Thevenin. I very much recommend Dr. Medina’s book, Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five.

Purchase Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents:
http://www.amazon.com/Vimala-Schneider-McClure-Infant-Massage–Revised/dp/B00N4EKZJK/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1438282581&sr=1-2&keywords=infant+massage+a+handbook+for+loving+parents+by+vimala+schneider+mcclure

Find an infant massage instructor in the U.S.:
http://www.infantmassageusa.org

A HISTORY OF THE THEORY OF PRENATAL ATTACHMENT

Source: A HISTORY OF THE THEORY OF PRENATAL ATTACHMENT

John Bowlby’s theory of human attachment has become widely applied across disciplines and across the stages of human development. This discussion explores the evolution of an application of Bowlby’s theory to the experience of pregnancy, from both maternal and paternal perspectives. Although the theoretical construct of maternal-fetal attachment (MFA) requires continued theoretically-driven research, existing studies have associated this proposed construct with health behaviors, marital relationship, depressive symptoms, and the postpartum mother-infant relationship, pointing toward its relevance for academicians and clinicians devoted to the service of women and infants. This is a scientific article on Bowlby’s theory of attachment. Click on the title and it will take you there.

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.

FATHERS MASSAGE THEIR INFANTS

Fathers today take an increasingly active interest in the care and nurturing of their infants. However, men often feel dissatisfied with their ability to form this meaningful relationship. Fifty years ago, dads were relegated to the waiting room as the birth of their child took place behind closed doors. Fast-forward to the present, and those doors have been thrown wide open. In many instances, however, fathers are still part of the background, playing supportive but limited roles in the upbringing of their babies. Creating a bond should begin at birth, and research has shown that massage can serve as one of the building blocks for father-child bonds.

Research has found that instruction in infant massage for new dads may substantially influence the quality of their relationship. In one study fathers who massaged their babies were found to be more demonstrative, warmer, and accepting with their babies. In another instance, the fathers’ stress and their participation in an infant massage class were studied. It was found that the classes appreciably decreased the fathers’ stress levels; 92 percent had a positive experience. Another study showed that dads acknowledged that infant massage is an extraordinary tool for bonding and a way to become more comfortable with their infants. Still another piece of research on an infant massage class for fathers showed that they had expanded feelings of competency, acceptance of their roles, attachment, support from their partners, and reduced feelings of isolation and depression. According to an article in the Journal of Perinatal Education, “Supporting Fathering Through Infant Massage,” “… infant massage classes appear to offer fathers the positive experience of meeting other fathers and enjoying the opportunity to share their fathering experiences.”

In spite of an eagerness to participate in the baby’s care right from the beginning, a new father may encounter logistical problems. His time may be limited to evenings and weekends. He may be tired after work. He may have to face the added stress of coping with basic household maintenance and increased financial pressure. Dad may be hard-pressed to find time for himself and may seem withdrawn at times when mother and baby want and need just the opposite response. Of course, Mom is coping with the same problems, compounded by the sometimes overwhelming responsibility of caring for the baby around the clock. Add fatigue from the birth, breastfeeding issues, and raging hormones, and she can be exhausted and seriously in need of some “me time.”

Tiffany Field, from the Touch Research Institute in Miami, conducted a study in 2000 that found fathers who massaged their infants were “more expressive and showed more enjoyment and more warmth during floor-play interactions with their infants.” Moreover, fathers who participated in massage experienced increased self-esteem as a parent. Field noted that while the dads reaped benefits, their babies also realized some advantages—they tended to greet the fathers with more direct eye contact, and they smiled and vocalized more.

Another study reported in the Journal of Perinatal Education yielded similar results after observing two groups of twelve infant-father dyads for four weeks. Fathers in the experimental group massaged their babies, while dads in the control group did not. After massaging their infants, the fathers demonstrated a decrease in their stress scores. The authors conclude that infant massage is a “viable option for teaching fathers caregiving sensitivity.” Additionally, the results suggest that fathers who massage their infants experience “increased feelings of competence, role acceptance, spousal support, attachment and health by decreasing feelings of isolation and depression.”

In 2013, Mary Kay Keller, a Certified Infant Massage Instructor with the International Association of Infant Massage and an author, educator, researcher, and relationship coach, published her dissertation, in which she investigated the benefits fathers perceived as having received from massaging their infants. In addition to increased sensitivity and competency, the dads reported greater awareness that they were contributing to the child’s well-being. They were also motivated to spend time massaging their infant for two reasons: to give Mom a break and to help decrease stress in the baby. They also valued the opportunity to enjoy their baby and the ultimate bond they were creating. When a bond is forged early on, the chances for a strong, healthy relationship later in life are increased. As men become more actively involved in their children’s lives, it is worthwhile to explore the benefits massage can provide for both baby and dad. Keller has also given TED Talks about her findings, which you can view online.

In the first weeks after birth, a mother may be tired at the end of the day, and the baby may be fussy. Far from fitting some people’s notion of a stay-at-home mom luxuriating in the playful company of her baby and soap operas on television, the new mother has task after task to perform throughout the day, with no breaks and little contact with other adults. Many tasks are repetitive—cleaning, washing, diapering, feeding, comforting, grocery shopping—and there’s not the validation of a paycheck or a pat on the back from a supervisor. So when Dad gets home from his job, most moms aren’t necessarily cheery. One father, whose wife died, says he thought he had been very involved with his children before, but “I didn’t know how removed I was until I had to do all the thousands and thousands of things it takes to raise a child.”

Both parents can be hard pressed to find time for themselves and their relationship in addition to being good parents. A father may seem withdrawn at times when the mother and baby want and need just the opposite response. Moreover, the sometimes overwhelming responsibility of caring for the baby around the clock usually means, at least in the beginning, sleep deprivation for both parents.

These stressors present fathers with a high barrier in learning to nurture their children with soft and gentle care. So does their lack of learned “maternal” behavior: because most men have not grown to manhood learning the same behaviors toward babies that most women do, they may need special help and encouragement in the beginning. But fathers can walk, rock, sing to, dance with, read to, and massage their babies as well as feed, change, and bathe them. Many people don’t realize that fathers, too, have “parenting hormones” that are activated by close contact with their infants.

Psychologist Tom Daly comments, “In the process of giving the massage, fathers get to know their children in an extraordinary way. They connect with a deep part of the child and with a deep part of themselves—their nurturing side. Boys, by and large, are conditioned to suppress this part by the age of nine, but working with infants in this way opens up that old place. Dads find they are great nurturers when given a safe situation in which their manhood is not compromised.”

When their fathers give children extra attention, he notes, the children have more self-confidence and exhibit more creativity. “Men and manhood are changing,” he says. “Let us continue to get fathers more seriously involved in child rearing. Infant massage is a golden opportunity to assist in this transformation. The world is a better place every time an infant is massaged, and men need to be part of this.”

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 Importance of Skin Stimulation for Babies

Skin Stimulation Is Important for Mammals

Skin sensitivity is the earliest-developed and most fundamental functions of the body. Nurturing stimulation of the skin is, in fact, essential for adequate organic and psychological development, both for animals and for human beings. When asked what he thought of infant massage, anthropologist Ashley Montagu commented, “People don’t realize that communication for a baby, the first communications it receives and the first language of its development, is through the skin. If only most people had realized this they would have all along given babies the kind of skin stimulation they require.”

Behaviorally, mammals tend to fall into “cache” and “carry” types. The caching species leave their young for long periods while the mother gathers food. The infants must remain silent during those times so as not to attract predators, so they do not cry. For the same reason, they do not urinate unless stimulated by the mother. In addition, the young have internal mechanisms that control their body temperature. The mother’s milk is extremely high in protein and fat, and the infants suckle at a very fast rate.

In contrast, the carrying species maintain continuous contact with their infants and feed often. The babies suckle slowly, urinate often, cry when distressed or out of contact with the parent, and need the parent to keep them warm. The mother’s milk content is low in protein and fat, so infants need to suckle often. Humans are designed like the carrying species; in fact, human milk is identical in protein and fat content to that of the anthropoid apes, which are carrying species. Our infants need to be in close physical contact with us as much as possible.

No Colicky Kittens!

Physically, massage acts in much the same way in humans as licking does in animals. Animals lick their young and maintain close skin contact. Animal babies that are not licked, caressed, and permitted to cling in infancy grow up scrawny and more vulnerable to stress. They tend to fight with one another and to abuse and neglect their own young. Licking serves to stimulate the physiological systems and to bond the young with the mother. A mother cat spends more than 50 percent of her time licking her babies—and you will never see a colicky kitten! Without the kind of stimulation that helps their gastrointestinal system begin to function properly, newborn kittens die.

Scientists have seen behavior and responses in animals that parallel the growth and development of our own young, and these parallels are truly fascinating. In animals, the genitourinary tract will not function without the stimulation of frequent licking. Even the number of times a mother licks her young and the amount of time spent in each area are genetically determined.

Animals Benefit with Higher Immunity

When the infant mammal receives early skin stimulation, there is a highly beneficial influence on the immunological system. In one experiment, rats that were gently handled in infancy had a higher serum antibody standard in every case. More simply stated, these animals had a much greater ability to resist disease.

Equally important for our purposes was the behavior of these gentled rats. As Ashley Montagu wrote in Touching:
When handled, the gentled animals were relaxed and yielding. They were not easily frightened. . . . The researcher who had raised them . . . did so under conditions in which they were frequently handled, stroked, and had kindly sounds uttered to them, and they responded with fearlessness, friendliness, and a complete lack of neuromuscular tension or irritability. The exact opposite was true of the ungentled rats, who had received no attention whatever from human beings . . . these animals were frightened and bewildered, anxious and tense.

Among other important findings, rats that were gently handled for three weeks after weaning showed a faster weight gain than other rats under the same conditions, and those that were handled gently were physically much more resistant to the harmful effects of stress and deprivation.

In one study, rats with their thyroid and parathyroid glands (endocrine glands that regulate the immune system) removed responded remarkably to massage. In the experimental group, the rats were gently massaged and spoken to several times a day. They were relaxed, yielding, and not easily frightened, and their nervous systems remained stable. The control rats, which did not receive this type of care, were nervous, fearful, irritable, and enraged; they died within forty-eight hours. Another study with rats showed a higher immunity to disease, faster weight gain, and better neurological development among those that had been gently stroked in infancy.

Moving up the animal scale, dogs, horses, cows, dolphins, and many other animals have also shown remarkable differences when lovingly handled in infancy. The touch of the human hand improved the function of virtually all of the sustaining systems (respiratory, circulatory, digestive, eliminative, nervous, and endocrine) and increased “touchability,” gentleness, friendliness, and fearlessness. Writes Ashley Montagu: “The more we learn about the effects of cutaneous [skin] stimulation, the more pervasively significant for healthy development do we find it to be.”

Harry Harlow’s famous monkey experiments were the first to show that for infants, contact comfort is even more important than food. Infant monkeys were given the choice of a wire mother figure that provided food or a soft terry-cloth figure that did not provide food chose the terry-cloth mother figure. Human infants with failure-to-thrive syndrome exhibit the same type of behavior: though given all the food they need, they continue to deteriorate if they receive no intervention that involves emotional nurturing, contact comfort, and care.

In nearly every bird and mammal studied, close physical contact has been found to be essential both to the infant’s healthy survival and to the mother’s ability to nurture. In the previously mentioned studies with rats, if pregnant females were restrained from licking themselves (a form of self-massage), their mothering activities were substantially diminished. Additionally, when pregnant female animals were gently stroked every day, their offspring showed higher weight gain and reduced excitability, and the mothers showed greater interest in their offspring, with a more abundant and richer milk supply.

Skin Stimulation Is Important for Human Babies

Evidence supports the same conclusions for humans. Touching and handling her baby assists the new mother in milk production by helping stimulate secretion of prolactin, the “mothering hormone.” The process begun at the embryonic stage thus continues, allowing a natural unfolding of the baby’s potential within the safe and loving arms of his mother.
Nurturing stimulation of the skin—handling, cuddling, rocking, and massage—increases cardiac functions of the human infant. Massage stimulates the respiratory, circulatory, and gastrointestinal systems—benefits especially appreciated by the “colicky” baby and his parents.

A baby’s first experience with the surrounding environment occurs through touch, developing prenatally as early as sixteen weeks. Nature begins the massage before the baby is born. As opposed to the extremely short labors of most other animals, it has been suggested that a human mother’s extended labor helps make up for the lack of postpartum licking performed by other mammal mothers. For the human infant, the contractions of labor provide some of the same types of preparation for the functioning of his internal systems as early licking of the newborn does for other mammals.

Touch impacts short-term development during infancy and early childhood, and it has long-term effects as well. Through this contact, newborns are able to learn about their world, bond with their parents, and communicate their needs and wants. Eighty percent of a baby’s communication is expressed through body movement. When parents engage in appropriate touch, young children have an improved chance to successfully develop socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

Infants who experience more physical contact with parents demonstrate increased mental development in the first six months of life compared to young children who receive limited physical interaction. This improved cognitive development has been shown to last even after eight years, illustrating the importance of positive interactions. Infants who receive above-average levels of affection from their parents are shown to be less likely to be hostile, anxious, or emotionally distressed as adults.

Studies with premature babies using techniques similar to those taught in this book have demonstrated that daily massage is of tremendous benefit. Research projects at the University of Miami Medical Center, headed up by the Touch Research Institute’s founder, Dr. Tiffany Field, have shown remarkable results. In one study, twenty premature babies were massaged three times a day for fifteen minutes each time. They averaged 47 percent greater weight gain per day, were more active and alert, and showed more mature neurological development than infants who did not receive massage. In addition, their hospital stay averaged six days less. After many years of study and observation, the International Association of Infant Massage has established guidelines for using massage and holding techniques with premature babies.

Dallas psychologist Ruth Rice conducted a study with thirty premature babies after they had left the hospital. She divided them into two groups. The mothers in the control group were instructed in usual newborn care, while those in the experimental group were taught a daily massage and rocking regime. At four months of age, the babies who had been massaged were ahead in both neurological development and weight gain.

The natural sensory stimulation of massage speeds myelination of the nerves in the brain and the nervous system. The myelin sheath is a fatty covering around each nerve, like insulation around electrical wire. It protects the nervous system and speeds the transmission of impulses from the brain to the rest of the body. The process of coating the nerves is not complete at birth, but skin stimulation hastens the process, thus enhancing rapid neural-cell firing and improving brain-body communication.

In 1978 transcutaneous oxygen monitoring was developed, which enabled physicians to measure oxygen tension in the body through an electrode on the skin. It was discovered that hospitalized infants experienced tremendous upheavals in oxygen levels when subjected to stress. Touch Relaxation, holding techniques, and massage (as covered in my book Infant Massage: a Handbook for Loving Parents) have been found to mitigate these fluctuations, and these methods are being used in hospitals routinely now to help infants maintain a steady state through the stresses of diaper changes, heel sticks, and other intrusions.

New research demonstrates similar results every day, confirming what age-old tradition has told us: infants need loving touch. Lawrence Schachner, M.D., a professor in the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of Miami School of Medicine, advises that touch can benefit babies with skin disorders such as eczema. “It may furthermore improve parent-baby interaction,” he says. Dr. Tiffany Field concurs. She notes that loving touch triggers physiological changes that help infants grow and develop, stimulating nerves in the brain that facilitate food absorption and lowering stress hormone levels, resulting in improved immune system functioning. A report by the Families and Work Institute states that the vast majority of connections between brain cells are formed during the first three years of life. The report concludes that loving interaction such as massage can directly affect a child’s emotional development and ability to handle stress as an adult.

Loving skin contact and massage benefit mothers and fathers as well. In addition, research has shown that mothers whose pregnancies were filled with chronic stress often have babies who cry more and for longer periods than those whose pregnancies were peaceful and supported.
Men who make the effort to bond with their infants by giving the mother loving massages, talking and singing to the baby, feeling its movements in their partner’s belly, attending classes with their partner, and reading up on infant development and psychology tend to be more attentive and accomplished fathers.

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

Pleasure is a 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, exercises 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.

 

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 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.

 

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.