How Brexting can affect a mum’s connection with her baby
Being well into the middle of my life, I am frequently exposed to terms and concepts totally new and foreign to me. I am all over FOMO and LOL, but when someone mentioned Brexting to me the other day, I was way off track when I felt stressed over the European division.
Brexting, Bracebooking and Brinstagramming may be new terms in my vocabulary, but unfortunately the concept is not. I have been worrying about feeding Mummas in my reception for years – whether this is breast or bottle – gazing lovingly into the screen of their phone rather than their baby’s eyes. I used to have a sign on the front door of my practice saying “Please turn off your mobile devices”, due to the sensitive developing brains present, but as you can imagine, my success rate was close to zero.
Now, although I am so old that I didn’t even have a computer when my children were little, I perfectly understand the need to have a break, to keep in touch with friends, to feel ‘normal’. And I recognise that feeding time seems to be the perfect opportunity to multi-task when baby is otherwise gainfully engaged. However, it is important that mothers understand what happens at feeding time other than the transfer of nutrients, to facilitate informed decisions about when to use their devices.
First and foremost is the question of eye contact. From birth, human babies have been found to show preference for looking at faces, focusing particularly on the eyes. Even tiny infants can detect and understand emotional states of others by looking into their eyes, and this has been found to be involved in social connection and development later in life (2).
Also, while baby appears to stare vacantly at mum while feeding, she is actually busy mapping out mum’s face in her little brain. This results in early face recognition (baby recognises mum’s face from four days old), increased interaction and connection with mum, oxytocin reward for both resulting in that all-important ingredient for secure attachment: bonding (2). Dysfunctional bonding is associated with increased risk of future depression, anxiety, learning difficulties and challenges with memory (3). Bonding is worth working hard to achieve! In their article ‘The importance of early bonding on the long-term mental health and resilience of children’ Winston and Chicot talk about how to support pregnant mums and new mothers with practical skills to help them bond with their baby. They suggest skin to skin contact, early breast feeding, cuddling and lots of face to face time with baby to establish non-verbal communication.
Eye contact also causes mum’s and baby’s brain waves to synchronise, stimulating baby’s vocalisation and communication and helping to build baby’s social neural networks (4). Studies have shown that babies as young as two days old can differentiate between direct and averted gaze and that the electrical activity in babies’ brains is increased with direct gaze (5). Research has also showed that eye contact and joint gaze is involved in language development (6).
On another note, if mum is breast-feeding, being distracted while feeding can interfere with the let-down. Obviously, distractions can come in many shapes: toddlers, partners, the weather as well as screens. Some can be managed, and some can’t. Studies have shown that exposure to distressing or worrying screen content is more likely to cause feeding difficulties (1).
What new mums need more than anything is love, support and understanding, as well as a helping hand with cooking, cleaning and rocking baby. I want to emphasize here, that my intent is not to encourage chiropractors to bash new mothers with more Do’s and Don’ts. A gentle enquiry into how she is going may lead to a considerate and empathetic conversation, giving her facts that help her decision about when to use her device.