Toxic Stress - How to Help Newborns Deal with Stress
Becoming a mom can be a wonderful experience a time of joy and happiness, but also a time of uncertainty and stress new mom’s face a host of stressful situations. Between feeling nervous and frazzled about caring for your new baby's developmental demands and temperament, household duties, sleep deprivation and taking care of yourself during your newborn baby's first few months.
New research shows that babies not only pick up on their mother’s stress, they also correspond and imitate to physiological changes. Stress is contagious, and chronic stress has long-term health consequences. When babies are exposed to high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, they are more likely to develop behavior problems and stress-related diseases later in life (Asok et al 2013; Luby et al 2013). In the worst case scenario, toxic stress can alter brain growth and shorten the lifespan.
“Our research shows that infants ‘catch’ and embody the physiological residue of their mothers’ stressful experiences,” says lead researcher Sara Waters, postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Francisco.
Our body’s natural response during times of crisis is to fight, run, or freeze. For an infant, this may look like curling up, clenching their fists, crying deeply, or becoming rigid and straight.
We can do a lot to protect babies from the effects of toxic stress.
experiments on nonhuman animals show that infants exposed to lots of nurturing touch are more likely to develop into stress-resilient adults – even if they were born with risk factors for stress-related problems (Meaney 2001). And the same seems to be true for human beings.
the researchers found evidence for the protective power of physical affection: High-risk babies developed normally if their mothers gave them many cuddles and caresses during early infancy
Here are 4 tips to reduce your baby's stress:
Babies have the ability to read and mimic negative emotions.
When you’re distracted, upset, or depressed, you might think your baby doesn’t notice, research suggests otherwise. Babies exposed to the sights or sounds of angry, bickering adults are more likely to develop abnormal stress response systems (Towe-Goodman et al 2012; Graham et al 2013).
Studies show that babies – even newborns -- get distressed when their caregivers become emotionally unresponsive (Yoo and Reeb-Sutherland 2013). By 6 months, many babies can distinguish between happy and angry body language (Zeiber et al 2013), and they seem to be very sensitive to “background" hostility:
Managing your own stress – by seeking social support or other remedies – could make an important difference to your baby’s behavior and well-being.
Touch during these periods helps to significantly reduce the effects of stress. Affectionate physical contact triggers the release of several stress-busting chemicals in the brain, including oxytocin (the so-called “love hormone") and endogenous opioids (natural painkillers).
Touch has a calming effect, and helps switch off the production of cortisol. As a result, there is less physiological wear-and-tear on the body, and the brain is more likely to develop a long-term pattern of resilience to stress.
Touch impacts the nervous system and when done in a loving way and with permission, fosters the bond between child and parent. “At birth, things mostly are done to the baby without any asking of permission,” says chiropractor and massage therapist Debby Takikawa, producer and director of the film What Babies Want. Infant massage counters this by asking for permission prior to touch and listening and honoring the infant’s cues and responses to touch. Just like adults, infants will have different responses to touch on different days and in different situations.
When the baby sleeps you sleep
Sleep disturbances are routine for the first few months of a new parent’s life. But when a new parent has trouble falling asleep during the time that baby is sleeping or begins waking too early in the morning with an inability to sleep later, it is time to consult with a health care provider.
Research at the U-M Sleep & Chronophysiology Laboratory has shown that depressed mothers’ sleep problems can have ill effects on the sleep patterns of their babies—and poor sleep of both the moms and babies can be a risk factor for depression as the children age.
Teaching young babies how to calm down helps them as they grow up
You can’t protect your baby from everything that causes stress. But you can soothe him. And that, in turn, teaches him how to soothe himself. This skill will help your baby throughout his life. Don’t assume that letting a baby handle stress on his own, or crying it out, will make him a tougher or more resilient adult.
Nursing has been shown to reduce stress and pain in babies
Research has found that breastfeeding reduces negative moods and stress – so nursing your baby can actually help you get through a stressful time. Oxytocin, a hormone released into your bloodstream when you nurse, can have a calming effect.
This means that a mom who's stressed and breastfeeds her baby is likely to become more relaxed. When she relaxes, her milk start to flow again. And since it's the baby's sucking that stimulates milk production, a mother who keeps nursing is likely to keep producing milk.
Researchers at the University of New Mexico found that listening to tapes of guided relaxation and imagery techniques helped moms whose babies were in intensive care to produce more milk.
Among the mothers with the sickest babies, milk production in those who listened to the tapes was more than double that of moms who didn't listen to the tapes. And the more times a mom listened to a tape, the more milk she produced.
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