Importance of Mother’s Presence to Her Preterm Baby’s Development

22 Apr


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Yeah yeah yeah, she is JUST a mother, and she is just as dispensable as anyone else. So what does that make her special?

Let us look at a fetus developing in a mother’s womb. Fetal development usually proceed in a cephalocaudal (head to foot) pattern. In fact, the very first organ that forms is the brain and spinal cord. As far as the fetus’ neurosensory development is concerned, it occurs in a sequential pattern, starting with

  1. tactile/skin, 7.5-18 weeks
  2. chemosensory (taste), 12-14 weeks
  3. movement and position (vestibular, kinesthetic), 20-25 weeks
  4. auditory, 24-35 weeks
  5. visual, 30wks to 24 months. [Jean-Pierre Lecanuet, Benoist Schaal, Eur J Obstet. Gynecol. Repr. Biol. 68 (1996);1-23.] 

(Fetus inside its most comfortable environment at 20 weeks gestation).

The fetus gets used to the mother’s voice that he will only recognized that of the mother and no one else. This carefully orchestrated process of sensory development happens with continuous interaction with the baby’s environment, leading to baby born with a brain eager for it’s future development (Conneman, MD).


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(Fetus at 20 weeks: The thumb sucking and the hand touching the head/face is not coincidental. This reflects the baby’s kinesthetic development that start at this age of gestation).

What happens then when a baby gets born prematurely, say from an uncontrolled maternal hypertension, or infection of the uterus? 

When the baby get’s delivered prematurely, there is a sensory mismatch between the environment and the prematurely born infant; the environment is different from what the brain was promised for it’s development (Conneman, MD).


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When a premature baby cries, this is a sign of or a distress call. Baby is calling for his mother to comfort him. Usually, simple cuddling of the head will appease him and eventually make him quiet.


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Babies are liable to the most severe anxieties. If they are left for long unattended (such as several minutes or even hours) without familiar and human contact (the mother), they have experiences which can only be described as:

  1. going to pieces
  2. falling forever
  3. dying and dying and dying
  4. losing all vestige of hope of the renewal of contacts (DW Winnicott,Dependence in Child Care, 1970). 

Inability of the mother to attend to his call immediately will make him withdraw and then eventually lose confidence on his mother.  If this scenario is repeated, for instance maternal death, the sequela, though may seem subtle, is fatal. A nurse on duty who attends to the baby during these distress calls, will never replace the comfort provided by his own mother.

Premature not attended to by that familiar human contact (mother) will end up with

  1. cognitive impairment
  2. specific drug preferences, and
  3. poor socialization skills.

Since infants experience the world directly through their sensory systems, behavior provides an accurate mirror of the appropriateness of current experience (Conneman). BEHAVIOR is the infant’s primary means of communication.

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Posted by on April 22, 2012 in neonates, Pregnancy, RHBill


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