My last post highlighted how the caregiver response can enhance interoceptive development. This happens when a baby has a need, expresses the need, the need is met, and meaning is made. Today, I want to share some recent research on the importance of interoception in early infant and caregiver interactions.
Interoception is sensing our internal body sensations. This is fundamental to our experience of body awareness. For example, have you ever noticed how your body awareness increases when there is a change to your external or internal environment? For example, are you more aware of your body when you have a stomachache, are cold, or are about to perform public speaking?
Pregnancy and motherhood are full of external and internal changes to our bodies. Our bellies grow, we gain weight, we gain blood volume, our clothes no longer fit. It turns out that researchers are finding that these changes (and other endocrine changes) prepare a mother to have a particular, caring and regulatory response to her infant.
The research is showing us that if a mother has good interoceptive awareness it influences how she picks up on infant cues for care-giving by increasing her care-giving behaviors. Put another way, increased caregiver behaviors are associated with increased attention and regulatory aspects of the mother’s body awareness.
This effect could be bi-directional. That is a mother who is highly aware of her internal sensations may be more likely to perform care-giving behaviors. It may also be true that performing care-giving acts increases a mother’s self-awareness.
What evidence-based action can you take today?
If you are a caregiver…
- Deliberately perform embodied care-giving acts including cuddling, rocking, talking to the infant, stroking the infant’s back, legs, and arms.
- Take some time to attend to internal body cues. One idea is to participate in a short body scan meditation.
Interested in this research? Click the link below to listen to researcher Rosie Drysdale explain her reserach on this topic.
Fun fact: In one study postpartum mothers were able to recognize emotion faster and with more accuracy than women who did not recently give birth (Gingell, 2015).
Embodied, regulatory care-giving results in enhanced attachment and relationship which supports every level of development.
photo credit: https://michellepatelphotography.pixieset.com/
NOTE: It is important to note that while this study is specific to birth mothers, infant regulatory caregiving can be provided by any primary caregiver
Reference: Gingnell, M., Bannbers, E., Moes, H., Engman, J., Sylvén, S., Skalkidou, A., Kask, K., Wikström, J., & Sundström-Poromaa, I. (2015). Emotion Reactivity Is Increased 4-6 Weeks Postpartum in Healthy Women: A Longitudinal fMRI Study. PloS One, 10(6), e0128964–e0128964. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0128964