After a baby is born, it is natural to see the mother kissing the baby. One would think this is simply because of the emotional bond that has formed between mother and child. While this is true, there are also other very compelling biochemical reasons why it 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, you will notice that the mother spends a lot of time licking her young. This exposes her five senses to the young so that she knows the taste, smell, feel, sound and sight of her new baby. In this way, a mother claims her child as her own.
When a human mother births a baby in an environment which allows her immediate and free access to her child, you will notice that over a period of time she performs certain behaviours called “claiming behaviours.” She will caress the child, explore the softness of the baby’s skin, and probably count and fondle 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. She will notice the colour of the hair and eyes and other physical features. She hears the baby’s cries and learns to distinguish them from all other cries. As she leans down to kiss the child, she undoubtedly smells the scent of her new baby and through the actual act of kissing; she comes to know the taste of him or her.
Just like an animal mother, she has now exposed her five senses to the baby so she attaches to him or her. She now feels he or she is her own. It is not unusual to find that women who are deprived of the privacy required to create this immediate bonding right after birth often say they feel a distance between them and their baby.
Claiming behaviours such as kissing provide not only emotional, but biological attachment. There is a very real health benefit for the baby who is kissed.
“When a mother kisses her baby, she ‘samples’ those pathogens that are on the baby’s face. Those are ones that the baby is about to ingest. These samples are taken up by the mother’s secondary lymphoid 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.” says Lauren Sompayrac, author of How The Immune System Works.
We talk a lot about breast milk and how it conveys antibodies to the infant helping to prevent illness. However antibodies made for the mother while pregnant are not what the baby needs. He or she needs antibodies for the environment around them that they are in constant contact with now. Kissing her baby is a very important activity beyond its obvious pleasurable and attachment- promoting value. It helps mother claim baby, and helps her body determine the antibodies baby needs in the breast milk.
So mothers, kiss away on those babies!
Copyright 2001 by Judie Rall of Unhindered Living. Reprinted with permission in the Winter 2007 issue of Birthing Magazine.