Concerned for the infants

To the editor:

We don’t want to see school-age children adversely affected by bad policies. What about those even younger?

Under the heading, “Personal reflection from a mother and midwife,” the following paragraphs appear in the Internet article, “The implications of face masks for babies and families during the COVID-19 pandemic: A discussion paper” (Journal of Neonatal Nursing):

“I received my local Midwifery News issue recently and on its cover is a photo of a woman wearing a medical face mask holding a very young infant in the crook of her arm. The infant is probably a day or so old and the woman is looking directly at the camera. She wears the mask very high. It sits just beneath her lower eyelids and across the top of the bridge of her nose. The lower part of her face is completely obliterated by the mask. It is not clear whether this woman is the infant’s mother, or a midwife. This photograph had a profound effect on me; in fact, not only did it make me stop breathing for a moment, it literally stopped me in my tracks and caused me to hold my hand to my heart. It wasn’t because the photograph was beautiful or special. It was the fact that so much of the woman’s face was not visible to the infant.

“As a mother of three sons, and a midwife these past 35 years, I have always been amazed and intrigued by the capacity of a newborn to connect with others not only during gestation, but also throughout the journey from the womb and early adaptation to the outside world. Watching my sons unfold especially in those first few days after birth, taking them in, in every sense of the word, holding my sons to face me as soon as they were born so that we could look into one another’s eyes was such an important time for me as a mother. In those early days I would scrutinize their little faces, watching for the slightest expression to play across them. The delight that this gave me, the to-ing and fro-ing of emotions and responses as we looked deeply into each other’s eyes are etched in my memory forever.

“As a midwife, I have been also blessed to have witnessed the mutuality of exchanges between many, many newborn infants and their mothers and fathers, where time after time in a private, quiet and darkened room, infants of only a few hours old, have accurately imitated the facial expressions of their parents. The image of the masked woman holding the baby made me think deeply about the possible impact that mask-wearing may have on an infant’s ability to ‘face process,’ given that masked faces make up the majority of the faces that a newborn infant is exposed to in the first vital and socially formative days of life ….”

And here are two sentences from later in the same article: “For an infant, this has the potential for long reaching effects in the early stages of neurobehavioral development. A mask covering the face may affect the infant’s ability to develop facial processing and orientating to or focusing on another person’s face.”

R.E. Wehrwein

New Ulm


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