Mothers and Baby Brain Development


This Sunday is Mother’s Day, a time to celebrate mothers and mother figures in your life. In all that our mothers give us, did you know a mother’s love is actually responsible for a lot of brain development?

Studies have indicated that when a child is nurtured early in life, they may develop a larger hippocampus, which is an area in the brain responsible for learning, memory and stress response. In one particular study by Jeffry A. Simpson, this region of the brain was shown to be 10 per cent larger in children whose mothers were nurturing.

This is a scientific phenomenon that has been the focus of discussion for many of Kim Barthel and Theo Fleury’s many talks around the world, and the basis of conversation for the chapter, ‘It’s Not My Fault’ from their book, ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’.

“When parents and babies are emotionally connected, both their brains light up like Christmas tree lightbulbs with mutual enjoyment.” – Kim Barthel from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’

This Christmas tree lightbulb “gleaming and beaming” provides the developing baby with chemicals in their brain such as oxytocin that arms the person with the resilience they need to weather the stresses of life.

“For a baby, each experience of gleaming and beaming repeatedly activates the brain circuits, helping to grow the brain.” – Kim Barthel from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’

While a mother’s touch and love is particularly important to a brain’s development early in life, there is emerging research about how this type of interaction affects adult behaviour and relationships as well. In fact, the ABCD study  at the Alberta Children’s Hospital is a great example of studies in this area.

 With  biological and environmental data collected from thousands of Alberta families—mothers, fathers and children followed from before birth to age three—researchers are hoping to continue building this longitudinal data to encompass a 20-year period. This long-term view takes into account that while important and complex problems may originate as early as in utero, many are detected only once children enter school or even puberty.

Child or adult, you can benefit from a mother’s love at any age, since the simple act of a hug releases the love chemicals in our brains. So this weekend, give your mom a hug. Any mom, many moms. It’s good for your health, and hers too!

If you’re interested in being part of a conversation about healing, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to share your own stories, struggles and triumphs! You can find out more about ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ and Kim and Theo on our website.

 – Written by Amber Craig
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