By Dr. Nicole Milburn, Senior Manager for Infant Mental Health and Developmental Consultancies, Take Two
Some of you might remember from my guest blog in late July that I promised to write a series of posts about the importance of a good infancy for a good childhood.
In the meantime I have been diverted by other Institute activities, not least of which was the national speaking tour of Dr. Bruce D. Perry, Child Psychiatrist and Neuroscientist. Dr. Perry and his colleagues at the ChildTrauma Academy have made an enormous contribution to our understanding of the impact of trauma on development. They have clearly articulated that the brain develops in a sequential way, from the most primitive functions to the most complex. This means it is vital that we understand what happens and when it happens within the timeline of the developing brain so that we can understand the impact of events and what to then do about it. This model also gives the appropriate emphasis on very early development as laying the foundation for life.
We know, however, that the foundations for a good childhood start well before conception. This may seem a little strange at first, but there are a number of key domains that are important for the future child to have functioning well enough in their prospective parents.
Firstly it stands to reason that the parents-to-be should be healthy. Being fit and having a good diet means that the egg and sperm would start their journey with the best resources available to them. Importantly it is also helpful for the baby-to-be to come from eggs and sperm that are not overly affected by age, as we know that the older the egg and sperm get the less stable and strong is the genetic material. Toxic substances as well as age affect genetic material and so it is important that the parents-to-be are free from drugs and alcohol for a period of time before they conceive.
Secondly, it is important that the parents-to-be experienced ‘good enough’ care when they were children and that they have ‘good enough’ care as adults. This means they have the benefit of both personal experience as well as a number of good quality supportive relationships that can help prepare them to be parents.
Finally, the processes involved in wanting to become parents are important for the child-to-be. Parents who are prepared and wanting a baby are well placed to care for their baby from the moment of conception.
Not all of these things are in place for every child and their parents, and this is not necessarily a problem. Humans — and their genetic material — are highly adaptable. This is our greatest strength, and will be taken up in the next post, where we talk about the pregnancy itself.