TOP > About Child Science > Kodomogaku Kotohazime (1998-2000) > Nursing and the Mother-child interaction: How the sucking behavior satisfies and relieves the baby from anxiety, while increasing maternal affection


Nursing and the Mother-child interaction: How the sucking behavior satisfies and relieves the baby from anxiety, while increasing maternal affection

Nursing is considered to be the most outstanding example of the mother-child interaction process.

If we look at mother-child interaction from the point of "skinship", we can say that nursing allows the mother and child to be exchanging various touch sensations by contacting the most sensitive parts of the body. For the mother, this is the nipple and the area around it and for the baby, it is the lips.

Sucking the mother's nipple is one program that already exists in the newborn at the time of birth. The fetus is even sometimes observed to be sucking his/her own finger or on the placenta in the mother's womb in the last trimester. The baby's reflex to suck on the finger is stimulated by some stimulus to the finger, which triggers another reflex to bring the finger to the mouth.

Although the sucking behavior is a reflex, the muscles and nerves necessary for the sucking behavior are already developed. After the baby is born, the brain is thought to manage this behavior. It seems that the fetus is "taking it (the sucking behavior) for a test run" while in the womb.

When the baby enters this world, s/he reflexively starts the sucking program by sucking milk from the mother's nipple or the nipple of a bottle. S/he then delivers it from the mouth to the alimentary canal which, indirectly, nourishes the baby and allows him or her to grow.

In the case of breastfeeding, the nipple is swallowed deep into the baby's oral cavity and the areola is pulled in forming a stem-like muscle, resembling a cherry (nipple) at the end of the stem (areola). The baby's gums stimulate the stem (areola) by the sucking behavior. Subsequently, the stimulus from the baby's gums the pituitary gland is then triggered via the hypothalamus and the frontal lobe secretes prolactin while the occipital lobe begins to secrete oxytocin. Breast milk is generated by the prolactin stimulating the mammary gland and it is delivered into the baby's oral cavity through the contraction cells building up internal pressure due to the oxytocin. Thus, breastfeeding is one genuine example of mother-child interaction.

The baby's sucking behavior is the foundation that maintains the baby's life, as it is the mechanism to deliver nutrition to the body. If the "sucking program" does not function, it is apparent that the baby cannot survive.

The baby's lips are very sensitive and the sucking behavior acknowledges the normal functioning of the sensory system. In addition, this process allows the baby to develop cognitively by discovering and later recognizing many objects. This can be seen in the baby's actions as s/he brings everything to the mouth and explores it orally by licking or sucking on the object.

Sucking is also believed to be the initial stages of play. Sucking on the mother's nipple must be very enjoyable and pleasurable for the baby. The baby gets an additional treat when sucking on the mother's nipple by being able to drink breast milk.

In addition, sucking also deters anxiety from the baby. This is observable in the toddler as s/he sucks on his/her finger when hearing a scary story or watching a scary scene on the television.

Furthermore, sucking acts as a vehicle for the mother and child's communication. When watching the mother nurse, the baby sucks rhythmically from the mother's breast. When the baby stops sucking, the baby looks directly at the mother's eyes. The mother, in turn, seeing her baby look at her, talks softly to her baby, perhaps rocking the baby a bit and encouraging him/her to continue sucking. The baby is undoubtedly waiting for this reaction from the mother and enjoying this little exchange which is a very intimate form of communication.

In any case, during nursing, sucking is the most important form of mother-child interaction. Through sucking, the baby is able to enjoy communicating with the mother, while receiving the bonus of breastmilk, while also, feeling satisfied and fulfilled emotionally, as well as physically. This is the foundation of the attachment formation of the attachment process between the mother and child.

On the other hand, the mother, through the baby's sucking behavior, develops a reaction which allows the mother to feed her baby her milk. This reaction also allows the mother to experience a very special sensation and sense of satisfaction. This, then, develops into a very strong and loving emotion directed toward her baby.

This is why, nursing one's baby, is the strongest example of a solid mother-child interaction.
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