Michael Hyson, Ph.D on Imprinting and Nature's Expectations
Part two of Michael Hyson's Interview is full of information on imprinting, preventing trauma and how to grow a healthy, happy baby... it's easier than you might think! He shows us how we have wondered far from our natural ways, what happens when we don't get to bond with our babies right after birth and a clear road back to good parenting and good society making!
To get more of his knowledge, be sure and check out part I of
Michael Hyson on How our Systems Are Interfering with our Nature
Michael Hyson: One birth that I was part of, the birth went rather gently, but the baby was left in a bassinet for at least two hours waiting for the next MD for the next shift to come in and sign off on the baby before giving her back to the mom. We talked to the nurses and everybody as much as we could, saying “She’s just laying there. You can give her back to the mom, like now! while the imprinting window is maximum” and they had zero clue about it, and they also refused to buck the system in any way to have that happen. So, here this window of imprinting is at least altered in a poor direction, by just such an odd thing as a shift change. And that’s just for starters. You know they typically take the baby away right away, at least typical of what I’ve seen on hospital births on Discovery Health. And I’m sure there are places that do it differently, but I’m just giving a typical scene. The baby comes out, they cut the umbilical cord within 13 seconds, they take the baby away to have the mouth cleared, to maybe suction the nostrils, they’ll weigh the baby, eventually wrap it up in a towel or a cloth, which is going to be really rough since the baby’s just been in water all this time. There are bright lights, lots of sounds and, in addition, they do things like put silver nitrate in the eyes as a preventative for syphilis and herpes and things like that, that might be transmitted to the baby. But if you have a healthy mother, that’s kind of redundant. But it does in fact, certainly irritate the front of the eye because silver nitrate kills the tissue right off. And there are more neurons per square inch in the cornea of the eye than anywhere else in the body. So, one of the first experiences of hospital births will be to have something that kills tissue off pretty quickly put in your eye.
Ashley: Oh, sounds very painful.
Michael Hyson: Yes, it can be painful. And again, there’s this presumption that started at least from Descartes that people thought that somehow the babies would take a while before they could respond to pain or be consciously aware of what’s going on. So, they felt they could do these things and presumably they felt the baby would be okay. But it turns out that all that’s false. As we discussed, the sensory systems are on, the baby is able to respond to verbal requests at birth or during birth, we know they recognize the voice from the mom, they’re already developing linguistics and phonetics in the womb, and so we’ve got a very aware being at birth.
Ashley: Right, right.
Michael Hyson: They’ll eventually get the baby back to the mom, but it’s gone right through the window where ordinarily the mom would be already suckling the baby. So, that’s going to have some effect. And then you add in issues like circumcision, I wonder when they do that, but I believe sometimes it’s done at birth,
Ashley: I don’t know actually. I’m not a fan.
Michael Hyson: I think there are times when they do it right at birth, and whenever they do it, it’s a major trauma and it probably causes a deep seated anger complex in the baby because the issue would be “where is the mom to protect me?” That type of thing … one of our moms said one of her daughters remembered consciously being born and she remembers being put on this stainless steel plate where they were weighing her and she said she was terrified because she thought she would be eaten!
Ashley: Oh my gosh, that’s hardly a fun memory to have!
Michael Hyson: On the upside of this, we end up imprinted like the geese on the ultra-light plane; we end up imprinted on doctors, equipment, noises, metal, and machines.
Ashley: Right, nothing natural, nothing particularly loving and caring.
Michael Hyson on Birth Trauma Affecting All our Life!
Michael Hyson: And we can carry this whole process before birth as well. As I’m sure you’re aware there are people looking at various forms of trauma that can happen to mom before birth and it happens to the baby as well and it leads to measurable changes, all the way down to at least the brainstem. Also abuse at birth and later on causes brain damage and leads to things like dyslexia, possibly autism, although that’s a complex question. But various forms of damage and trauma that occur in the prenatal phase as well as post-natal are well laid-out now. All of this means we first need to remember we’re mammals. Because of this we have a complex list of expected experiences at birth and that we are wide open to imprint to whatever happens then as love.
Just to compress it all, everything that happens is considered love, whatever it is. And so, Stanislov Groff and others have looked at the perinatal complexes, the perinatal experiences, and how that conditions our entire attitude toward the world. Basically if you have a difficult birth, that’s what you expect later. If you have an easy and loving birth, that’s what you expect. That also means that your imprinting, whatever it might be, is your comfort zone, so you will strive to recreate that because that’s where you feel more comfortable.
Ashley: So you are going to continually going to seek out those experiences in your life.
Michael Hyson: One way to put it is: if you’ve had a bad birth experience, you’ve essentially hard-wired a masochist. Perhaps less dramatic, but it’s in that vein. In psychology terms, only when there’s a certain amount of chaos and pain coming in will you feel balanced. That arises by the nature of what they call critical periods of neural wiring. The most widely known is what they call the babbling phase of the baby, when they start to learn to talk. There are a lot of neurological things going on, but basically the neurons are stimulated during certain time windows to develop rapidly, and the system expects the right input to be helping it. So, in the babbling phase, the baby expects parents and other people to be talking, it’s the initial acquisition of language. It’s well-known, that if, for example a child is raised with deaf parents that fail to respond properly, then their babies will fail to develop verbal language at all, and then trying to teach them language later, beyond this critical babbling phase, can be extremely difficult. There are all kinds of windows like that. Like bonding with the mother, her eyes and her voice and everything right at birth. Another example is that at one point a large group of neurons are growing processes from neocortex to the thalamus. Half of the neurons are looking for connections that are pain-related or aversive and the other half are looking for positive stimuli, pain or pleasure if you will. These neurons grow seeking other neural processes that have matching signals. So, if the baby is being touched and loved and gently handled, then the majority of signals coming in will be pleasurable ones. Now, after a while, after this window of growth and imprinting, those neurons that fail to find matching signals actually die. Neural apoptosis, they call it. So the net is trimmed back of all those that failed to find partners. So, if you have a baby that’s being touched, loved and most of the signals are positive, then most the pain seeking neurons are going to fail to find partners and actually die off, but if the baby is being traumatized while this is going on, then that pattern is the one to be fixed at the end of this critical wiring window. Then you will have a system that feels balanced only when a certain amount of pain is coming in, and that kind of pain will be sought! Stan Groff and others have shown that this perinatal imprint is very important to the quality of a child’s life, because if you expect pain you will create it and you’ll feel more comfortable in it. If you bonded to a very loving situation, you will expect the universe to be loving, and you’ll have a better life.
Ashley: And so what time period is this about?
Michael Hyson: Right at birth.
Ashley: Until … is it the two hour window you’re talking about or this an extended?
Michael Hyson: Of course there are many stages to it, but what Groff in particular looked at was right at birth, so during the birth and then just hours after it.
Ashley: Which is just amazing when we think of all the people who’ve been traumatized, it makes sense to see the society that we’re at.
Michael Hyson on How our Mothering Creates our Societies
Michael Hyson: Right. Are you familiar with the wire-frame mothers? There was a guy named Harry Harlow a few years ago who did a classic paper called Love in Infant Monkeys. You may have seen this somewhere. They did things like making chicken wire “moms” with bottles. Some of them had chicken wire with cloth over the chicken wire, and others had just chicken wire, some had heaters inside. Others chicken wire, cloth, a heater and a clock that made a rhythmic sound. The iconic image of this work is a little baby monkey, suckling from a bottle on a piece of wire that’s supposed to be his mom! And they imprint on that! Harlow was able to show that at least in monkeys, this can so mess up things like sexual behavior that when adult these poorly imprinted monkeys failed to mate at all. Humans are more flexible.
James Prescott extended that work and came up with a paper called Bodily Pleasure and the Origins of Violence. He showed that out of say, 500 cultures on the earth, there were about 300 of them that were abusive to their kids. There was a correlation between the style of the society and the treatment of mothers and babies. Those cultures, we could pick the Bushmen, for example, who consider babies gifts from the gods. Women have high status, the babies are well treated and there is less aggression, less warfare, if you will. Those societies where babies are poorly treated, and corporal punishment is common, “spare the rod and spoil the child” also have more slavery, poor status for women, more war, etc. It’s totally backwards, you’re just adding trauma and so on.
Which brings up another aspect, which is endorphins - they make you feel good. They are released when you are being properly handled and touched and so on. One of those is called anandamide, which is bliss-inducing. Anandamide is a natural product created by the brain, which binds to what has been known for years as the THC, tetrahydrocannabinol receptor, which is the active ingredient in Cannabis hemp. In studying anandamide, they have found or bred lab rats or animals that fail to make anandamide. One of the key features is that these babies failed to suckle at birth! It is that important and fundamental. However, if THC is injected, they will then suckle. So, there is a direct confluence of cannabis, and anandamide and suckling. A very, very basic thing. That means if you are being traumatized at birth and anandamide production is knocked down, it’s going to affect things as basic as suckling.
Michael Hyson: Also, animals that are missing anandamide, if they are traumatized, stay in the traumatized state. The anandamide is required for editing memories and removing the immediate reaction to trauma. So, we can sort of push the trauma to the background, or integrate it.
Ashley: So, are you saying when there’s the lack of it, then what happens with the memory?
Michael Hyson: Well, the less you have of it, the more you tend to stay stuck in the trauma. With anandamide, you are more adaptable to the trauma and it has a lot to do with healing the trauma. All these things are shown to affect the neural wiring that’s continuing, and the development that is continuing. It leaves, essentially, lesions from the brain stem on up - brain stem, cerebellum, cortex. And many of these have been shown and are worked out now, there is a lot of detail we could go into, but there are people that understand what happens to the mom and baby at birth and in different stages of development. It’s quite extensive data now.
Ashley: Yes, and what’s incredible is it shows how incredible we are made and if we don’t interrupt the process, if we support the process then the benefits are amazing. And if we don’t support it then we get ourselves into yucky mess!
Michael Hyson on the Importance of Breastfeeding
Michael Hyson: Right. It’s my hunch, or speculation that there seems to be a correlation between suckling and the corpus callosum, the main neural trunk between the hemispheres of the brain. There are connections between suckling and all kinds of things, like the immune system, the bonding between the mom and all those sort of things. In addition, there’s the colostrum milk that has many immune factors, as you’re aware. Michele Odent has shown that many cultures on the earth have varying mythologies, and so on, in which the colostrum, for whatever reason, is considered bad. It is expelled from the mom and thrown away!
Ashley: How odd is that!
Michael Hyson: That should be changed! And then, I’m pretty certain that there are developmental factors in there that are in constant feedback between mom and baby. So, what the mom makes has to do with how the baby is behaving and so on and so forth. Suckling is intended to be maintained through an extended period. One said that if you can at least birth the baby gently and keep them nicely for actually say, 4 days to a week, then you’ll probably have a reasonable human being.
Ashley: (laughing) Well, we can do better than that, can’t we!
Michael Hyson: Definitely! But you get the idea. In indigenous cultures, in Eskimos, it takes 2-3 years of suckling before the baby can handle the full meat diet that a traditional Eskimo would have to handle. So there is extended suckling and, according to Michele Odent, at least 6-7 years is pretty typical for suckling in indigenous cultures, and up to 14. It so happens that the corpus callosum in the brain generally finishes its development at age 7. So, it is my hunch that there is a relationship between suckling and the final development of the corpus callosum.
Ashley: Right, well, I think you’ve got a pretty good hunch!
Michael Hyson: I am an advocate for extended suckling. Early weaning can obviously be a trauma, which I know Star mentioned in her interview. I want to go back to water birth for just a moment. We’d brought up water birthing in terms of gentleness and I forgot to mention the results. I met Igor Smirnoff who was the research director to Tcharkovsky’s work and I got to speak with him briefly and got to talk with him since. The basic conclusion that he came to was that the babies born in water and raised around water developed roughly six months faster over their first two years of life. So, turning that around, that means our standard hospital birth is delaying development by about 6 months! Further work by Elena Tonetti in the Black Sea had babies born in water with dolphins nearby. Her report is that all the children born with the dolphins around are also ambidextrous. Now, granted it’s a small sample size, and more work needs to be done, but spinning on that for a moment, it is generally considered that in terms of handedness, you will get 80% right-handers and 20% left-handers, and that it is primarily a genetic thing. What the results of Elena’s work, and Tcharkovsky’s work and others suggest is that we are ambidextrous and that handedness may be an aspect of birth trauma.
Ashley: That’s really interesting.
Michael Hyson: The water birth also helps create a brain that’s more balanced that communicates better across the two hemispheres. Perhaps we are naturally ambidextrous. And that goes all sorts of places - one that comes to mind is a friend of mine, Andrew Lehman who works with autism, and the work by Baron-Cohen. What they are finding is that stress in the mom can lead to high testosterone levels in the mom, which affects the baby. One of the things this does is to suppress the right hemisphere of the brain and maximize the development of the left hemisphere of the brain. There is a pretty strong correlation between autistic spectrum or Asperger’s disorder and high testosterone from the mom, which comes primarily from stress. So, stress in the mom during development leads to suppression of the right hemisphere of the brain and a higher chance of autism. There are many aspects to this, but they all come down to - remember we are mammals - remember we’re aquatic mammals, and in my view, we’ve had a long window of aquatic development. Have you read anything about the Aquatic Ape Theory?
Ashley: I have only read a little bit.
Michael Hyson Explains How our Water Genes are Affecting us Now!
Michael Hyson: Basically they point out that we have many marine characteristics; the most obvious one is your nose. A chimpanzee, for example, has holes for its nostrils, and there is no external nose over them. So, when you put a chimp in water, they can swim if they have to, but they hardly like it; if the head goes under water, the water will go directly to the back of their throat. Whereas, our nose traps two columns of air and prevents the water from entering the back of the throat. So, our nose is an aquatic adaptation. Along with those, we have tears; the tear ducts are glands whose primary purpose is to excrete excess salt. You might be aware of crocodile tears. Crocodiles live in salt water, so they absorb a lot of salt, and the tear ducts allow the crocodile to excrete excess salt. The biological origin of our tear ducts are the same; they are called neidmental glands. They are also a marine adaptation! And we can go on - most marine creatures have lost their hair or are mostly hairless. If you consider us as a wading animal, then the long hair on our head would both protect us from the sun while we are wading and if it was long enough, give something for the babies that are floating around to hang onto. Plus, we have subcutaneous fat which is an insulator, blubber, so that’s another marine characteristic. And then the breast has the right position and shape for a baby to suckle at the surface of the water.
Ashley: How cool!
Michael Hyson: Yes! There are arguments given about how upright walking could be developed from wading. Another issue that’s come up from Michele Odent’s work is that humans need a particular kind of oil called eicosanoic acid, a 20 carbon fat that’s typically from fish, seafood and mother’s milk. Now 2% of the population can make enough from other sources. So picture adding short fats together to make this long fat, but 98% of us need it in the diet. A general source would be fish and seafood. It turns out that the only plant source that I am aware of right now is hemp leaf; cannabis leaf has a high concentration in the wild. So, by our standard of evolutionary theory, we are supposed to be tree living, fruit-eating people who came from the savannahs and went out onto the plains to hunt and gather animals, during a long drought. But something closer is we came down from the trees and went to the beach!
Ashley: Sounds like a good idea to me!
Michael Hyson: Yes, if you read my article called the Precocious Human Baby, I slipped that one in there! It’s like this, let’s test this theory. Okay, we have a two-week vacation, so let’s break out the spears and go savannah hunting. Everybody would say, forget it, let’s head to the beach! Seriously, there have been a lot of studies showing that certain populations of our ancestors likely inhabited beaches, ate seafood and collected shellfish at the beach, learned how to wade, which encouraged upright walking and the diet increased the amount of fats and oils in the body tremendously. This led to, and is a major factor in, the development of our large brain. It is known that we need this eicosanoic acid for proper brain development. If we’re lacking it, then you get a condition in pregnancy called pre-eclampsia. They were looking for the cause of this for hundreds of years and nobody really knew until Odent and his team worked it out. Basically you have a woman who is doing fine until the late stage of pregnancy and then the mom starts falling apart on multiple levels, and sometimes you lose her. For a long time they had little idea what was going on. It turns out that because eicosanoic acid is required for nerve membrane construction, there is a certain point at which the baby’s brain starts growing fast in the later stage of pregnancy, and the baby will preferentially grab the eicosanoic acid from the mom. And if she has enough, that’s fine, but if she has a deficiency, the baby gets it preferentially. So then the mom gets sick. Michele Odent took some lower economic level East London mothers and made sure they had lots of fish during their pregnancy and showed that they had better birth outcomes, fewer stillbirths, higher birth weight and so on.
Ashley: Which is interesting, because with the mercury, people being scared of the mercury, most moms are told, don’t have any fish.
Michael Hyson: Well, that’s another issue; obviously we need clean fish! But if you think about our evolution, if the standard story of our evolution is correct, the last thing we would need is fish oil and, in fact, it’s required. I think it’s the strongest single piece of evidence that suggests our aquatic background.
Ashley: Very interesting! Well, before we close out Michael, do you want to sum up, or do you want to add anything that you really want mothers to know?
Michael Hyson: I guess basically, as we develop societies that re-learn that we are mammals, we will remember that touch and gentleness are important for imprinting reasons and other things we discussed. For example, orphans in the last century had too few caregivers so that many of the babies missed being held. They had a form of wasting disease which reversed, as long as the babies were held enough. So, we need adequate, gentle and proper touch. Carrying in arms does that, and it appears that just being carried and walked offers rhythmic signals to the vestibular system that helps its development. Missing that, you get things like dyslexia. For example, certain cultures put their babies on a cradleboard and this prevents them from moving in early stages, and those cultures have a high rate of dyslexia. It’s another one of those things where the expected experience is missing. And so, overall, be nice to mothers! From before conception, during gestation, especially around birth, and afterwards. And remember we’re mammals – we’re expecting to be held and touched and so on. For premature babies, they do really well if they are just left with their mother – “bundling”. Instead of say, taking the baby away and putting them in an isolette, which happened to me, it turns out that in most cases, you can leave that child with the mom, do the procedures with the mom very close by, or touching, and the babies will do much better.
Ashley: Oh yeah!
Michael Hyson on Primal Death vs Civilized Birth
Michael Hyson: …without all these invasive procedures. Be gentle. I think it’s important to know that the midwives I’ve been talking with say that in our history, in more ordinary, primal conditions, you might get a 3% death rate of the moms before they had developed things like the cesarean. So, that’s a worst case. By the time you add up all the other complications, you’ve got something in the order of maybe 10% max that would require any kind of intervention like that. But, the cesarean rates in the American hospitals are running between 25-50%.
Ashley: Yeah, when you said 3%, I think as a society we have this view that if you’re not at the hospital everybody’s dying!
Michael Hyson: Well, yes, that’s the myth.
Ashley: Right, exactly. There’s this general consensus that it’s very unsafe, and before we had doctors and c-sections and all that, nobody was surviving, which is obviously not the case because we have so many people on earth!
Michael Hyson: Right. The maximum death rate in the primal conditions, without any c-section at all is 3%, and possibly as high as 10, if you include all the other things that can happen, but probably closer to 3 than anything else. And April says the World Health Organization in addressing this issue is encouraging all nations to get their c-section rates down to 15% as an interim goal, with an overall goal of 10% or less!
Ashley: Well, that’s great.
Michael Hyson: The c-section is a whole other issue, but one thing that is important is that the baby’s expecting to have its head compressed as it goes through the birth canal; the skull plates are very loose and are designed to fold as the baby goes through the canal. If you reverse this procedure and open the uterus, there’s a 5 pound per square inch difference between the air and the uterus, so as soon as you open the uterus the baby experiences this 5 pounds per square inch blood pulse into the brain which expands it, and the skull plates are very loose so there is nothing to oppose that, which in a way is a good thing. The point is the brain is subjected to a 5 psi pressure pulse instantly, which expands the brain and can cause all sorts of issues. My thought is, if you’re going to do a c-section, if you have to do it, it should be done in a pressurized room, just for starters. There are many issues around the c-section, but we’ve covered some of them.
Ashley: Well, if I get a chance to do more about c-sections I would love to call you back and pick your brain about that. Thank you so much for spending your time with me and for your wonderful work!
Michael Hyson: Thank you.
Michael Hyson's Interview Part I