How the brain responded to the neuro-transmitters in Nature

One could argue that Fashion is the visible expression of change, or progress. We ladies swapped long, cumbersome skirts for shorter divided skirts, or culottes, when our grandmothers took to the bicycle a hundred years ago, and we bobbed our hair to indicate that we had cast off our fusty pre-WW1 ‘crowning glory’ hairstyles. We were ‘thoroughly modern Millies’. So far, so good, but are fashions in bringing up baby equally progressive? I wonder.

In a recent Springwatch programme, the naturalist Chris Packham informed us how Nature was good for our mental health, citing a book by Emma Mitchell called ‘The Wild Remedy: 12 Months of Feeling Better in Nature’. He explained how the brain responded to the neuro-transmitters in Nature, which flooded the brain with serotonin and dopamine (the ‘love’ hormones) and regulated the stress hormone, cortisol, thereby boosting the body’s immune system to defend itself against attacks such as the coronavirus, and depression. Anybody concerned with the early years (0 – 3 years) has learned about the value of regulating cortisol in a young child, and boosting serotonin and dopamine, so Nature is clearly as beneficial for babies as for adults. There is a recent fashion for forest schools, where quite young children stay outdoors all day, in all weathers, so why can’t it also be beneficial for babies to be outdoors for long periods (but not in the rain, admittedly)?

Our mothers’ generation, encouraged by Dr Spock and others, used to regularly park their babies in prams under trees for their midday naps, so that babies could enjoy the rustle of leaves and dappled shade, and the play of sunlight on branches before they fell into healthful sleeps. Why did our generation not do that? Arguably because the fashion had changed and modern mothers wanted to ‘do it for themselves’. Each new generation of first-time mums is likely to feel that the way they were reared is old-hat and fuddy-duddy and they are going to do it just right!

The biggest change in baby-rearing fashion, however, has been the trend for mums to go back to work after maternity leave. It remains to be seen whether this societal change will yield positive or negative results, although some pointers on children’s and young people’s mental health are indicating that the experiment is not working. I wonder if, when these young people themselves grow up, the fashion barometer will not swing back to a move for young parents to look after their own offspring until the child starts school, before returning to the work-place? And put their babies outside to sleep in the garden, of course?