Why Mothers Kiss Their Babies
on the elegant partnership between human physiology and emotion.
by Judie Snelson
After a baby is born, it is a natural thing to see the mother kissing the baby. One would think that this is simply because of the emotional bond that has formed between mother and child. While this is true, there are also some other very compelling biochemical reasons as to why this occurs. These reasons reinforce the understanding that our bodies have inner wisdom which we seldom recognize or trust. Just as our bodies know how to give birth even if we don't have intellectual knowledge of the process, our bodies' biological systems also have reasons for the complex social interplay between mother and baby. It just goes to show that, more than ever, we should trust our mothering instincts.
When an animal gives birth to its young, you will notice that the mother spends a lot of time licking it's child. It exposes the five senses to the young, so that the mother knows the taste, smell, feel, sound, and sight of her new baby. In this way, the mother claims the child as her own. When a human mother gives birth to a baby, and does so in an environment which allows her immediate and free access to her child, you will notice that over a period of time the mother performs certain behaviors which we call claiming behaviors. She will caress the child, exploring the softness of the baby's skin and probably counting and fondling the unique little fingers and toes. She probably marvels visually over how much the baby looks like her or her husband or another family member, the color of the hair and eyes, and other physical features. She hears the baby's cries and learns to distinguish her baby's cry from all others. As she leans down to kiss the child, she undoubtedly smells the scent of her new baby, and through the act of kissing the baby, she actually learns to know the taste of him/her. She has also exposed her five senses to the baby so that she attaches to the baby, feeling that the baby is now her own. It is interesting to note that women who are deprived of the privacy and opportunity for bonding immediately after birth often state that there is an emotional distance between them and their babies, that they are never really sure that the baby is theirs.
Claiming behaviors such as kissing the baby provide not only emotional but biological attachment. There is also a very real health benefit for the baby in terms of kissing. "When a mother kisses her baby, she 'samples' those pathogens that are on the baby's face - the very ones that the baby is about to ingest. These samples are taken up by the mother's secondary lympoid organs like the tonsils, and memory B cells specific for those pathogens are re-stimulated. These B cells then migrate to the mother's breasts where they produce just those antibodies that the baby needs!" (1)
We talk a lot about breastmilk, and about how it conveys antibodies to the infant and helps to prevent illness. However, the antibodies that the mother has made to the germs around her while pregnant convey little help to the infant. It is the germs in the infant's environment at present, the ones he is in contact with right now which he needs protection from. Kissing the baby is a very important activity beyond it's obvious pleasurable and attachment-promoting value.
So mothers, kiss away on those babies!
(1999). How the Immune System Works. Malden, MA:
Blackwell Science, Inc. p. 71.
2001-11 Judie Snelson and The Center for Unhindered Living
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