Babies and their Mothers

Just finished reading Babies and their Mothers by D.W. Winnicott (1987). It was a short book but touched on many PPN topics.

Winnicott stressed the importance of the “Ordinary Devoted Mother” and says that failure of mothers at this level is one factor in the etiology of autism. The debate of the origin of autism is and will most likely always be debatable. Winnicott assumes that this is similar to the way that failure of these mothers is likely to contribute to schizophrenic children. He makes sure to say that he is not blaming these mothers but has seen a connection between mental disorders and parenting capabilities.

I agree with him when he says that there are other ways for the baby to experience the physical intimacy they get while breastfeeding by other types of feedings or acts of love shown by the mother. Just holding the baby can be just as meaningful if there is a connection between the two. “The mother lays down the foundation of mental health of the individual.” “Good holding and handling facilitates the maturational processes and bad holding means repeatedly interrupting those process because of the baby’s reactions to failures of adaptation.”  

During the last months of pregnancy the mother has a preoccupation with her baby and is able to identify with it making it possible for her to meet the basic needs of her infant. The moment that an individual starts is either when the baby is conceived of (meaning thought of), or at the moment of conception, or when the brain develops around 2 or 3 months, or between 3 and 5 months during the quickening stage where the baby is “alive and kicking”, or at the age of viability around 6 months, or at birth. There is a good argument for each stage of life.

Babies are liable to the most severe anxieties. If left alone too long (hours or minutes) without familiar and human contact they experience what he states to be the only worlds which can be described as

  • Going to pieces
  • Falling for ever
  • Dying and dying and dying
  • Losing all vestige of hope of the renewal of contacts
  • Complete isolation because of there being no means for communication
  • Disunion of psyche and soma
© Drew Starr, 2011
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