Dr Karen Bateson, MMBS, DRCOG, DFFP, MRCGP. Karen Bateman has been working in Oxford since she qualified as a GP in 1997 . She enjoys seeing patients with any problems. She also still retains strong links with Uganda in East Africa after working there for 2 years doing palliative care and working with children in local children’s homes.
Neurobiology, Brain Connections and Relatedness
Childhood is a period of hope and potential when it is characterised by love and connectedness. Safe, warm interactions with nurturing carers help billions of brain cells in the baby’s brain to join up, building strong foundations for future learning and wellbeing. It is as if the brain cells hold hands, wrapping their tendrils around one another as they go. Loving touch and turn-taking between infant and adult stimulates the brain cells to wire together. Circles of calming communication between carer and infant are translated into circuits of self-regulation in the brain. In this way, safe, nurturing early care creates the pathways which lead to life-long emotional, social and cognitive achievement.
Pregnancy and the first three years of life are when the roots of the brain are formed, but these roots become harder to change as the child grows. As we grow, the tree of our brain takes shape. Like a tree, the human brain offers infinite potential to grow and obfuscate earlier damage, if conditions are right.
A parent needs emotional and mental space in order to provide warm interactions and safe holding. Parental wellbeing needs to be a priority if we aspire to provide every child with a good start in life. If left unsupported, parents can begin to feel disconnected from their child, or even resentful or persecuted. The infant’s circuits of self regulation which rely on parental emotional health break down. The child is left under the powerful control of their feral limbic system, to manage their own stress unaided and adrift.
Therapy or supportive relationships can provide a hiatus from the storm. A safe therapeutic relationship allows space for both the child and the parent, for the fists to uncurl and for the hands to consider the possibility of re-connection. Over time, health can be restored and new shoots can start to grow. Early therapeutic services are vital for the long term health and prosperity of parents and children.