“By processing information from the environment through the senses, the nervous system continually evaluates risk.” Stephen W. Porges
Our brain is always learning, adapting, and changing—whether we’re aware that’s happening or not.
But here’s the problem. If we leave how our brain changes to chance, there’s no guarantee that we end up with circuitry that serves us well. Yet, if we learn how the brain works and then apply that knowledge to our daily life, we can upgrade our brain (much like we upgrade our phones and software) in ways that we may have never imagined.
Research shows that babies are reading their parents’ nervous system 24/7.
Even in the most idyllic situations, pregnancy and post-partum hormones create stress on a mother’s body. Add sleep deprivation to the mix, along with well-intended family and friends with endless advice, and the stress levels keep rising.
And on top of that, most of today’s parents are additionally posting and commenting on social media, sifting through a mind-boggling number of blogs for guidance, and trying to comb through a zillion websites to figure out the best products to buy. That’s a lot of potential stress! Yet, we can change our brain, where we’re no longer so reactive to the stress in our life. And that then has a long-term, calming effect on our babies.
So, while we might not have much say in what challenges we face in our lives, we DO have a say in what kind of brain shows up to those experiences.
We all have an internal stress alarm.
Parts of our brain are always on the look-out to make sure that we’re safe. We even have an alarm that’s designed to blare as soon as our brain and body senses something’s amiss or is a threat. The problem is . . . our brain doesn’t have a clue as to what’s true danger or not.
Add to that, our brain is always going to err with a “danger” assessment than go with “maybe that’s safe.” That’s because if there isn’t really any danger, we’re still fine if our brain goes ahead and sounds the alarm. But if our brain takes a chance on our safety—and is wrong, well . . . we may not survive that decision. So, since our brain always prioritizes survival, we’ve likely experienced lots of false alarms.
We can learn how to turn off that internal stress alarm.
When it comes to stress, knowing how to turn off that alarm can make a huge difference in our lives. Consider how many physiological changes happen once that alarm is triggered (and those changes are hard on the body)—and how many times it’s just a false alarm.
And here's the great news! As part of our Calm Parents, Happy Baby: Reducing Prenatal and First-Year Stress course, we teach new and expecting parents how to turn off that alarm.
The first year of life is HUGE in terms of brain development.
Whether our baby’s brain ends up being wired for protection (focused on survival) or wired for connection (focused on learning, creating, and compassion) is largely determined by what we do during those first twelve months. Believe it or not, much of what happens that first year is also a great predictor of whether our child will excel academically, have great social interactions, be skilled in sports, and “bounce back” when faced with challenges.