Study: brain of child neglected by mother is smaller and underdeveloped

Dina sent me this article from the UK Daily Mail. In the past, I’ve written about how much children need their fathers, but this time I’m focusing on how much children need their mothers, especially in the first 5 years of development.

Here is two brain scans to compare:

Brain scans of 3-year old children: normal vs neglected
Brain scans of 3-year old children: normal vs neglected

Excerpt:

Both of these images are brain scans of a two three-year-old children, but the brain on the left is considerably larger, has fewer spots and less dark areas, compared to the one on the right.

According to neurologists this sizeable difference has one primary cause – the way each child was treated by their mothers.

The child with the larger and more fully developed brain was looked after by its mother – she was constantly responsive to her baby, reported The Sunday Telegraph.

But the child with the shrunken brain was the victim of severe neglect and abuse.

According to research reported by the newspaper, the brain on the right worryingly lacks some of the most fundamental areas present in the image on the left.

The consequences of these deficits are pronounced – the child on the left with the larger brain will be more intelligent and more likely to develop the social ability to empathise with others.

But in contrast, the child with the shrunken brain will be more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crimes, much more likely to be unemployed and to be dependent on state benefits.

The child is also more likely to develop mental and other serious health problems.

Professor Allan Schore, of UCLA, told The Sunday Telegraph that if a baby is not treated properly in the first two years of life, it can have a fundamental impact on development.

He pointed out that the genes for several aspects of brain function, including intelligence, cannot function.

[…]The study correlates with research released earlier this year that found that children who are given love and affection from their mothers early in life are smarter with a better ability to learn.

The study by child psychiatrists and neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found school-aged children whose mothers nurtured them early in life have brains with a larger hippocampus, a key structure important to learning, memory and response to stress.

The research was the first to show that changes in this critical region of children’s brain anatomy are linked to a mother’s nurturing, Neurosciencenews.com reports.

The research is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

Lead author Joan L. Luby, MD, professor of child psychiatry, said the study reinforces how important nurturing parents are to a child’s development.

My friend Katy tweeted this article from far-left NPR:

Parents do a lot more than make sure a child has food and shelter, researchers say. They play a critical role in brain development.

More than a decade of research on children raised in institutions shows that “neglect is awful for the brain,” says Charles Nelson, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. Without someone who is a reliable source of attention, affection and stimulation, he says, “the wiring of the brain goes awry.” The result can be long-term mental and emotional problems.

The article goes on to talk about children who grow up without mothers in Romanian orphanages:

As the children grew older, the researchers were able to use MRI to study the anatomy of their brains. And once again, the results were troubling. “We found a dramatic reduction in what’s referred to as gray matter and in white matter,” Nelson says. “In other words, their brains were actually physically smaller.”

The scientists realized the cause wasn’t anything as simple as malnutrition. It was a different kind of deprivation — the lack of a parent, or someone who acted like a parent.

A baby “comes into the world expecting someone to take care of them and invest in them,” Nelson says. “And then they form this bond or this relationship with this caregiver.” But for many Romanian orphans, there wasn’t even a person to take them out of the crib.

“Now what happens is that you’re staring at a white ceiling, or no one is talking to you, or no one is soothing you when you get upset,” Nelson says. So areas of the brain involved in vision and language and emotion don’t get wired correctly.

I expect the woman I marry (if I marry) to have a college degree, and preferably a graduate degree, and a couple of years of employment. But I think to be fair to the research on child development, she has to stay home and invest in those children through the first five years at least. After that she can stay home or work as much as she thinks is beneficial to the family goals of impacting the university, the church and the public square – as well as continuing to raise those children.  I would take over more of the parenting as the children’s needs changed. When it comes to children, we work backward from their needs, and those needs create responsibilities and obligations on the grown-ups. That doesn’t mean the children are spoiled – it means that they get what they need.

Christian parents have to go even further

Here is a relevant post from Lindsay, a Christian mother who has a graduate degree in biology and was teaching biology before leaving her career to care for her children.

She writes:

Now, can a woman handle the logistics of the home, ensure her family is cared for, and still work outside the home? Perhaps, in some cases – especially if they do not yet have children. But no woman is Superwoman. We all have limitations. It’s just not possible for any woman to adequately care for children and home while holding down a full time job. The care of children and the home is primarily a woman’s responsibility in a way it isn’t for her husband. If there are no children, it may be possible for her to care for the home and her husband and still keep a job outside the home, but she must keep the home and her husband as her priority.

Once children arrive, it becomes pretty much impossible for her to work outside the home and still fulfill her duties at home. The funny thing about children is that they need constant care. One cannot care for children and work outside the home too. The choice once children come along is whether to outsource the care of the children to someone else or to do it yourself. I firmly believe that God entrusts children to a husband and wife because he wants them to be the primary influences in their children’s lives. That doesn’t happen if the children spend a majority of their waking hours in the care of someone else.

Children don’t just need food and shelter provided to them, they need love, teaching, discipline, a sense of security, and examples of how they are to live. All of those things are best done when the child spends time primarily with his or her parents. Daycare workers, school teachers, and even grandparents simply cannot provide them in the same way parents can. No one loves a child like his own parents do. No one has such a vested interest in ensuring that he grows up with the proper spiritual and moral training. Even if others care about the child, the responsibility for the training of a child belongs to his parents. Daycare workers and teachers and grandparents won’t answer to God for the soul of that child. His parents will.

For Christian parents, the stakes are even higher. Not only do they have to care about basic needs of child, but the higher spiritual needs as well. Men really need to be careful to pick a mother for their child who has demonstrated ability in caring for the needs of others, letting the needs of others override her own selfish desires.

One thought on “Study: brain of child neglected by mother is smaller and underdeveloped”

  1. Thank you so very much for trying to help mothers and fathers to understand just how important their love is to their children. The domino effect starts when one man or woman or both abandon their child for someone else. The next generation and then the next generation suffer. This was never God’s plan for his family!

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