Mom’s love has health benefits for kids

The effects of a mother's love have long been suspected, but studies show that it does make a big difference. (Bartlomiej Kudowicz / AP Photo)

A mother’s relationship with her baby, kid or teen has secret health super-powers, a string of new studies says. I’m not surprised - are you?  Moms everywhere – and anyone who’s been fortunate enough to have one – already knew this! Still, it’s great when science finds ways to measure the wide-ranging, long-lasting benefits of the caring, time, effort – and worry - that mothers put into raising their children every day.

Among the latest scientific findings about the “motherhood effect” on kids:

  • Bigger brains. Elementary schoolers who were nurtured as babies and toddlers have a bigger hippocampus – a brain region crucial for learning, remembering and responding to life’s challenges. Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis videotaped mother-child interactions, then returned a few years later to scan the brains of 92 of the kids. Nurtured kids had a hippocampus almost 10 percent bigger than those who weren’t as well-supported emotionally.
  • Healthier attitude toward sex among teens. Teen girls who say their relationship with their mother is good were less likely to buy into media messages that recreational sex is OK, Belgian researchers found. (Oddly, it didn’t have that effect on boys who watched a lot of TV – but boys and girls who weren’t close to their mothers were more likely to endorse risky behavior.)
  • A healthier weight. Toddlers who shared a warm, comforting relationship with their mothers were half as likely to be overweight as teens, according to a recent Ohio State University study.
  • Protection from poverty’s health consequences.  Children who grow up in poverty have a 40 percent higher risk for metabolic syndrome – body chemistry shifts that raise risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even some types of cancer. But a recent University of British Columbia study found that a nurturing mom on the scene reduced the extra risk to zero.
  • Less commitment phobia. Young adults whose moms were supportive in their toddler years had an easier time making a commitment in romantic relationships, report researchers from St. Olaf College. Scientists had watched how the moms interacted with their children at age 2. Trust and the stamina to work through relationship conflicts was higher for young adults whose moms had encouraged them as 2-year-olds, lower in those whose moms ignored or laughed as their kids tried to complete a challenging task while researchers watched.

One common denominator?  Resilience. Kids with supportive moms seem to develop more of the heavy-duty  brain wiring that lets them cope more easily with stress, the researchers say. But fathers, grandparents and other close caregivers shouldn’t feel left out. The Washington University scientists say their nurturing works similar wonders.

What do you think? Tell us how your mother’s care made you the person you are today – and what you’re passing along to your own kids. Stories about and from fathers, grandparents and other caregivers are welcome, too.