Recap for Blog 42 – The perfect start to positive emotions: Zani discovers that a baby actually practises eating while in utero, and Vee shares her wonder at the little being magically developing in her womb.
Last time we discussed that the foetus had developed many body parts that needed to be fused together to be able to work together. We discussed how the Moro reflex did exactly that, starting anywhere between weeks 9 to 12. We also said that movement was important to spark the process and that touch was crucial to relax or destress the foetus. This week we talk about the Rooting and Sucking reflex – a reflex that can clearly be seen on a scan from Week 11 onwards. The Rooting and Sucking reflex serves to fire up the senses of taste and smell in preparation for active feeding once the baby has been born. Because the ears and eyes develop later than the skin, vestibular system, nose and mouth, the newborn baby will rely heavily on these four senses for nourishment and nurturance. The baby will predominantly use the sense of smell and taste to find the mother’s breast soon after birth in a desperate attempt to become one with Mom and counteract the trauma of birth. Remember, we said last time that stress is not bad – it just needs to stop at some time. It needs to stop because continued stress depletes the immunity supplies, which results in lower resistance to infections and all kinds of illnesses. The way to boost immunity is to provide nourishment and jumpstart the baby’s emotional development (the seat of health and happiness) by stimulating the skin, movement and his or her ability to smell and taste. The critical growth spurt for emotional development is between 14 months and four years, but the blueprint for emotional wellbeing and a positive self-esteem starts in utero around Weeks 11 to 13 when the foetus learns to suck and swallow. The name of the Rooting and Sucking reflex gives us a clue as to how it develops. Any stimulation around the mouth or on the cheeks will automatically result in the mouth turning towards the stimulation (or root) with the purpose of forming an attachment. The moment the source of stimulation is found, the mouth starts sucking. Please note that there is a difference between sucking and suckling – sucking is for nurturing or pleasure, while suckling is for nourishment and food. The foetus will suck for quite a few months before mastering the art of suckling. The process of how sucking stimulates emotional wellbeing and immunity is very simple – when the foetus or baby sucks, the tongue pushes against the palate, which separates the mouth cavity from the midbrain or emotional brain. Sucking therefore directly influences the emotional brain to secrete feel-good hormones, which lowers stress levels and boosts immunity. This is an important part of a baby’s development because positive emotions act as fuel that spurs baby on to develop more. A lack of feel-good hormones on the other hand results in inactivity and a feeling of depression. This can be detrimental to the overall physical, emotional and mental development of the baby. Thought for the day: A baby is prepared in utero for the culture he or she will be born into. An Indian mother will eat Indian food, which would give her amniotic fluid an ‘Indian’ smell and taste, just like a Portuguese mother will eat Portuguese food, which will spice her amniotic fluid with Portuguese spice. This is nature’s way of enabling the newborn baby to find his or her mom amongst other mothers so Baby knows that all is well. In closing, a baby who is tactile defensive, or whose sucking reflex has not yet been fully developed may be traumatised, which may result in chronic fear, feeding problems, colic, susceptibility to illness and dehydration. The negative effect of this on the mother-and-child relationship is obvious. You can visit the following website which offers clear guidelines on how to stimulate an underdeveloped Rooting and Sucking reflex in a baby and to promote independence and a positive sense of self in older children: www.babygym.co.za