Center and its Edward Zigler Center in
Child Development and Social Policy.
Our brains contain “reward circuitry,”
adds Mayes, who studies how the brain’s
reward, pleasure-seeking and stress
regulation functions. The reward
is central to caring for another person
and is in the same area of the brain drug
addiction and habit-forming rituals
This part of the brain “becomes highly
specialized and sensitized to the cues
that come from the baby, or whoever is
on the other end of the care equation,”
Mayes says. For example, new parents
have reported they can hear the slightest
noises, a reflection of their new protective
A newborn’s brain also transforms
but at an explosive rate. About 700 neural
connections a second are formed as a
result of our genes, environment and
Neural connections and early, healthy
bonding both depend on “serve and
return” interactions (see story on page 17),
a building block for long-term emotional,
social, cognitive and physical health.
This is how early experiences
are literally built into the brain.
Such interactions, called contingent
reciprocity by developmental researchers,
also form the foundation for lifelong
healthy brain architecture. The more
these circuits are exercised, the stronger
they become, scientists have found,
emphasizing the need for meaningful
bonding early on.
“Neural systems are particularly plastic
in the first five years of a life… but we are
now learning that there is tremendous
capacity for change all through life. The
brain is a very plastic, changeable organ.”
As powerful as the
parent/child bond is, it
can still be undermined.
Toxic stress and adverse childhood
experiences (ACEs) (see stories on
pages 18 and 49) can delay and derail
Post-partum depression (PPD) can also
seriously erode the parent/child bond.
PPD — sometimes called “the thief
that steals motherhood”— is debilitating
not just for moms, but also for dads
and other siblings and family members.
And it can have long-term negative
Dr. Nicole Letourneau, a professor
in the University of Calgary’s Faculty
of Nursing and the Norlien/Alberta
Children’s Hospital Chair in Parent-infant Mental Health, says 15 per cent of
women are prone to PPD, and it’s unclear
why some women slip into
a deeper and longer depression.
While PPD is commonly thought to
be linked to a hormone, Letourneau says
one has yet to be identified. Indeed,
hormonal upheaval is a natural part
of the post-natal weeks, with 50 to
80 per cent of women getting the
“baby blues,” typically caused by
fatigue and hormonal changes.
a building block for
social, cognitive and