The Health Benefits of a Mother’s Love

May brings Mother’s Day, a day to celebrate our moms and mother figures, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. But more than this, the love and attention of a mother, father, or caregiver molds who we are. What is the role of a parent in the early development of a child? What role does he/she play in stimulating learning and what are the benefits later in life? Studies have shown that the paternal bond (or lack thereof) affects our brain, body, and heart.

BIGGER BRAINS

  • Your mom’s affection isn’t just good for your heart and soul — it also nourishes your brain. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., conducted imaging scans on nearly a hundred 7- to 10-year-olds in an ongoing study of childhood depression, and found that those whose mothers were the most supportive and nurturing had larger hippocampi than those with less empathetic or compassionate moms.

The hippocampus is an area of the brain involved in memory and learning, both of which are key to childhood development and academic performance in school. “For years studies have underscored the importance of an early, nurturing environment for good, healthy outcomes for children,” said study author Joan Luby, Ph.D., a professor of child psychiatry. “This study, to my knowledge, is the first that actually shows an anatomical change in the brain, which really provides validation for the very large body of early childhood development literature that had been highlighting the importance of early parenting and nurturing.”

Bonus: The benefit is mutual for moms. Women’s brains may also increase in size during new motherhood, according to a study in Behavioral Neuroscience — particularly in regions associated with pleasure, reasoning, judgment, and planning.

Observational studies have shown that children raised in a nurturing environment typically do better in school and are more emotionally developed than their non-nurturing peers. Researchers at Washington University in St Louis performed brain imaging studies on a hundred children ages 7-10yo in a childhood depression study and found that those children whose mothers were supportive and nurturing actually had a larger segment of the brain called the hippocampus. This area is involved in memory and learning, both critical in childhood development and academic success.  In demonstrating this anatomical change in the brain, this study validates the critical importance of a nurturing environment early in life in the successful outcome and health of children.  In another study published in Behavioral Neuroscience, mothers also benefit, as women’s brain sizes also appeared to increase in new motherhood, especially in the regions of the brain associated with pleasure, reasoning, judgment, and planning.

LOWER RISK OF DISEASE IN MIDDLE AGE YEARS

In a study conducted at the University of British Columbia, 1,215 Americans were studied and it was shown that compared to their wealthier and more educated peers, those individuals who grew up in poverty were at increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, unless they had an especially loving mother.   In fact, children raised in low income poorly educated households, but whose mothers were nurturing had equal rate of metabolic syndrome as kids from better socioeconomic backgrounds. Researchers speculate that this phenomenon may relate to increased stress levels, which can contribute to chronic inflammation and insulin sensitivity.

LOWER OBESITY RATES

Our bonds with our mother may carry more weight than we realize. A recent study at Ohio State University analyzed data on nearly one thousand children from around the US and found that a weakened emotional bond between a mother and child was statistically associated with a high rate of obesity later in life. More than 25% of toddlers who had deteriorated relationships with their mothers were later obese as teenagers, compared to 13% of kids who were close to their mothers.  It is likely that the areas of the brain that control emotions and stress feed into the brain segments that control and drive appetite and energy balance, so stressed children perhaps “eat their feelings”

There are many more far-reaching benefits from the strength of a parent-child bond.

  • Children grow up to become sociable with good interpersonal skills and less aggressive behaviors.
  • Strong bond determines whether a child develops a stable romantic relationship later in life.
  • Exposure to less stress occurring as a result of consistent responses to your child’s cries and frustrations optimizes brain development. In contrast, high levels of stress may result in irreversible brain damage.
  • Children with a securely attached parenting are able to control their emotions.
  • They have a positive self-concept and high self esteem.
  • As adults, they are able to make positive assumptions about others, and so they have better relationships.
  • When relating with others, they engage in more helping behaviors such as showing gratitude, appreciation, care, comfort, and volunteerism.

 

Dr. Aparna Mele, founder of My Gut Instinct with her children

Love doesn’t cost a thing, but it sure is worth a lot! So, celebrate that parent or guardian who molded you and your better health!

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