Maternal Support Linked to Hippocampal Development

dr m david kurland mother and child

A study conducted by child psychiatrists of Washington University suggests that the children who were nurtured by their mothers during their preschool years were prone to stronger brain structure growth.

Joan L. Luby, the first author of the study says that their findings suggest that the human brain has a specific period in its early growth where it responds more readily and positively to the maternal support it receives. This research is part of a larger project that the researches are working towards, and builds on top of their previous study that suggests there was a link between maternal nurturing before school age and a larger hippocampus.

Luby and her fellow researchers analyzed brain scans that were taken of children between preschool age and early adolescence. 127 children were given three different MRI scans that documented their brains between preschool and “early adolescence”. They noticed some distinct differences in the children’s hippocampi.  During this analysis, the researchers were able to see a distinct increase in the hippocampus in children that received nurturing support during their preschool aged years. The children that did not receive as much support, had a much smaller hippocampus. The hippocampi remained small even if their maternal figures increased their amount of support during later developmental years.

Their findings have allowed the researchers to come to a few different conclusions. It has become increasingly clear that maternal nurturing is more important in the early stages of a child’s life than any other time; its effects decrease over time. The hippocampus’s growth is also directly related to the overall health of the child’s emotional function as teenagers. Teenagers that did not experience the early maternal nurturing were at a distinct disadvantage in terms of the benefits of hippocampal growth.

Co-author of the study, Deanna M. Barch, PhD of Washington University, was quoted saying,

“This finding highlights the critical importance of caregiving in sculpting aspects of brain development that are important to how children function as they mature.”

Understandably, what constitutes “nurture” is relative, but the researchers standardized what they counted as nurture by monitoring and observing recorded interactions between the children and the mothers. Nurture and support was based on the mother’s ability to “maintain their composure and complete assigned tasks while still offering emotional support to their children.”

The findings of this study have important implications because they shed light on what can be done to help children perform better in school and develop healthier emotional demeanors in the long term.


The materials sourced for this blog can be found here: Science Daily via Washington University


Exercise is an Important Part of Childhood Development

children playing football

Odds are if you’re feeling down, you probably won’t want to get out of bed, let alone put on your exercise clothes, take a run around the block. Succumbing to the feeling of wanting to do nothing will not help your case, however. Whether you’re feeling unwell already, or, say, if you feel normal but your days are packed with endless activities and no downtime, staying put will not contribute to your feeling of wellbeing. Engaging in any kind of physical exercise, however, can lift you out of those moods and allow you to look beyond it, or simply help you ensure that those moments are less likely to come on.

So, will taking your dog for a walk or jogging to your local market solve depression for you? Odds are, no… but engaging in a regular exercise routine can certainly help you work through difficult feelings. Studies show that people who engage in regular exercise enjoy a boost in mood and higher self esteem, versus those who do not.

The same holds true for children and young adults. Self Esteem is an essential element in the healthy development of children and adolescents. Self Esteem allows children to grow and gives them the confidence to try, and to continue trying, unbeaten, when they fail. Trial “and error” is an essential part of growing. Without the confidence or self esteem to try, children won’t give themselves the same opportunities to grow.

Along those same lines, playing sports is one of the perfect opportunities for children and adolescents to learn these values, and to learn to try and learn to fail in a certain safe environment. On the one hand, children will get the benefits of exercise: self esteem, a feeling of motivation… one of the main benefits of exercise is that it produces endorphins in the brain, which lead to a feeling of wellbeing which can help self confidence and self esteem, and generally, just contribute to a healthy lifestyle which can promote positive childhood development.

A balance of sports and exercise in a child or adolescent’s life can help them handle the changes coming on at those times. Endorphins have a stress relieving effect and help stave away feelings of depression or anxiety. Being able to constantly try, fail, and learn to work with a team will be a defining factor in any childhood development.


For more information about the importance of exercise and childhood development, look to the following resources: here and here