Along with the cascade of benefits that most Mothering readers already know comes with vaginal birth, new research from Yale has identified yet another: vaginal birth triggers the expression of a protein in baby's brain cells that optimizes development of the hippocampus - an area central to such "complex behaviors in the adult" as learning, memory, and stress response. C-section delivery may actually impair this protein's expression.

I find it of interest that earlier this year another study came out linking early nurturing by mothers with larger hippocampal regions in school-aged children. And while the Yale study is very preliminary - using mice, not humans - to me it all points to a notion I hold dear: Nature has an elegant plan for the unfolding of optimal human intelligence (including the required brain structures to mediate that intelligence), and it involves such quaintly natural things as birthing through the birth canal and letting mothers closely nurture their young ones!

Online analyst Jennifer Viegas offers another cool addition to this connect-the-dots big picture of Mother Nature's lovely plan when she points out that this special protein triggered by vaginal birth (uncoupling protein 2, or UCP2) also which is a key component of breast milk. So first this protein likely aid the infant's transition to breastfeeding, and it appears to also support "braininess"!

Nature's Plan for Intelligence?

Many of you are probably familiar with research that has come down the pike linking breastfeeding with higher cognitive function. When looked at through the kind of wide-angle, big-picture lens I'm partial to, it's like one massive, interrelated, brilliant…plan for intelligence!!

Indeed it is, as well expressed in cover text on early editions of Joseph Chilton Pearce's book Magical Child, which read, "Nature's Plan for our Children." Nature has imbued us with an astonishing suite of biologically- and hormonally-based mechanisms to keep a mother and her baby close and connected, and therefore baby's (and mom's!) brain in optimal growth mode. Numerous researchers and theorists have chronicled the connection between infant-mother separation and a cascade of developmental problems, which I list ad nauseum in my book. Pearce has spent much of his professional efforts outlining the perfectly harmonious array of processes nature has provided as an elegant neuro-developmental support plan when we do NOT separate mother and baby, which includes:

  • the neural processing capabilities of the newborn make her seek, make her need, the sight of the human face - at a distance of 12 to 16 inches, precisely the distance between a breastfeeding baby's eyes and his mother's face! - as the key referent for both optimal neural development the mirroring attachment duet with her mother

  • we now know that the human heart puts out a measurable energy field that can resonate and entrain with others - and a baby requires entrainment between her own less stable, coherent heart rhythms and those of her mother, such that nature has embedded into humans the world over, irrespective of all variations including dominant handedness - the instinct to hold babies in the left-arm carry position, increasing the proximity of the two hearts to one another, presumably because of both the comforting rhythm the adult heartbeat provides the baby, as well as the optimized "nesting" of baby's heart field within that of the adult

  • within a very short time (Pearce says forty-five minutes) without the face pattern and the heart entrainment, a baby's system begins to go into shock, releasing large amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, which is highly neurotoxic (i.e., it kills brain cells)

  • human breast milk is the lowest in fat and protein (as Pearce puts it, "the weakest, wateriest stuff") of any in the animal kingdom, requiring frequent feeding which in turn ensures that the face pattern and heart entrainment are reestablished frequently, to maintain homeostasis and optimal neurological, psychological and physiological development

Pearce highlights a further elegant element to this developmental scheme: all of the above are nine-month requirements, needs that go along with the so-called "fourth trimester." And it is exactly around that age, nine months, when the infant, no longer in need of such concentrated closeness, begins to crawl…away from mother! Amazingly, it is only at around nine months of age that the infant begins to produce stomach HCL - hydrochloric acid - which helps digest protein and fats, with which (when we look at it from an ancient evolutionary standpoint) the baby might come into contact in his adventures "away from mother." (Can you stand the brilliance of it all??!)

Let's let baby crawl away from mother on his own terms, when he has become equipped for it at nine months. Let's not cut him away from her on Day One if we can possibly avoid it. There will always be a small percentage of births in which complications require a C-section. That percentage is anywhere from two to five percent. With the C-section rate soaring into the thirties, here is yet one more compelling reason to stem that red tide: our babies' optimally developed brains.

Our future citizens' most flourishing intelligence.

salimfadhley under Creative Commons license

Marcy Axness

About Marcy Axness

I'm the author of "Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers," and also the adoption expert on Mothering's expert panel. I write and speak around the world on prenatal, child and parent development, and I have a private practice coaching parents-in-progress. I raised two humans, earned a doctorate, and lived to report back. On the wings of my new book I'm delighted to be speaking at many wonderful conferences all over the world in the coming months, and I'm happy to be sharing dispatches and inside glimpses with you here on! As a special gift to Mothering readers I'm offering "A Unique 7-Step Parenting Tool."

Posted by: Marcy Axness