Babies whose caregivers neglect them will face lifelong consequences, including a higher chance of falling ill as adults.
Neglect creates a toxic stress response in the body. Toxic stress differs from regular stress, which is normal and healthy. Regular stressors cause a temporary jump in adrenaline and cortisol, alerting the body to a problem or threat, and giving it tools for an immediate response. Toxic stress is caused by extreme or repeated stressors, such as a baby whose basic needs aren't met by their caregiver. Children who feel unsafe and uncared for find themselves in a constant state of worry and anxiety. Even as they age, their body develops a natural fear response to a variety of situations because the neglect has been embedded into their subconscious reactions. The cocktail of hormones released doesn't clear up quickly, because there is no safe environment for this to happen in, and that's when things start to go wrong.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="640"] Via belchonock/Depositphotos[/caption]
Children's experiences and environment change the way they grow and develop. Researchers found that toxic stress in childhood can lead to heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder later in life. In infants, toxic stress presented as excessive crying, fussiness, and clinginess, and neglect was characterized by lack of presence or responsiveness to baby's cues.
Many young children have the tendency to react to stress with anger, anxiety, or impulse, but a responsive caregiver in a healthy, safe environment can help them learn to control their negative impulses and react appropriately. Positive reactions to stress can help lower it and the body stays healthy. Sadly, neglected babies don't have this model or reassurance, so they miss out on self-regulation skills.
The research found that neglect can encompass more than absent or abusive parents; babies with parents who ignored them or projected their own stress onto them also show signs of toxic stress. All parents need to ensure they're engaging in positive, responsive behaviors with their children, not just coexisting with them and meeting their basic physical needs. Parents need to build a safe, secure world where their children can gain the tools they need to grow up happy and healthy.