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The benefits of a mother's love

Mother and baby sleeping

Face-to-face interaction with your baby is the most powerful tool for brain growth.

Even when you leave daily childcare tasks and activities to someone else while you work, you, as a mother, have a special role to play in your baby’s development and the benefits of a mother’s love is undeniable. Here’s how to make the most impact in limited time.

What mothers have been doing instinctively for centuries, science now confirms: Face-to-face interaction with your baby is the most powerful tool for brain growth. Forget the elaborate outings and expensive toys; you bring the magic.

“A mother’s emotionally expressive face is the most potent stimulus in the infant’s social environment.” When a mother and child look into each other’s eyes, both know that the loop between them has been closed and this creates a “potent channel for reciprocal influences,” says neuropsychologist Dr Allan Schore in research published in the Infant Mental Health Journal.

This intimate, private mother-child conversation is not only necessary to form those incredibly special bonds we have with our little ones, it also opens the flood gates for the hormones and brain chemicals essential for optimal brain growth.

Schore explains that the infant’s right brain is especially tuned to grow when it receives stimulation “coming from the smiling and laughing joyful face of a loving mother”.

Magical mom

One researcher describes the way that mothers instinctively interact with our babies, as being able to “blast the infant into the next orbit of positive excitation.” In this way, a mother’s face is ‘biologically significant’ to her baby: Your presence is more important than any other’s to your small child.

Meaningful interactions with mom create not only a sense of safety, but also “a positively charged curiosity that fuels the burgeoning self’s exploration of new environments,” says Schore.

Exploration can only happen when a young child feels secure in his bond with mom (or primary caregiver), and leads to more advanced learning.

None of us can be with our children every minute of every day, but there are ways you can make the most of every moment you do have.

Make every moment count

Here are some simple ways to connect meaningfully with your small child.

  • Be focused: When you’re with your baby make it only about her. Put away the phone and forget the washing. Face-to-face and eyes focused on her will let her know she’s the most important thing in your world. You don’t even have to plan anything special, simply enjoy being together: talk, take a walk, read a book, play pat-a-cake. Feeling connected to each other is what time together should be all about. When you are in tune with each other, your bond grows, you can read her cues and she can reap all the brain-boosting benefits.
  • Seeing is believing: At about eight weeks your baby experiences a brain development milestone: the part of the brain where visual stimulation is registered grows rapidly. At this stage, make a variety of facial expressions and give your baby plenty of time to absorb your face. While she’s lying on a changing mat is a great time for interaction. Showing your baby black and white pictures of smiling faces will also stimulate her sight.
  • Be a mirror: Make meaningful eye contact with your small child, allow him to see your facial expressions of delight and happiness, this conveys to your child that he is safe, loved and wanted and this mirrors his own contentment.
  • Follow her lead: An infant-leads-mother-follows sequence of play (for example ‘talking’ back to your baby after she makes sounds, smiling when she shows she’s happy, gently clapping your hands at the same time as her) is actually a highly organised dialogue of visual and auditory signals that validates her, helps her feel acknowledged, and grows her capacity to communicate. It will also grow the intimacy of your bond. Reading her cues and reacting to what she does encourages this conversation.
  • Pick beneficial activities: Reading, singing and active play are all meaningful activities for under three’s, you don’t need complicated routines or loads of toys, just you and a bit of imagination. Connect through voice, touch, and smell. To encourage what’s happening developmentally, choose activities specifically appropriate for your baby’s stage of development.

The evidence suggests a deep mother-and-child connection staves off stress, provides protection from illness, shapes future relationships, as well as boosts brain growth and enhances IQ.

When you are together your intimate bond and your love could just be the most powerful health intervention available.

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