Guest post by Greer Kirshenbaum, Ph.D (a speaker at the upcoming Raised Good Online Summit)
We are in a profound mental health crisis, and we are all suffering.
Our children are experiencing mental health challenges at younger ages and more intensely.
The treatments we currently have are not making an impact on the crisis, and while there are effective therapies, they remain expensive, inaccessible, hard to navigate, and take a long time to work. We need a better strategy.
We need to tackle the sources of mental unwellness, instead of only responding to the results.
Ever since I was a young child I’ve been attuned to the needs, moods and behaviors of those around me.
I’ve spent much of my life observing, acutely aware of the pain and suffering of my family members and friends.
I have my own experience with symptoms of anxiety and depression, which have been both out of and within my awareness at different times.
And so, my early life experience led me to study neuroscience and specialize in the neurobiology of mental health including brain systems of stress, anxiety, mania, depression and circadian rhythms. I wanted to know why my loved ones, myself and so many suffer.
After all, most research is MEsearch, we are led to study what we know.
I wanted to discover what causes common mental health struggles and how to treat them. And I was successful on my quest. I found the answers in emerging neuroscience research.
Over my neuroscience career more and more evidence built. Every time a new paper came out, I felt electrified in my body. Something very important was happening, a huge discovery that I was looking for.
The discovery that, the brain circuits that make up lifelong mental health are built by experience in infancy.
What if we had preventative medicine for lifelong mental health and physical health too?
What if we had a way to gift our babies and the next generation with resilient brain systems to reduce the risk of anxiety, depression, addiction, chronic stress and poor physical health? A gift that goes above and beyond that to provide lifelong thriving, connection, peace, confidence, joy, awe and empathy.
I’m here to tell you the incredible news that we do in fact have this preventative medicine.
We know how to build mental wellness.
It is not a pill, or a drug; it is the preventative medicine and gift of nurturing relationships in the first three years of life.
This knowledge has not yet been shared wide and far with parents, and the time has come.
Your invitation to join the Nurture Revolution
The Nurture Revolution is here, it is happening, and it’s transforming lives.
When we provide nurturing care to babies from conception to age three, we wire their complex brain systems towards health. We also wire our parental brains towards health.
I invite you to The Nurture Revolution, a movement to revolutionize mental health to impact larger systems in our world.
As a neuroscientist, doula, and mother, I’m here with a warning and a hopeful, exciting way forward out of the crisis we find ourselves in.
The way that our society – what I call a low nurture culture – largely understands and treats babies is built on a plethora of outdated myths, that put the lifelong mental health of babies and the mental health of parents at serious risk.
Low nurture is a significant underlying factor in our mental health crisis.
There is a better way for babies, a better way for parents and a better way for our world.
This is about questioning society, not individual parents
The treatment of babies is a society level issue, and we must change together and never blame parents, past, present or future. Parents do their absolute best and love their babies, no one doubts that for a second.
Yet parents are influenced by deeply ingrained societal norms, and those norms must be examined and updated to fit the current research.
It typically takes 17 years for research to get into public life. We can’t wait, we need the new knowledge applied now to make a difference for this generation.
We made a grave mistake in the last hundred years by disregarding the first three years of a baby’s life, giving new parents no support, pushing or training babies to be independent, sleep independently, cry alone, feel unsafe to express emotions and grow up fast.
We withhold babies’ fundamental human rights, ignore their needs, we interfere with their sleep, and we shame them for their perfectly normal emotions.
This treatment wires fundamental brain structures that underlie lifelong mental health towards lifelong vulnerability to anxiety, depression, addiction and chronic stress. It shapes the body towards poor physical health at the same time.
The poor and declining mental health in our society has an important underlying factor that is obvious to people who study brain development – a profound loss of nurture in the first three years of life.
If we turn it around, the future can be a whole lot healthier.
What do babies truly need from their parents?
We need a profound increase of nurture in early life. Nurture for babies, nurture for parents, more connection, more intuition, and more joy. The truth is that babies need deep connected positive relationships in the first three years of their life, and beyond.
Babies from birth to age three need:
- Nurturing adults who understand them
- Safety to express all their emotions
- Conversations and connection
- Co-regulation of stress
- Supported safe sleep
With these experiences babies grow resilience in every single brain circuit, brain system or brain area studied to date, that is involved in mental health. This includes the stress system or HPA axis, brain areas like the amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus and prefrontal cortex, neurotransmitter systems including serotonin and dopamine, and even the gut-brain axis.
Another truth is that parents also need deep connected positive relationships with their babies in the first three years of life. Just like babies, the brains of parents undergo dramatic neuroplasticity in brain areas that underlie mental health.
When parents nurture babies, they also nurture their own mental health systems towards health. When parents don’t, they are at increased risk of mental health struggles.
The research is strong, and the implications are big. We need a Nurture Revolution! If we dramatically shift how we treat babies and parents, in every single way, we will improve babies’ lifelong mental health, improve parental mental health, and improve the health of society and the planet.
About the author: Greer Kirshenbaum PhD is an Author, Neuroscientist, Doula, Infant and Family Sleep Specialist and Mother. She trained at the University of Toronto, Columbia University, New York University and Yale University. Greer has combined her academic training with her experience as a doula and mother to lead The Nurture Revolution. A movement to nurture our babies’ brains to revolutionize mental health and impact larger systems in our world. Greer wants families and perinatal practitioners to understand how early caregiving experience can boost mental wellness and diminish depression, anxiety, and addiction in adulthood by shaping babies’ brains through simple intuitive enriching experiences in pregnancy, birth and infancy. Her book is called The Nurture Revolution: Grow Your Baby’s Brain and Transform Their Mental Health Through the Art of Nurtured Parenting. She offers resources, workshops, and sessions on her website, which is www.nurture-neuroscience.com