The wise remain aware
of the spirituality of life.
Every mother has felt the
stillness and the stir
of Eternal Consciousness
in her womb. Remember that.
Bring that mysterious, silent moment
into the clamoring present.

—Vimala McClure
from The Tao of Motherhood


“The most complex information-processing device ever constructed is on its way,” says John Medina, author of Brain Rules for Baby. He goes on to say, “During the attachment process, a baby’s brain intensely monitors the caregiving it receives. It is essentially asking such things as “Am I being touched? Am I being fed? Am I safe?” If the baby’s requirements are being fulfilled, the brain develops one way; if not, genetic instructions trigger it to develop in another way. It may be a bit disconcerting to realize, but infants have their parents’ behaviors in their sights virtually from the moment they come into this world. It is in their evolutionary best interests to do so, of course, which is another way of saying that they can’t help it. Babies have nowhere else to turn.”

In her book, Philosophical Baby, Alison Gopnik says, “In adults, vivid awareness accompanies attention, and attention is linked to brain plasticity (the quality of being easily shaped or molded). Attention literally allows us to change our minds and brains. If we made the backward inference that brain plasticity implies attention, which implies vivid awareness, it would seem that babies are more conscious than we are. They are vividly aware all the time.” She concludes that infant awareness is steeped in “a kind of exaltation and a particular kind of happiness.”

Once I saw a video of a baby, probably five months old, sitting on a couch with her father on the floor in front of her. He began tearing pieces of paper. She giggled, and then laughed and laughed and laughed, so hard for so long I could hardly believe it. She was the perfect example of this “exaltation and a particular kind of happiness.” Alan Schore, in The Neurobiology of Child Brain Development, says, “The brain does not continue to grow and grow. It organizes, then it disorganizes then it re-organizes. This disorganization of the brain and the massive death of billions of cells and synapses are part of how the brain is growing.” He goes on to say, “Positive affects (meaning happy faces) are key to early development. They’re key to growth, and they’re also key to not only positive psychological states but to physical health. Joy has something to do with the quality of life.”

Excessive stress responses also pump him up to be less trusting in general, less able to believe that life is on his side. This wiring of joy and intimacy happens not only in the infant but the mother as well, a significant but often overlooked factor. “The infant and mother’s psychobiological systems are co-regulating each other,” says Alan Schore in an interview, “Joy is the key to attachment. By joining in the child’s joy in the first years of life, mother and baby are both “interactively co-regulating very high levels of positive emotion.”

I have written an entirely new edition of Infant Massage: a Handbook for Loving Parents, which was released by Random House in July 2017. The present chapters have been revised, updated, and expanded. There are five new chapters, including a chapter on your baby’s brain. This new book introduces the art of infant massage to new generations of parents.

According to the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, in a child’s first years of life, seven hundred to one thousand neural connections are bored every second, and by age three, children have approximately 1,000 million neuronal connections in their brains. These connections prime them to take in new information, but you have to act fast; after the first few years of life, most of these connections are gradually pruned away.

Neural pathways are a use-it-or-lose-it proposition, so exposing your child to plenty of new foods, languages, and experiences during the first three years may shape her into a better-rounded adult and instill good habits early. Humans are calibrated to learn and adapt throughout their lives, but it becomes increasingly difficult to alter the brain’s architecture—and the behaviors that result—as time passes and the brain becomes less sensitive to the effects of new experiences. Prolonged stress is toxic to developing brains.

A baby is sensitive to outside influences even in the womb. Once an infant leaves her comfortable, watery incubator, her brain becomes even more vulnerable. Medina says, “Sustained exposure to hostility can erode a baby’s IQ and ability to handle stress, sometimes dramatically An infant’s need for caregiver stability is so strong, he will rewire his developing nervous system depending upon the turbulence he perceives. If you want your child to be equipped with the best brain possible, you need to know about this before you bring home your bundle of joy.”

In her lovely piece that has yet to be published, yoga nun Didi Ananda Uttama writes about how the infant’s brain handles stress:

“As the baby’s frontal lobes develop and send out their sinewy fibers, the connections of the stress system grow much stronger and thicker than the calm and connection system. This predisposes him to become a child, and an adult, who is still running on lower brain programming, meaning that he is neurologically primed to trigger a stress response in his brain and body much more easily than a calm or reasoned reaction. Excessive stress responses also pump him up to be less trusting in general, less able to believe that life is on his side. This wiring of joy and intimacy happens not only in the infant but the mother as well, a significant but often overlooked factor.”

Knowing how your baby’s brain is handling all of the new things surrounding him enables you to approach him with both knowledge and compassion. A baby marinated in joy attracts positive affects in whoever is around her, but because of the flood of brain chemicals such as oxytocin, nitric oxide, and anandamide, a new mother is especially attracted to and attached to her infant.