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It is a widely held view that the first six months of a child’s life is an essential time for bonding with the parents and especially the mother. During this time, newborns need to be supported emotionally and physically. Unfortunately, many parents have an antiquated view of what a child needs and his or her abilities in this codependent developmental phase. Many parents are fully unaware that newborns have an acutely sensitive nervous systems which allow them to recognise and react to their parents’ odors, voices and faces and to react to these. This also means that newborns become extremely stressed if they are away from their parents for too long. Many parents are unaware that a newborn is happiest being close to its mother’s body or at least being very close to them, For a newborn, this even supercedes the father-newborn relationship. This ignorance often leads to a casual mother-child relationship and to the extreme that sometimes other people take over the role of caregiver.
Bonding should be a natural process that happens as parents take care of their children. As the first days, weeks and months of a baby’s life come and go, their days are regulated by cycles of sleeping, waking, eating and playing. The overriding determinant in the first six months is hunger and sleeping and waking is usually set around this. The need to be fed is accompanied by noises increasing in insensitivity until they become extremely loud. As soon as the parents, and especially the mother, fills the need, the baby relaxes and so the cycle goes on. This period is often a trial and error phase for parents as they become attuned to their baby’s needs and they begin to recognise and get to know their newborn’s nuances. How effectively the baby’s needs are met determines how relaxed the child will enter the next cycle of sleeping and waking. Even though, it is fully ok to have outside practical help during this phase, it is extremely important that the parents are responsible for taking care of the baby’s emotional needs, however difficult that may be. At the heart of the bonding process is the parents’ ability to help the baby regulate its emotional states. This is done during times of play and excitement where hormones are produced on both sides which have an elevating effect. The baby’s emotions are regulated here by eye-to eye and skin to skin contact. These experiences create a sense of security for children which allows them to build a foundation for exploration and the ability to trust.
When this process goes wrong, children can suffer developmental trauma. This occurs when the primary caregivers do not attune themselves to the emotional needs of the baby and fail to provide the baby’s basic requirements for nurturing, comfort and guidance. This often happens as a result of a traumatic birth. Many babies constantly cry due the effects of birth, leaving parents feeling frustrated and incompetent and unable to provide comfort to their baby. ( A German scientist, Dr Gutmann (Traumatic Birth Syndrome) discovered that up to 80 percent of newborns that he examined were suffering from injury to the spine.) When parents are unable (or unwilling) to meet their child’s basic needs, there is often a disengagement from the baby. Some parents even take it personally or live under the belief that the child hates them or does it intentionally. Children then experience this loss of emotional attunement as overwhelming and suffer a sense of abandonment. This is well known to produce changes in their bodies and hormones and produce symptoms similar to PTSD.
One must add at this point that none of the above normally occurs as a result of malicious intent on the part of the parents. The first six months of a baby’s life is extremely taxing for the parents and mistakes are made. As I pointed out in my last post, figures suggest that up to 98 percent of the global population are co-dependent to some extent. However, parents must realise that the “small” events that take place in the first six months of life set the foundation for mental health and life long development of their child. The concept of developmental trauma also has a bearing on how children see relationships and their ability to form them and see them as secure. Children who have not bonded sufficiently often become disengaged. They fear the world and they fear change. They are often timid and shy and have difficulty exploring outside their small comfort zone. They often turn into reactive adults unable to anticipate and need concrete assurances before taking action. They often close off feelings engage in compulsive behavior to numb this but have a rigid inflexible view of life which only increases their anxiety. And so it goes on….