New Study Finds Maternal Separation Stresses Baby
As if soon-to-be mamas need one more thing to worry about: new research found in Biological Psychiatry provides evidence that separating infants from their mothers is stressful to the baby.
This is particularly alarming to me because when my first daughter was born, I did not get to hold or even see her for the first forty-five minutes of her life. My doctor was busy stitching me up as I sustained 2nd degree tearing during her birth (not pleasant, needless to say). I could hear her crying and the sounds of the nursing staff as they washed, weighed, measured and stamped her feet. I could hear my husband barely contain his excitement, but I couldn’t SEE her. It was agonizing waiting, and I was in an incredible amount of pain. Needless to say, when I finally got to hold and lay my eyes on her, it was like hitting the lotto a million times over.
My situation aside, it is standard practice in Western culture to separate mothers and newborns. Babies under medical distress or premature babies are almost immediately placed in an incubator. Not to mention, the American Academy of Pediatrics highlights the dangers of co-sleeping with an infant, due to its association with SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
The physiological impact on the baby has been unknown until recently. According to Science Daily, “Researchers measured heart rate variability in 2-day-old sleeping babies for one hour each during skin-to-skin contact with mother and alone in a cot next to mother’s bed. Neonatal autonomic activity was 176 percent higher and quiet sleep 86 percent lower during maternal separation compared to skin-to-skin contact.”
Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, commented on the study’s findings:
“This paper highlights the profound impact of maternal separation on the infant. We knew that this was stressful, but the current study suggests that this is major physiologic stressor for the infant.”
Dr. Barak Morgan, study author, noted:
“Skin-to-skin contact with mother removes this contradiction, and our results are a first step towards understanding exactly why babies do better when nursed in skin-to-skin contact with mother, compared to incubator care.”
Additional research is needed, including whether it is sustained response and whether it has any long-term neurodevelopmental effects. In the meantime, mamas, hold your babies close! Practice skin-to-skin contact as much as possible (while heeding the warnings of doctors against co-sleeping for long periods of time).
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