Moral Landscapes

Living the life that is good for one to live

Mother’s touch of dead baby causes “miracle”

Bringing baby back to life


Those of you who had loving caregivers, do you remember as a child running to her (or him) when you needed comfort? You had a sense it would calm you down, and it did. Here is evidence that it can be miraculous!

It turns out that mother's touch is lifegiving. In a dramatic case just in the news, a mother reports that after her baby was pronounced dead by doctors, he came back to life after spending time in her arms. Kate Ogg unwrapped the "dead" baby and held him on her chest. After some breast milk on her finger, he started to breathe normally. After two hours of talking to him he opened his eyes and grabbed her finger.

The ancient practice of skin to skin contact or "kangaroo care" is becoming popular in hospitals because the medical field is realizing how essential it is for human growth, whether you are a premature baby or not.

What does mother's touch do generally?

  • It calms the infant (the best way to stop a crying baby is to pick her up). 
  • It keeps physiological systems "humming" (they deteriorate with physical separation). 
  • It helps establish good breathing, heart rhythm and self regulation.

The best thing to do for an infant is not put them down. The first three months after birth should be like an ‘external womb' as the brain's development continues, needing calm for optimal later functioning.

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We are finding in my lab that self-reported mother's touch is correlated with lower levels of depression and aggression, and higher levels of intelligence, self control and cooperation in three-year-olds.

Normal children's oxytocin levels (the hormone that makes you feel cuddly) go up when the children sit in the lap of a parent. Romanian orphans adopted after several years of life in orphanages do not exhibit oxytocin level increase. This is presumed to show that their hormonal systems were not well established in early life.

How do touch and hormones matter for moral functioning? Calmness and oxytocin allow a person to access a mindset that is more prosocial. Your perceptions change with your mindset. If you are unable to feel calm or cuddly, you are likely less empathic towards others and more self-focused.

For more on what babies need for good development, see here.

For more on the links between physiology and morality see here.

 

Darcia Narvaez is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame and Executive Editor of the Journal of Moral Education.

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