Who would have guessed that from the moment of birth infants are often deprived of their right to emotional maturity. Here is how it happens — and what must be done about it.
FROM THE very beginning of life most infants in the Western world face a virtual conspiracy against emotional maturity. The newborn infant usually is taken from its anesthetized mother, washed and weighed. After a few brief minutes with mother, the infant is placed in a crib in the nursery, where it spends most of the first few days of life — alone. Yet it is in these first critical minutes and hours of life that we form our initial emotional attachment to another human being. The crucial importance of close contact between the mother and her child right after birth has been prevented or denied for more than a generation. Doctors, nurses and psychologists are only now becoming aware of this tragedy.
What Real-Life Experiences Reveal
When mothers in hospitals (whatever happened to the home births?) are allowed direct skin-to-skin contact with their newborn children, they respond to this early, intimate contact with their babies differently from mothers denied such needed contact. A remarkable study reported, "they held their babies face to face, talked to, fondled, kissed, caressed, and smiled at them more than the other mothers." Not surprisingly, "babies of early-contact mothers gained more weight, cried less, and smiled and laughed more than the other infants." It was also found that premature babies, who are separated from their mothers for long periods after birth, are more likely to be abused than full — term babies (Psychology Today, "The First Day of Life," December, 1977). In our "enlightened" modern society where only 20 percent of mothers experience natural childbirth, babies generally are taken from their mothers just at the time when they most desperately need to be together. Both mother and child suffer from this early hindrance to emotional bonding through touching. And yet, this early separation of mother and child is only the beginning of a pattern that carries on into later life. In many families, parents allow their children to mature without those all-important physical expressions of life — the warm hugs and caresses that show them they are appreciated and cared for. There are families in which embracing is habitually withheld except in cases of prolonged absence or family tragedy. There exist families whose children have rarely if ever seen their parents embrace each other or show physical affection. Children of such families grow up feeling insecure, inhibited, afraid of being hurt, and therefore afraid of seeking intimacy with others. They may have a hard time in their dating and marriage relationships. They may feel cold and emotionally flat, without knowing why. Later, as parents, they will have hang-ups about expressing love to their own offspring. This is not to say that there is no love in such non touching families — the love is there, usually, but it seems somehow stunted, repressed or hidden. (However, hidden love is not much better than no love at all.) Humans who are deprived in infancy and childhood suffer drastically from it. From surveys of prisoners and of 49 different primitive cultures it has been concluded that deprivation of physical affection " is the principal overriding factor... in the development of alienation, psychopathy, violence and aggression, and... drug abuse and alcoholism (Behavior Today, May 15, 1978). The study is frightening: by depriving infants and children of physical love, parents may, in a sense, produce warped adults who are unable to relate to others — or who are even predisposed to violent or criminal behavior! Lack of love and affection in the earliest years have long range negative effects. Perhaps you yourself come from a family background that was cold, unemotional, and lacking in displays of physical affection. Perhaps you were ignored or even abused as a young child. As a result, you may find in yourself certain fears or inhibitions that you have found it difficult to overcome. So, remember, mothers — and fathers — by cuddling, embracing and loving your baby or toddler, you are giving him or her the foundation that you may have lacked — the knowledge that he or she is loved, accepted, secure. You can give your children inner resources that will make them more confident, more properly assertive, more affectionate and outgoing as adults. Don't be afraid to add the human touch to the life of an infant — and see the joy that flows from one simple act.