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Love And The Importance Of Exterior Gestation

04/07/2015 12:06 pm ET | Updated Apr 07, 2015

When it comes to the relationship between a mother and child, kangaroos set a unique precedent that many humans should take to heart. A baby kangaroo, called a joey, stays in his pouch until his “exterior gestation” is complete and he is able to move away from his mother on his own. And, like joeys, human infants are also born immature, still needing their mothers’ bodies to nourish and care for them.

In fact, human infants remain helpless longer than infants of many other species and, like some marsupials, are thought to go through a distinct period of gestation outside of the womb. Although some see birth as a separation between mother and infant, babies need anything but separation. Nature intended that they be held on their mother’s bodies after birth until they complete their gestation out of the womb. This period of time needs to be respected. Not just as a sentimental matter, but as one that has a profound and major impact on an infant’s physical, emotional, and psychological development.

Just by simply observing a newborn, one can recognize the baby’s helpless nature. She needs warmth and nourishment. She can’t move herself away from danger or use words to communicate her needs. She’s challenged to breathe by herself and circulate oxygen and nutrients to her entire body. She needs help eating, digesting, and eliminating.

It’s clear that a newborn’s transformation is not instantaneous, but rather gradual. This process lasts most of the first year of a baby’s life. Every infant has a long way to go before he or she can even somewhat manage for his or herself.

In his book “Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin,” Dr. Ashley Montagu writes about the importance of the mother-baby relationship post-birth. He describes the relationship between the two as “naturally designed to become even more intensive and interoperative after birth” than in the womb. “Birth no more constitutes the beginning of the life of the individual than it does the end of gestation,” he claims. “[It] represents a complex and highly important series of functional changes which serve to prepare the newborn for the passage across the bridge between gestation within the womb and gestation continued out of the womb.”

Despite the fact that across the majority of the globe many mothers carry their babies, more and more tiny newborns are spending most of their days alone in plastic containers, bouncy seats, and strollers and spending their nights alone in bassinets and cribs. Nature didn’t intend it to be this way. A mother and her infant are hard-wired to expect unity, and for that unity to continue after birth.

According to Sharon Heller, author of “The Vital Touch: How Intimate Contact With Your baby Leads To Happier, Healthier Development,” touch is the most potent language available to humans. “[Touch] nurtures our infants’ psychological growth; stimulates their physical and mental growth; assures smoothness of physiological functions like breathing, heart rate and digestion; enhances their self-concept, body awareness, and sexual identity; boosts their immune system; and even enhances the grace and stability of their movement,” she writes.

So what does that mean for the future of the modern mother? Maybe it’s time to take a look back at our ancestors, and step away from the complications we’ve created in child rearing. Science is reconfirming what the first mothers who stood upright knew intuitively: arms provide the optimal environment after transition from womb to the world. Not only is a mother’s body prepared and designed to continue the gestation of her baby after birth, but the new human has biologically adapted to expect this for survival.

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