Loving Brains. Part 2

Such early threats to the baby’s survival are registered as “indescribable pain” and can only be soothed by input that a feeling-sensory brain appreciates: in other words, removal of the source of danger and replacement with nurturing. For a fetus or neonate, this effectively happens on a biochemical level. A mother, who smokes, drinks, takes drugs, does not want to be a mother, or is not loved and cared for herself, is biochemically toxic to her child. On the contrary, a well-nourished and happy mother creates a biochemical milieu in which the baby and its complex brain can thrive.

For the three-part brain to function eventually as one coordinated unit, it must receive the right input at the right times in its development. The connecting pathways between these parts will not form properly without just the right amount and type of stimulus. A loving and loved mother has all the biochemical ingredients and biological responses on tap without trying. Addictive mothers or mothers undergoing unnecessarily medicalized childbirth do not. What is worse is that the growth and functioning of the brain can be irreversibly affected by early traumas — it is rendered biochemically inadequate.

A healthy brain, by contrast, is one that can respond appropriately to biochemical messages of internal or external threat and can protect and rebalance itself effectively. A healthy brain is one that has been loved. Mother’s love translates directly into the biochemistry of the child and sculpts its brain into new forms. Loving a child is loving its brain — early bonding, contact, touch and attachment have long-term effects on neurophysiology.

When a child or adult in later life reacts to a stressful event with inappropriate behavior or excessive vital signs (e.g. high or low blood pressure), it is because the imprint of a very early trauma in the lower brains has been triggered. Making an appeal to the thinking brain (which was not around at the time) can only take the form of exhortation, moralization or present-time analysis. It seems that ideas cannot change feelings, only feelings can. However, soothing the feeling brain with touch or other sensory pleasure comes too late and might result in dependency. Administering repressive or stimulatory drugs is a matter of addressing the symptoms but not the causes and must be kept up. All these therapeutic measures will only be palliative and temporary. They may even help to repress further the real source of the pain.

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