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We Become Mothers as Soon as We Hold Our Babies- Part

We know from sadly tragic cases, that a woman does not automatically become a mother as soon as she gives birth. However, it is fortunate that these cases can be considered the exception.

Just a look into the Japanese newspapers reveals these tragic events, ranging in forms of child abuse. Some examples are when a baby is left in a coin locker or being left in the car alone for prolonged periods of time in intense cold or heat. Why is it that parents can beat their own innocent child to the point of bone fractures in the name of discipline? Why is it that a mother can leave a newborn in a dark, cold coin locker? How can a mother leave a child to suffocate in her own car? How can the parents do this, even if the child is hypothetically deceased? The mother must not have even an ounce of love in her blood for this child.

These days, as a pediatrician, my heart aches to hear of these troubled relationships between the mother and child, where the love between them is nonexistent. However, when we think about it, what is expected of the mother in relating to her child? What is the affection or love expected of her? How is this bond formed and love fostered?

In the living, there is a maternal behavior that is nurtured by belongingness

The relationship between the mother and child is established by the exchange of mutual actions. Encouraging the mother to hold her child as soon as possible after delivery advocates a building of a bond between the mother and child. When the mother holds the child and they are in close physical contact soon after delivery, a psychological exchange is begun through various actions on both the mother's and the baby's part. In this way, the relationship crystallizes.

During this period, the physical contact between the mother and child, the actual touching of skin to skin is important even for the mother. In English, it is called touch, in Japanese, we call it "skinship", but more importantly, they both mean a mutual physical and emotional contact. Often, when this physical contact is not established, it affects the mother-child relationship negatively, which in turn negatively affects breast feeding and ultimately, the socialization of the child.

Most mammals usually keep their young at a close distance after their offspring are born, often maintaining some sort of close physical contact. The most extreme example is the kangaroo and the opossum. These animals nurture their offspring in a pouch in their own skin and raise them that way.

Let's take a look at the housecat for an example. It seems that a mother cat, whether it be in the United States, England or Japan, behaves in the same way when they give birth. Toward the end of its pregnancy, the mother cat becomes calm, avoiding fast movement or jumping or climbing. Then it begins to look for a warm, dark place where she can prepare for childbirth.

When the kittens are born, the mother cat licks their body one by one and cleans them. When the last kitten is born and cleaned, the mother cat lies on its side and almost cradles the kittens. Then, the mother cat, along with her kittens takes a long easy rest of about 12 hours. We can even view this as a time for the mother cat to recuperate from childbirth. However, the mother's milk is ready, at the earliest, 30 minutes after childbirth. It seems to me that there is some fundamental and symbolic meaning to this initial process, even for human child rearing.

How does a human mother interact with the newborn? That is a further topic to explore.

Kobayashi, Noboru (1981). Wagako wo dakukoto, hahaoya ni narukoto - 1 (written in Japanese). Tokyo: Child Research Net. Retrieved December 13, 2001, from the World Wide Web:
http://www.crn.or.jp/LIBRARY/KOBY/MIRAI/cbs0088.html
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