SSC versus separation

The opposite of skin-to-skin contact is Separation

Separation is the WRONG PLACE – the physiology is dysregulated, the DNA must adapt, and the brain loses its resilience.

Having said that “skin-to-skin contact is a PLACE” and elaborated that it is the right place – any other place is the wrong place – the opposite of skin-to-skin contact is therefore SEPARATION – any other place.

The effects of separation work out on the genes and epigenes, on the neural circuits that form, on the physiological set-points that are established. A great deal has been studied and researched about this, (and I explain in detail in my lectures ) but here I want to focus only on one concept.

I wrote earlier  “This maternal regulation provides the ideal setting, the physiological set points, at which the sum total of development takes place most efficiently and effectively, to the best possible level of achievement. The more firmly these are established, the better the body is able to return to normal when disturbed.” Mother’s presence is necessary for the baby to feel SAFE – her absence is UNSAFE. All the sensations that I described earlier  that regulated the various systems in the body and made the set-points stable and efficient are suddenly removed. There is an immediate reaction of crying, or protest, that signals to the mother; “rescue me, pick me up, save me”. When this does not happen, a deeper survival mechanism kicks in, based on the logic that the mother who does NOT pick up the baby is probably in greater danger herself – and so crying is endangering the mother and the baby, so baby stops crying. This defense response has many names, but “freeze” is often used to describe the high arousal state with immobilization. It cannot be maintained for long, because it lowers the heart rate, so the next stage is called “dissociation”, the baby tunes out and disconnects, with a cortical avoid orientation with maintained immobilization. This can be kept up much longer – until it is safe for mother to pick me up again. But the end result is weakening of the regulatory set-points, and more difficulty in  self-regulation.

All of these stages are accompanied by high levels of cortisol in the brain. The result is that neurons make more receptors for cortisol. Cortisol makes changes in the DNA, through the epigenes, and make adaptations to the proteins that are produced, these adaptations prepare the cell or the organ or the circuit for danger. Specifically the set points for what is normal blood pressure and a normal heart rate , for example, are changed, so that the body is more continuously prepared for danger. Homeostasis is the term used for a system that keeps itself at the right point or right balance. But this homeostasis can be achieved with a little bit of work or a lot of work. The totality of all the homeostasis systems and their set-points is called ALLOSTASIS. The amount of work needed to keep the overall balance is the allostatic state. This can be low and efficient, but it can also be kept at higher levels when more work is needed to keep a higher level. This higher level is called the ALLOSTATIC LOAD. The baby is in perfect homeostasis, but is using much more energy in keeping itself there. Eventually the allostatic load results in a shift in the allostatic state, to make the higher set-points the permanent ones. This results in chronic “wear and tear” of the systems: as one example – a constantly higher blood pressure speeds up the degeneration of the artery walls, and atherosclerosis results which leads to heart attack and stroke. Allostatic overload is when the wear and tear results in disease. This is the essence of the “fetal programming” or early life programming theory, currently used to explain the worldwide obesity epidemic.   There is thus a long term harm to the physiology of the body.

There may also be long term harm to the emotional and social intelligence. The baby quickly learns that not even mother can be trusted to meet its needs, the capacity to trust and to love is compromised. Emotional and social intelligence can be profoundly impacted. Obviously, not all separated children become asocial psychopaths – but that our modern social fabric is fraying at the edges is evident by high teenage pregnancy, high divorce rates, and loss of the nuclear family.

NEXT: SSC is evidence-based