Love Your Baby's Brain

Maternal love for babies affects how they cope with stress as adults

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Two new studies reveal how a mother's love is good for her baby's developing brain.

Conducted by researchers at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, the studies show how different aspects of maternal care help a baby's brain develop to better deal with stress.

Results from the first study show that a mother's touch and diet affect how babies will respond to stress as adults. Through studying rodent models, Claire-Dominique Walker, Ph.D., and colleagues found that responses to stress were dampened in newborn rodent pups who were fed high-fat maternal milk. Furthermore, the researchers found that maternal licking (a mother's touch) also made pups less vulnerable to stressful situations.

In the second study, researchers assessed how the level of parental care received early in life affects the ability of young adults to deal with stressful situations. Researchers measured psychological and physical signs of stress, including the stress hormone cortisol, of participants in two groups: those with low maternal care in early life, and those with high maternal care in early life.

According to Jens Pruessner, Ph.D., a senior author of the study, the researchers were surprised to find that both groups exhibited low hormonal stress levels. However, low hormonal levels in the high maternal care group were associated with high self-esteem, while those in the low maternal care group demonstrated lower levels of self-esteem (makes you wonder how they measure the self-esteem of rats).

Both of these studies highlight the important influence of maternal care on the healthy development of a baby's brain. Taking easy, non-invasive steps to improve maternal nutrition and care could have a substantial impact on the psychological health of babies, says Dr. Walker and her team.

Stress is considered a proxy killer (proxy because stress is often the root cause of so many health issues). Not only is stress a strain on the mind , but also a strain on the body. Stress can cause headaches, teeth grinding, and muscles pain as well as more severe symptoms including depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. Finding ways to cope with stress is essential to healthy living.

The first study is published in Developmental Psychobiology. The second study can be found in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience.

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Review Date: 
February 4, 2011
Last Updated:
February 4, 2011