|‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
Can Isolated Babies Become “Real” Human Beings?
The Velveteen Rabbit, a popular children’s book, depicts how a stuffed rabbit becomes “real” from the love of a boy (and some magic). I’m afraid that what we are routinely doing to babies today is taking them in the opposite direction. They are becoming less “real,” that is, less human. It is routine these days to physically isolate babies from mothers, fathers and other caregivers. For example:
- At birth, hospitals routinely separate baby from mom for tests (although baby-friendly hospital guidelines advise otherwise)
- Sleeping alone at night: sleep training advocates, based on findings from poorly-designed research, tell parents to sleep train the baby in ways that not only damage their relationship with baby but the baby’s development.
- Physical aloneness during the day (e.g., sitting in carriers, playpens, cribs) starves the child of touch.
Humans, more so than any other social mammal, evolved to expect nearly constant physical contact in early life while the brain is rapidly developing its thresholds and parameters for multiple systems. Early life is the period for intensive care, constant physical presence and responsive social interaction.