Vimala's Parenting Blog

THE IMPORTANCE OF A MOTHER’S SONG

July 5, 2017

A mother singing to her baby is such a normal event that most people give the subject little thought. But why do mothers do it, and what can we learn from it? Researcher Shannon de l’Etoile aims to find out.

mother-singing-to-baby

Singing to babies is something that happens across most cultures and has, quite possibly, been happening for thousands of years. But why?

This is a difficult question to answer, but Shannon de l’Etoile, professor of music therapy at the University of Miami Frost School of Music, FL, has set out to investigate.

Although the impact of music on the developing brain is not fully understood, according to de l’Etoile: “We know from previous research that infants have the innate ability to process music in a sophisticated manner.”

I’ve learned that a mother’s song to her infant has characteristics that set it apart from other types of singing. For instance, it has a high starting pitch and increased gliding between pitch levels. A mother’s song also has sustained vowel sounds and a variety in amplitude not heard in general singing.

Initially, de l’Etoile set out to compare mother’s singing to their babies with other types of interactions.

“I set out to identify infant behaviors in response to live infant-directed singing compared to other common maternal interactions such as reading books and playing with toys. One of the main goals of the research was to clarify the meaning of infant-directed singing as a human behavior and as a means to elicit unique behavioral responses from infants.”

Her study also aimed to investigate the role of infant-directed singing in developing the bond between a mother and her child.

To begin, the researcher filmed 70 infants’ responses to six different types of interaction:

  1. Mother singing an assigned song

  2. A stranger singing an assigned song

  3. Mother singing a song of her own choice

  4. Mother reading a book

  5. Mother playing with a toy

  6. Mother and infant listening to recorded music

This investigation found that singing was just as effective as reading a book or playing with a toy at maintaining infant attention. Additionally, singing held the baby’s attention much better than recorded music.

The next step was to study the mother’s role during the interaction; as de l’Etoile asks, “what did the infant engagement tell us about the mother’s role during the interaction?”

To this end, the researcher continued her observations, now including the makeup of the mother’s song—its ebbs and flows, its intonation and tonal content. Analyzing the song uncovered a sensitivity in the performance:

“Findings revealed that when infants were engaged during song, their mother’s instincts are also on high alert. Intuitively, when infant engagement declined, the mother adjusted her pitch, tempo, or key to stimulate and regulate infant response.”

Infant-directed song and postpartum depression

To further understand the mother’s ability to change the flow of her song sensitively, the researcher investigated differences when a mother with postpartum depression sang to her infant.

The results, published in the journal Arts in Psychotherapy, showed that this previously noted sensitivity was reduced. De l’Etoile concluded:

“The extraction and analysis of vocal data revealed that mothers with postpartum depression may lack sensitivity and emotional expression in their singing. Although the infants were still engaged during the interaction, the tempo did not change and was somewhat robotic.”

She believes that infant-directed singing for mothers with postpartum depression offers a unique two-way interaction. Both mother and child can benefit; the infant receives the stimulation they crave that helps to focus their attention, and the mothers are distracted from the negativity of the emotions associated with depression.

Overall, de l’Etoile sees infant-directed songs as an important interaction between a mother and her child.

“Mothers around the world sing to their infants in remarkably similar ways, and infants prefer these specialized songs,” she says. “The tempo and key certainly don’t need to be perfect or professional for mothers and infants to interact through song. In fact, infants may be drawn to the personalized tempo and pitch of their mother, which encourage them to direct their gaze toward [her] and ultimately communicate through this gaze.”

As research continues, the interactions between mother and child and the importance of each modality will become clearer. For now, mothers can be encouraged that when they sing to their child, they are continuing a practice that is shared globally and stretches back into the mists of time.

BABIES WHO GET LOTS OF ATTENTION FROM DAD ‘TURN INTO MORE INTELLIGENT TODDLERS’

June 9, 2017

A study found that babies that receive a lot of attention from their fathers in the first few months of life are more intelligent by the age of two. Boys and girls that experienced the most interaction showed greater brain development and were more able to identify colors and shapes.

Interactions with dads encourages risk-taking and exploration which boosts thinking skills. They also had a closer bond with their parent during book reading sessions, even after accounting for differences in their dad’s education and age.

Researchers from Imperial College London and King’s College London analyzed video recordings of 128 dads playing and reading with their kids. They rated the way the men touched, listened and spoke to their child, including the words used and the tone in which they were said. The researchers also looked for signs of warmth, reciprocity, and synchronicity.

The home-based experiments were conducted when the child was aged three months and again when they were two-years-old. Experts say interactions with dads are different to those with mums and encourage more risk-taking and exploration, which boost thinking skills.

Study leader Professor Paul Ramchandani, from Imperial, said: “The clear message for new fathers here is to get stuck in and play with your baby. Even when they’re really young playing and interacting with them can have a positive effect. A substantial body of evidence has suggested that fathers are critical for child well-being. Although mothers continue to contribute the majority of their time to children, paternal involvement in caregiving has increased, especially in middle-socioeconomic families. Even though parents display similarities in their interaction styles, father–child interactions have a distinct quality. They are more stimulating, vigorous, and arousing in comparison to mother–child interactions.”

The study looked for signs of warmth, reciprocity and synchronicity between the dads and their babies.

Ramchandani continued, “Their interactive episodes promote their child’s risk-taking and exploration tendencies, which in turn may facilitate the development of children’s cognitive skills. Moreover, fathers’ parenting is likely to mirror the parenting that they had received, so interventions at an individual and a policy level offer the potential to be of benefit across generations.”

Dr Vaheshta Sethna, from KCL, said: “We also found that children interacting with sensitive, calm and less anxious fathers during a book session at the age of two showed better cognitive development, including attention, problem-solving, language and social skills. Thus, early social experiences with fathers and mothers may differentially impact children’s development.”

He added: “The association between paternal interactions and cognitive  outcome is evident at a very early age; therefore, putting preventive measures in place in early infancy to support fathers to better interact with their children is of immense importance.”

The findings are published in the journal Infant Mental Health.

BABIES AND SLEEP: THE BENEFITS OF CO-SLEEPING

May 11, 2017

When I had my babies in 1976 and 1978, we all slept on a king-size mattress on the floor. It seemed natural to me; I had traveled to India and knew that co-sleeping was ordinary for an entire family. I discovered that we all slept better in bed together, and that I felt less fatigued, even though both babies breastfed 3 or 4 times nightly. I would wake as the baby stirred, and feed her before she cried; this saved my husband from being disturbed, and he was more available for the early morning shift.

If my baby woke, breastfed, and then fussed or cried, my husband got up, strapped him/her to his chest and fell asleep that way on a giant bean bag chair we had in the living room. That way, neither one of us was sleep-deprived, and our babies didn’t ever cry-it-out.

Today, parents are warned over and over again that they should not sleep with their infants. Thankfully, some experts have come forth recanting that message and offering parents useful advice about HOW to sleep with their babies.

Babies and sleep—it can seem that the two are mutually exclusive. Recent research has suggested that many mothers who have been diagnosed as having post-natal depression are actually suffering extreme fatigue from waking to their babies at night.

Almost all babies wake to feed during the night, and especially breastfed babies, because breastmilk is so easily and quickly digested. Research documents the many times that mothers in other cultures feed their babies at night, apparently without distress or depression.

Co-sleeping, or bed-sharing, also synchronized our cycles of deep and light sleep, so I was already in light sleep when they awoke, and I didn’t have that panicked feeling at being woken from deep sleep. Even better, I didn’t have to get out of bed, and I often fell asleep after a few minutes with the baby still on the breast.

My experiences are confirmed by the elegant research done by James McKenna, Professor of Anthropology at University of Notre Dame, Indiana, and his colleagues, who invited 35 mother-baby pairs into a sleep research laboratory, and monitored overnight their sleep patterns as they slept together or in separate rooms. They found that, not only did co-sleeping pairs get into the same sleep cycles, but that babies who co-slept experienced more frequent “arousals”, triggered by the mother’s movements, and spent less time in deep sleep.

As a researcher in SIDS, Professor McKenna believes that these low-level arousals, which did not actually awaken either partner, give the baby practice in arousing itself. This can lessen an infant’s susceptibility to some forms of SIDS which are thought to be caused by failure to arouse from deep sleep to re-establish breathing patterns.

Professor McKenna speculates that millions of years of co-sleeping and night feeding have not developmentally prepared young babies to sleep through the night in a solitary crib, involving, as this does, long periods of deep sleep.

There are many other benefits of co-sleeping, such as keeping the baby warm, increased access to the breast (which ensures a good supply), less crying, and the practical observation that co-sleeping babies almost always sleep on their backs, which is a significant factor in reducing SIDS risk.

Videos taken during the study showed that co-sleeping mothers, even in deep sleep, seemed aware of their baby’s position, and moved when necessary to avoid overlaying. At no time in the study did co-sleeping mothers impede the breathing of their babies, who actually had higher average oxygen levels than solitary sleepers. Some of the lowest rates of SIDS are found amongst cultures where co-sleeping is predominant.

Studies indicate that co-sleeping does not increase SIDS risk unless co-sleeping parents smoke or use alcohol or drugs. Co-sleeping parents must ensure that their baby’s head does not become covered by bedding, that the baby cannot sink into an overly soft mattress (water beds are not recommended) and that the baby does not become entrapped or overheated.

Fathers, non-breastfeeding mothers and working parents may particularly appreciate the cozy intimacy that sleeping with a baby brings. I do not see co-sleeping as a panacea for fatigue, but for many families, it is easier, more pleasurable and less tiring than our cultures usual sleeping arrangements.

Safe Co-Sleeping

Co-sleeping defines a range of sleeping styles—from sleeping with your baby all night, to taking your little one into your bed for an early morning breastfeed and snuggling together for a few extra zzzs. For some families, co-sleeping can mean embracing not only the baby, but a whole new concept in bedroom decor with baby’s crib butted against the parents’ bed and the nearest side down for easy access to comfort baby. This option may be preferable if one partner is extremely tired or anxious about bed-sharing. However, if you do this, make sure that neither the crib nor your bed can roll and there are no gaps between the crib and your bed.

The bottom line is that many parents share sleep with their babies—according to a study at Durham University, 63 percent of parents often take their babies into bed with them. So, rather than ask, “is it safe to sleep with my baby?” we should be asking, “how can I sleep with my baby safely?”

Whatever your sleeping arrangements, it is important to provide a safe sleeping environment for your baby. If you choose to sleep with your baby, both parents should feel comfortable with the decision and accept equal responsibility for baby’s safety.

Do not sleep with your baby if you are under the influence of any substance such as alcohol or medication/drugs (prescription or otherwise i.e. antihistamines) that could induce a deeper sleep and reduce awareness of your baby (either partner).

Do not co-sleep if you are a smoker (either partner). The risk of SIDS is increased if the mother smokes during pregnancy or after the birth. There is also some evidence to suggest that a father smoking during his partner’s pregnancy increases the risk, and if both parents smoke the risk is doubled. In fact, it’s preferable not to let anyone smoke near your baby.

Sleep on a firm, flat surface (not a waterbed) and ensure the mattress tightly intersects the bed frame.

Don’t co-sleep on a couch or sofa, as babies can easily slip down into the crevice or face-first between cushions, or they may become wedged between the adult and the back of the couch.

Avoid overheating by keeping baby’s head uncovered and do not use electric blankets whilst co-sleeping. Baby will be kept warm by your own body heat, so avoid over-dressing or over -swaddling baby—enjoy the delicious skin contact.

If you have long hair, tie it back, and consider that very large breasts or extreme obesity may reduce awareness of your baby’s position.

Avoid pungent hair sprays, deodorants, and perfumes. Not only will these camouflage the natural maternal smells that baby is used to and attracted to, but foreign odors may irritate and clog baby’s tiny nasal passages. Cut off ties from your own nightwear that may pose a strangulation hazard to the baby.

At first it is wise to position baby next to mother, rather than between mother and father, as fathers tend to sleep more deeply and may be less aware of the baby.

Take precautions to prevent baby from rolling out of bed, even though it is unlikely when baby is sleeping next to mother. According to pediatrician William Sears, “Like heat-seeking missiles, babies automatically gravitate toward a warm body.” Perhaps place the bed firmly against the wall, and fill cracks or empty spaces with a rolled up blanket, or use a guardrail—mesh guardrails are safer than slatted ones.

To prevent baby becoming stuck between the night table and bed if in the unlikely event that he does accidentally fall out of bed, make sure any furniture is pushed far away from the bed.

Don’t allow older siblings to sleep with a baby under six months. Sleeping children do not have the same awareness of tiny babies as do parents, and too small or too crowded a bed space is an unsafe sleeping arrangement for a tiny baby. Never leave a baby on an adult bed unattended.

From Dr. McKenna:

“When done safely, mother-infant cosleeping saves infants lives and contributes to infant and maternal health and well-being. Merely having an infant sleeping in a room with a committed adult parent reduces the chances of an infant dying from SIDS or from an accident by one-half.

In Japan, where cosleeping and breastfeeding is the cultural norm, rates of SIDS (in the absence of maternal smoking) are the lowest in the world. For breastfeeding mothers, it makes breastfeeding much easier to manage and practically doubles the number of breastfeeding sessions while permitting both mothers and infants to spend more time asleep. The increased exposure to the mother’s antibodies which comes with more frequent nighttime breastfeeding can potentially reduce infant illness. Because cosleeping makes breastfeeding easier for mothers, it encourages them to breastfeed for a greater number of months, according to Dr. Helen Ball’s studies at Durham University, therein potentially reducing the mother’s chances of breast cancer.

In spite of dramatic cultural and technological changes in the industrialized West, human infants are still born the most neurologically immature primate of all, with only 25 percent of their adult brain volume. The uniquely human characteristic of extensive brain development after birth could only develop biologically (indeed, is only possible) with the mother’s continuous contact and proximity; the mother’s body still proves to be the only environment to which the infant is truly adapted, and even modern Western technology has yet to produce a substitute.”

MUSIC EXPOSURE BENEFITS BABIES’ BRAINS

April 5, 2017

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, early music training can help children to develop a wide range of perceptual skills, and it may help them as they learn to speak.

Previous research has indicated that music training when young can improve infants’ ability to process musical sounds and speech. However, it has not been clear from these studies whether perceptual differences between musicians and non-musicians are due to music training. It may be that people who already have superior auditory skills are more likely to become involved in musical activities.

Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle have investigated the effects of early music training on music and speech processing in 9-month-old infants. The participants were all from monolingual, English-speaking backgrounds and their previous exposure to music were similar. None of their parents were musicians.

PREEMIES & MUSIC

Music play is linked to language-related neurological stimulation

The randomized, controlled study involved one group of 20 infants listening to recordings of music in triple meter (waltz time), while a control group of 19 infants played with non-musical toys. The children participated in 12 sessions, each lasting 15 minutes, over a period of 4 weeks.

Activities in both groups were multimodal, social, and repetitive – experiences typically found in infant music classes, except that the control group’s experience did not involve music.

Infants in the music intervention group were encouraged and helped to tap out the musical beats with maracas or their feet, and they were bounced in time with the rhythms.

Those in the control group played with cars, blocks and other toys that required coordinated movement but not music.

After the 4-week study period, the team used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to measure neural responses in the infants. MEG is a non-invasive technique for investigating the dynamic, magnetic fields that result from synchronized neural firing. It can provide millisecond-by-millisecond measurements of ongoing brain activity. It also reveals in which part of the brain activity is occurring.

During the MEG recordings, the infants heard tones in triple meter and sounds from foreign languages.

On hearing both music and speech sounds, those who had received music training displayed greater neural activity in auditory and prefrontal cortical regions, which have been associated with pattern processing and the predictive coding of auditory stimuli.

The authors believe that exposure to music early in life might improve infants’ ability to detect patterns in complex sounds, and that music intervention can be generalized to changes related to speech development.

Interacting with the music

Medical News Today asked study co-author Dr. Patricia Kuhl how active children should be to benefit from exposure to music. She explained that action is important for learning both music and language. In previous studies, her team has found that when infants listen to people talking, the brain centers they use to talk back are active, even before they are able to talk.

“Infants want to act on the world,” she said. “They want to talk back, they want to move to the music, and they want to make music themselves.” The researchers think that having the children move to the beat of the music was an important part of the intervention’s success.

They also asked Dr. Kuhl whether the type of music would make a difference. She said:

 “All music involves patterns, so the effects we see in the baby brain could hold true for all music. We think infants in the music group learned to detect patterns and that pattern perception is really important for learning, not only in music but broadly. We show that the effects of music extended to speech. We don’t know if music learning would extend to visual patterns or other patterns, but it might. Learning to predict patterns is a very important skill that could aid learning very generally.”

INFANTS’ BRAINS ARE ATTUNED TO BABY TALK AND NURSERY RHYMES

March 9, 2017

mother-singing-to-babyResearchers in Cambridge say that babies learn best when their brain waves are in sync with their parents.’ The study also shows that infants are attuned to baby talk and nursery rhymes; it indicates that babies need to feel safe, secure and loved for brain connections to be properly formed to enable them to learn effectively. These findings are emerging from a baby brain scanning project at Cambridge University.

To a newborn, the world is a rush of sights and sounds, an overload of information. But then the world gradually comes into focus. Babies soon learn to recognize faces and voices and over the coming months learn how to move, understand language and make sense of what is around them. This is a crucial moment in every life when important connections are being formed in the brain.

To learn just how this happens, researchers at a baby lab in Cambridge, England are scanning the brains of babies and their mothers while the two are interacting in learning activities. The early indications are that when the brain waves of mothers and babies are out of sync, the babies learn less well. But when the two sets of brainwaves are in tune they seem to learn more effectively.

Dr. Victoria Leong, who is leading the research, has discovered that babies learn well when their mums speak to them in a soothing sing-song voice which she calls “motherese.” Dr Leong’s research shows that nursery rhymes are a particularly good way for the moms in her study to get in sync with their babies.

“Although it sounds odd to us, babies really love listening to motherese even more than adult speech. It holds their attention better and the speech sounds clearer to them. So we know the more motherese the baby hears, the better the language development,” she said.

Dr Leong says the same is undoubtedly true if infants hear baby talk and nursery rhymes from fathers, grandparents and any other carers, but her experiments to date have focused on the interaction between mothers and their babies. “The baby brain is set to respond to motherese, which is why it is such an effective vehicle for teaching babies about new information,” she says.

Dr. Leong’s team has also found that babies respond better when there is prolonged eye contact. Mums who sang nursery rhymes looking directly at their babies held their attention significantly better than those who gazed away, even occasionally.

So should busy, multitasking parents worry if they occasionally glance at their phones while caring for their babies? “No, not at all,” says Dr. Leong, “By-and-large, most parents do a wonderful job with parenting. Brain development is only affected in extreme cases of neglect or lack of attention.”

Dr. Leong’s findings, that babies respond well to good face-to-face interactions and conversations is well established in behavioral studies. But what is new is that her team is trying to learn what happens inside the brain when babies are receiving quality attention. “My work is to understand the neurological underpinnings of these effects,” she said, “How is it that the baby’s brain treats the social interactions with its mother and how is it that it is helping learning?”

Babies learn by making physical connections in their brains when they learn something new. Human brains take years to develop because we have so much to learn. Babies explore different ways of making sense of the world mostly through play until they suddenly make a breakthrough and it is then that a connection is formed and strengthened in their brain.

But, according to Dr. Kirstie Whitaker, who is a brain researcher at Cambridge University’s psychiatry department, sometimes this can happen too quickly.

“If babies experience stress early in life, their brains develop a little too quickly and so rather than work out the very best connections they should make, they go with ones that are good enough, so one of the reasons I would urge a supportive and nurturing environment is to allow children to explore and stay in that particularly curious and flexible brain development for as long as possible.”

The research suggests that love helps form the physical connections necessary for brain development. “The behaviors that love produce are good for learning,” says Dr. Leong. “Drawing each other into conversation, giving each other attention and being in the moment together are all good for learning.”

KANGAROO CARE HELPS PREEMIES AND FULL TERM BABIES, TOO

February 2, 2017

When Ali Andrew Li was born on Jan. 7, he was gently placed on his mother’s chest, where doctors cleaned and examined him and covered him with a warm blanket.

“I just loved it,” his mother, Salma Shabaik, a family physician who lives in Los Angeles, says. “It was really nice to have the baby right there beneath my eyes where I could feel him, touch him, kiss him.”

MomsNICU-33-750x496-1

That was different than the birth of her son Elias two years ago; he was whisked away to a bassinet to be examined. And unlike Elias, who cried a lot after delivery, Shabaik says Ali stopped crying “within seconds” after being placed on her chest.

Kangaroo mother care has been widely used worldwide to care for premature babies, and it’s gaining popularity in caring for healthy full term babies like Ali as well. It is as it sounds: Like a kangaroo’s pouch, mothers hold their naked newborns on their bare chest for the first few hours of life.

At Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center where Ali was born, the technique is routinely practiced for healthy mothers and newborns. The baby gets to know their mother immediately, says Dr. Larry Gray, behavioral and developmental pediatrician at Comer Children’s Hospital, University of Chicago Medicine. “The baby gets landed in a trusting environment,” he says, reassuring them that life outside the womb can also be “soft, comfortable and warm.”

The benefits are many, according to Dr. Lydia Kyung-Min Lee, an ob-gyn at UCLA. Not only is the baby happier, she says, but his or her vitals are more stable. Body temperature, heart and breathing rate normalize more quickly. The close contact also allows the baby to be exposed to the same bacteria as the mother, which can protect against allergies and infection in the future. Infants who receive kangaroo care breast feed more easily, Lee says, and their mothers tend to breast feed for longer periods of time, which is “all good.”

Babies also seem to suffer less pain. Almost 20 years ago, Gray studied how babies respond to a heel prick to draw blood, a procedure that screens newborns for genetic disorders. He found that when healthy newborns had kangaroo care, there was less facial grimacing and crying suggesting pain, compared to babies who had been swaddled and had the procedure in their bassinets, “sort of alone.”

One of the first places to show how this technique can help preemies was Colombia in the 1990s. There, hospitals with no access to incubators and other equipment often sent home preemies with no expectation that they would live. But doctors were surprised to see that babies whose mothers carried them close, skin to skin, not only survived but thrived.

This was a “serendipitous magical finding,” says Gray, suggesting that skin-to-skin contact acted something like a “natural incubator.”

Gray also points to the work of Myron Hofer, a psychiatrist with Columbia University Medical Center who studies attachment between mother and infants. Hofer coined the term “hidden regulators” that pass between mother and baby. It’s not just that mother and baby are together, Gray says, but also that the mother is in some way “programming the baby, the breathing, temperature and heart rate.”

That “magic” can also happen between baby and father, too, says Gray, if there’s skin-to-skin contact. If mothers or babies are very sick and have to be isolated, Gray suggests mothers take any opportunity to hold their infant skin to skin. Even a little bit of kangaroo contact, he says, can be beneficial.

A Woman’s Brain is Physically Changed When Pregnant

January 6, 2017

According to new research, pregnancy causes changes to brain structure that allows moms to adapt to care for their infants. The results showed that synapses are pruned to allow for greater empathy and understanding towards an infant; significant changes occurred in brain areas associated with functions necessary to manage the challenges of motherhood.

This is the first time a clinical study has observed the brain structure of women before and after pregnancy, tracking changes over a period of more than five years. The researchers from the University of Barcelona found an even reduction in grey matter in the medial frontal and posterior cortex line, and in some areas of the prefrontal and temporal cortex. These areas overlapped with regions of the brain related to empathy, which were activated while the mothers looked at images of their infants.

The study debunked the idea that pregnancy caused cognitive deficits or impacted memory function—the often referred to “baby brain” accusations pointed at pregnant women. Quite the opposite!

“These areas correspond to a great extent with a network associated with processes involved in social cognition and self-focused processing,” explained Susanna Carmona, a former UAB researchers and co-director of the study.

Rather than the scans indicating the women were losing brain cells, Elseline Hoekzema, co-lead author on a paper published in Nature Neuroscience on the study, believes it is a sign of “synaptic pruning.” “These changes may reflect, at least in part, a mechanism of synaptic pruning, which also takes place in adolescence, where weak synapses are eliminated giving way to more efficient and specialized neural networks,” she wrote.

The team compared MRI scans of 25 first-time mothers and 19 male partners, with scans from 20 women who had never had a baby or been pregnant, and 17 male partners. There were no changes to the men’s grey matter, but it’s not clear whether that is a result of biology or time spent with the infant. The authors found it was easy to identify whether a candidate had been pregnant or not, based on the reduction of grey matter in areas linked to social cognition.

“The findings point to an adaptive process related to the benefits of better detecting the needs of the child, such as identifying the newborn’s emotional state,” wrote one researcher. “Moreover, they provide primary clues regarding the neural basis of motherhood, perinatal mental health and brain plasticity in general.”

These changes last at least two years after birth; the team wants to study more women and for a greater length of time to see if the changes are ultimately temporary and linked to hormone levels.

Study Shows that Infants Understand More Than You Think

December 3, 2016

By the time she is 20 months old, your baby can use a spoon and a fork. She can throw a ball. She can find your favorite lipstick and feed it to the dog. She can drop your phone in the toilet and laugh. In fact, by 20 months old, she’s doing so many baffling things that you’ve probably wondered: what’s really going on inside that adorable yet frustrating little head of hers? How much does she actually understand about the world around her, and her place in it?

According to a study out of the Ecole Normal Supérieure in Paris, France, she knows a lot more than you’d think. Researchers there tested 20-month-old babies and found that infants are already capable of practicing a sophisticated form of thinking called metacognition. According to Dr. Sid Kouider, one of the authors of the study, metacognition is best described as a “gut feeling” about your knowledge, or lack thereof. It’s something we adult humans do on a regular basis—we realize when we face a problem that is too complex for us to answer.

As Donald Rumsfeld famously put it, “There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know.” Knowing what you don’t know? That’s metacognition— an intuition that you are wrong or have somehow made a mistake.

It was previously assumed that children develop this skill later in life. But, says Kouider, he and his colleagues found that even at this young age, “infants already know when they don’t know something, and they are able to signal this fact to their caregivers” in order to get help solving problems. Their understanding of the workings of their environment, and of their own place within that environment, is much more sophisticated than parents and educators ever imagined.

Infants are Motivated by Hearing Themselves

November 9, 2016

Apparently, the repetitive babbles of babies primarily are motivated by the infants’ ability to hear themselves. “Hearing is a critical aspect of infants’ motivation to make early sounds,” said study author Mary Fagan, an assistant professor of communication science and disorders in the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Health Professions.

“The fact that they attend to and learn from their own behaviors, especially in speech, highlights how infants’ own experiences help their language, social and cognitive development,” she added. This research, Fagan said, does not diminish the importance of the speech that babies hear from others. “We know they need to learn from others—but it raises our awareness that infants are not just passive recipients of what others say to them. They are actively engaged in their own developmental process.”

Fagan studied the babbles of 27 hearing infants and 16 infants with profound hearing loss before and after they received cochlear implants (small electronic devices embedded into the bone behind the ear that replace some functions of the damaged inner ear).

Before receiving cochlear implants, babies with profound hearing loss rarely produced repetitive vocalizations, such as ‘ba-ba’ or ‘da-da.’ Within a few months of receiving cochlear implants, the number of babies who produced repetitive vocalizations increased, the number of vocalizations that contained repetitive syllables increased, and the number of actual repetitions in the string, such as ‘ba-ba-ba-ba-ba,’ increased, Fagan said.

“The research tells us that infants are motivated by hearing the sounds they produce, so these sounds are functional in some way,” she said.

“INFANT STIM”

October 9, 2016

While no one disputes that infants are drawn naturally to the types of stimulation they need for healthy development, researchers do disagree about the value of artificially stimulating an infant’s distance senses. Advocates of early stimulation say that looking at stark black-and-white images (such as mobiles made of black-and-white bull’s-eyes, checkerboards, and stripes), listening to recordings (including recordings of white noise—monotonous sounds such as vacuum cleaners and car engines), and other sensory stimuli may speed an infant’s development and increase his intelligence, help an infant sleep, or soothe his colic.

While no one disputes that infants are drawn naturally to the types of stimulation they need for healthy development, researchers do disagree about the value of artificially stimulating an infant’s distance senses. Advocates of early stimulation say that looking at stark black-and-white images (such as mobiles made of black-and-white bull’s-eyes, checkerboards, and stripes), listening to recordings (including recordings of white noise—monotonous sounds such as vacuum cleaners and car engines), and other sensory stimuli may speed an infant’s development and increase his intelligence, help an infant sleep, or soothe his colic.

Our great concern about our children’s ability to compete on intelligence tests can drive us to accept programs that may or may not be valuable and that may, in fact, be detrimental to a child’s long-range emotional and spiritual development. The makers of products for babies often imply that our children will not be able to compete for money and status in an increasingly competitive environment unless they are weaned to certain objects and ways of processing information as early as possible. Attaching the infant to material objects as “sensory stimulators” certainly benefits the companies that produce the products and the experts who promote them.

At the same time, parents, who receive little or no cultural support for their role, are often relieved of stress and guilt by these mechanical interventions. I am concerned about our slowly deteriorating intuitive abilities and confidence in ourselves. We may one day come to believe that material objects are actually better stimulators, more competent soothers, and more efficient brain-developers than we are, and that without these products our babies will be deprived. Instead of providing emotional nurturing, spiritual teaching, and exploration of the living world, we work harder and harder to provide our infants with the “necessary” objects of stimulation.

At the same time, parents, who receive little or no cultural support for their role, are often relieved of stress and guilt by these mechanical interventions. I am concerned about our slowly deteriorating intuitive abilities and confidence in ourselves. We may one day come to believe that material objects are actually better stimulators, more competent soothers, and more efficient brain-developers than we are, and that without these products our babies will be deprived. Instead of providing emotional nurturing, spiritual teaching, and exploration of the living world, we work harder and harder to provide our infants with the “necessary” objects of stimulation.

As researchers become more interested in the incredible array of benefits that massage can bring to infants, their interest has not gone unnoticed by profit-seekers. Many years ago I joked that if we wanted to make a lot of money, we could make a “baby massage device” that could be turned on and applied to the baby. The only problem would be that all of the benefits of infant massage would be forfeited. To my immense shock and dismay, a company has actually made a “baby massager,” similar to the shiatsu massage devices so popular in malls (which usually end up in the closet, because nothing can ease tension like human touch). Many unknowing parents will buy it, thinking it will benefit their babies. But nothing can replace their loving hands.

According to an article in Digital Journal, “It won’t be long before exhausted parents everywhere can get much needed relief with a groundbreaking infant massaging device.” This device is being hailed as the answer to parents’ stress. The device “naturally” soothes a crying baby by simulating the mother’s touch. Called “unique and innovative,” the invention “also features quick clips for one-handed fastening to baby’s clothing; soft, relaxing music; and a playback of the mother’s voice, as well as safety features such as an auto shut-off if baby rolls on top of it.”

Generally, nothing much bothers me these days. But when I read these articles and saw photos of the device, I was floored. The purposes of infant massage include making eye-to-eye contact, hearing a parent’s voice, smelling the parent’s unique scent, and experiencing skin-to-skin touch, all important in the bonding of babies with their parents. Massage also helps develop gastrointestinal, circulatory, and respiratory functions. The massage taught by the International Association of Infant Massage emphasizes emotional and spiritual bonding between baby and parent; each stroke is different and has its own function. Stroke sequences to help babies relax and pass painful gas are included. The massage we teach takes from fifteen minutes to half an hour—hardly an addition to a parent’s stress. In fact, it has been found that massaging the baby relaxes and soothes the parent as well. Regular infant massage relaxes, soothes, bonds, and helps eliminate problems such as colic; a device couldn’t possibly replace a parent’s hands delivering a real massage.

When I saw this device, I thought, “Here we go—soon we’ll have mechanical devices we can put our babies into, so we won’t have to touch them or make time for soothing them at all.” It is shocking to me that the writers of these articles hail the device as “groundbreaking” and love its “sleek, futuristic design.” There are no studies proving that this type of device has any benefits at all, much less the benefits of a parent delivering a massage skin to skin, responding to the baby’s cues, and looking into the baby’s eyes with love, singing or talking to the baby all the while.

Developmental psychologists today agree that infants are natural learners and will extract from a warm, loving environment whatever information they need. The basic security provided by a strong parent-infant bond enables babies to reach out to their world and to develop to their full capacity physically, mentally, and spiritually. Infant massage provides a wealth of fascinating sensory experiences. Your eyes, your hairline, your smile, your scent, and the sound of your voice telling a story or singing a lullaby provide not only the interesting contrast your baby looks for but also warm, loving feedback. It not only speeds the myelination of her nerves but lets her know she has come into a living, breathing world. There is no sweeter music that the sound of a mother singing; there will never be a toy that can tell a story the way a real, live daddy can. No one can invent a substitute for a parent’s loving touch. No vestibular stimulation device can compare with being rocked and carried in loving arms. And as for white noise, nothing can surpass the sounds of breath and heart in synchrony.

BABIES WHO GET LOTS OF ATTENTION FROM DAD ‘TURN INTO MORE INTELLIGENT TODDLERS’ June 9, 2017

A study found that babies that receive a lot of attention from their fathers in the first few months of life are more intelligent by the age of two. Boys and girls that experienced the most interaction showed greater brain development and were more able to identify colors and shapes. Interactions with dads encourages risk-taking […]

BABIES AND SLEEP: THE BENEFITS OF CO-SLEEPING May 11, 2017

When I had my babies in 1976 and 1978, we all slept on a king-size mattress on the floor. It seemed natural to me; I had traveled to India and knew that co-sleeping was ordinary for an entire family. I discovered that we all slept better in bed together, and that I felt less fatigued, […]

MUSIC EXPOSURE BENEFITS BABIES’ BRAINS April 5, 2017

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, early music training can help children to develop a wide range of perceptual skills, and it may help them as they learn to speak. Previous research has indicated that music training when young can improve infants’ ability to process musical sounds […]

INFANTS’ BRAINS ARE ATTUNED TO BABY TALK AND NURSERY RHYMES March 9, 2017

Researchers in Cambridge say that babies learn best when their brain waves are in sync with their parents.’ The study also shows that infants are attuned to baby talk and nursery rhymes; it indicates that babies need to feel safe, secure and loved for brain connections to be properly formed to enable them to learn […]

KANGAROO CARE HELPS PREEMIES AND FULL TERM BABIES, TOO February 2, 2017

When Ali Andrew Li was born on Jan. 7, he was gently placed on his mother’s chest, where doctors cleaned and examined him and covered him with a warm blanket. “I just loved it,” his mother, Salma Shabaik, a family physician who lives in Los Angeles, says. “It was really nice to have the baby […]