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Neural pathways

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  • Neural pathways

    Hi Linda,

    Do you think that constant crying, even in arms, affects the neural pathways in the brain in regards to the attachment process?


  • #2
    Think about yourself sitting alone in an alley crying. Then picture someone warm and gentle coming to sit by you and put their arms around you and maybe whisper a few gentle words, though you continue to cry. I think the second scenario is going to end a lot of the stress hormone releases you were experiencing in the first case. That's my way of saying that I think there's a big difference between crying abandoned for a considerable length of time, and crying in loving arms. The brain knows that difference and the stress handling HPA axis (hippocampal pituitary adrenal axis) is not going to react as greatly to crying when empathy and affection are present.

    Positive, oxytocin releases in response to affection, will counterbalance some of the negative effects of stress hormone releases and should reduce their overall release. The HPA axis controls the level of stress hormone release. In babies, as you suggest, the permanent "wiring" of this part of the brain is influenced by the amount of stress hormone baby is regularly exposed to. Frequent and prolonged, abandoned crying in infancy leads to permanent alterations in developing neural pathways. This hard-wires the brain toward poor stress handling throughout the rest of life.

    To be more specific to your question, you seem to be asking whether the crying itself, even in arms, from a child who is often experiencing some kind of discomfort, will lead to some of this less-desirable rewiring. Well... yes... maybe some. Our efforts to attachment parent consistently are aimed at filling up that child as much as we possibly can with all that's warm and cozy and loving, in hopes of a life of security and emotional stability, and great ability to attach and love. There are going to be different bumps along every child's road, but by going above and beyond, I'd say that we're creating reserves and always providing at least "enough."


    • #3
      Welcome! We are so excited to have you here to answer our questions!

      What about crying in the car seat? This is a question that often comes up and causes a lot of guilt. It is heartbreaking to have to listen to your infant crying and to not be able to help them. Do you think that they have any understanding by listening to the soothing tone of a parent's voice, or hearing the parent sing?

      Both of my boys cried and cried in the car. Stopping to nurse seemed to make it worse because they cried even harder once I stopped nursing and started driving. We limited trips as much as possible and even talked about moving to a more pedestrian friendly city. I still carry some guilt about this even though there was no other option. Is there anything a parent can do to lessen the harm to the baby?


      • #4
        Crying in the carseat... What a great question. Carseats are horrible things for babies. Yes, we need them. They save lives. Cars themselves are so unnatural... I imagine/dream quite a bit about a net for baby that they could move around in some and that would prevent them from being tossed/injured in an accident. I believe it'd be less strain on the neck than having that head that's 1/3rd their whole body weight accelerated and whiplashed on top of that tiny neck. I even imagine a net (sling?) that would attach to shoulder strap of driving mama but the airbag would be a problem there maybe (or maybe not). Well, none of these are legal or tested so don't try any of them but there's no reason why research couldn't begin on more humane restraints for babies in cars. It's the old early 1900's attitude that allowed the design of these things to go on (yes I know they were developed much later but I imagine by men with this residual attitude which was still prominent until... well, I guess it still is prominent for many that we must make babies suffer so they can learn to behave) without any consideration whatsoever of the human response a living child might have.

        I think often about what must go through some babies' minds. I'm sure it's not always a positive neural input, to say the least. I guess we just need to make up for it in any other ways we can. Absolutely, all the songs and empathetic words and video tapes and bouncing toys you can find are great if they provide a little relief to the tied-down child.

        I also have another practice I followed but I think conflicts with laws in most states (and laws are stricter than 15 years ago I think). I found myself swerving off the road and other quite dangerous moves three times when trying to deal with baby in back seat, rear-facing --- trying to return a scream-plug to his mouth (pacifier), trying to figure out why a cry suddenly became uncharacteristically piercing, and trying to figure out why a prolonged cry stopped very suddenly (is he still breathing??) --- before I decided that it was safer for MY child to be in the front seat than the back. I decided for myself that I was probably ten times more likely to have an accident with my baby sitting back-facing in the back seat than with him in front. It felt almost human, if not humane, to have him in front (air-bag turned off) where I could put a finger in his mouth, smile at him, tickle him; where he could watch me and see me singing and making faces. I was never able to find very convincing statistics that he was measurably more likely to be injured in a car accident if it did occur -- it turns out that there are more head-on collisions than rear-end collisions but with the whole engine in the front, the statistics do not bear out much difference in survival/injury, so, again, for me, there's that factor that an accident is so much more likely if child in back. Well, don't break any laws. That's just what I did and I didn't mind trying to defend my choice in court if need be, though it never came up. I'd very much like to see some better research on that.

        One skill many moms will want to learn is how to --- when someone else is driving --- nurse baby in his carseat in back while still wearing your seatbelt. It's really hard on the back but believe me, it can be done, large or small. I found that very useful. When he was at the worst of this stage, I'd occasionally hire a mother's helper to sit with him and try to entertain him while I drove. It's strange that a few years later I was finding immense relief in wasting gas driving around the blocks to put him to sleep when nothing else would do it.