Babies need to be held close and cuddled to thrive physically, mentally and emotionally. They need the love of their primary caregiver, namely their mother. According to Professor Allan Schore, being securely attached and bonded in love is the cornerstone of one’s mental well-being.
And increasingly, studies have proved that emotional health impacts our physical health.
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What Attachment Does
A new-born baby’s brain is neurally underdeveloped. It does not the capacity to self-soothe. However, a baby learns this with the help of an emotionally attuned caregiver/mother. Her response to her baby’s needs and cries of distress wires the emotional circuits of the brain. Through this dance of limbic resonance, gradually, a baby learns to self-soothe.
Over time by being securely attached a baby is able to internalize his mother and feel safe, confident and loved. Loving attachment to a parent/parents defines a child’s internal reality and influences his relationship with the outside world. Attachment penetrates to the neural core of what it means to be a human being.
When the attachment bond is ruptured a baby becomes distressed leading to increased heart rate and body temperature. This is a precursor of future stress susceptibility in a human being.
Cortisol And Your Child
Studies have shown that disrupted bonding can have a devastating impact on the neurobiology and ultimately the mental health of a child. When a child does not feel securely attached he becomes distressed and fearful which in turn lead to a high heart rate and increased cortisol levels.
The hormone cortisol is released in response to stress. Studies suggest that the high levels of cortisol from long-term stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure.
Cortisol’s effects on cardiovascular risk have been well documented.
Moreover, prolonged stress in young children can retard both brain development and physical growth. Increased levels of cortisol can cause long-term damage to the developing brain, and negatively affects the immune system.
How Oxytocin Stops Cortisol
When one feels loved, oxytocin, the love hormone is released into the body. Oxytocin triggers the release of a neurochemical called GABA. As a neurotransmitter, GABA turns off certain activities in the brain get triggered by stress.
Warm, safe touch anywhere that feels comfortable on our body can release oxytocin.
When a mother loves her baby deeply and bonds with it, she gives the gift of feeling loved inside to her baby, called “emotional object constancy.” This internalized feeling of being loved even when one is alone is the cornerstone of mental health. Disrupted object constancy makes for an overwhelming and frightening experience of the world in adulthood leading to anxiety and stress.
On a neural level, knowing that you are loved and cherished facilitates a down-regulation of the fear response by initiating a neuropeptide (oxytocin and prolactin) release. An ensuing cascade of chemicals, calm the child and inhibit the formation of negative memory. This reinforces neurophysiological circuits that will later influence emotional regulation and well-being.
Love And Heart Coherence
Further, when we experience uplifting emotions such as appreciation, joy, care, and love; our heart rhythm pattern becomes highly ordered, harmonious wave This is called a coherent heart rhythm pattern.
During a coherent heart rhythm, the activity in the two branches of the ANS is synchronized. Our body’s systems operate with increased efficiency and harmony. We feel good about ourselves and the world. And are filled with confidence to explore and engage.
Love Develops Strong Hearts
Being loved directly impacts a child’s self-confidence. This feeling builds the strength of heart and courage to explore and leave the confines of one’s safe space. Attachment makes kids independent. Knowing that they are valued satisfies their primal need for love, validation, and self-soothing. They are free to focus on exploring, experimenting and enjoying themselves.
The path to developing courage and a strong heart literally is by loving our kids without any borders. We make them independent by fulfilling their dependency needs.
Love is the magic potion that builds a child emotionally. Moreover, it actually protects your child’s heart from any stress-related damage. Strong hearts are filled with love.
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