Gabor Maté

“The three conditions without which healthy growth does not take place can be taken for granted in the matrix of the womb: nutrition, a physically secure environment and the unbroken relationship with a safe, ever-present maternal organism. The word matrix is derived from the Latin for “womb,” itself derived from the word for “mother.” The womb is mother, and in many respects the mother remains the womb, even following birth. In the womb environment, no action or reaction on the developing infant’s part is required for the provision of any of his needs.

Life in the womb is surely the prototype of life in the Garden of Eden where nothing can possibly be lacking, nothing has to be worked for. If there is no consciousness — we have not yet eaten of the Tree of Knowledge — there is also no deprivation or anxiety. Except in conditions of extreme poverty unusual in the industrialized world, although not unknown, the nutritional needs and shelter requirements of infants are more or less satisfied. The third prime requirement, a secure, safe and not overly stressed emotional atmosphere, is the one most likely to be disrupted in Western societies.

The human infant lacks the capacity to follow or cling to the parent soon after being born, and is neurologically and biochemically underdeveloped in many other ways. The first nine months or so of extrauterine life seem to have been intended by nature as the second part of gestation. The anthropologist Ashley Montagu has called this phase exterogestation, gestation outside the maternal body. During this period, the security of the womb must be provided by the parenting environment. To allow for the maturation of the brain and nervous system that in other species occurs in the uterus, the attachment that was until birth directly physical now needs to be continued on both physical and emotional levels. Physically and psychologically, the parenting environment must contain and hold the infant as securely as she was held in the womb.

For the second nine months of gestation, nature does provide a near-substitute for the direct umbilical connection: breast-feeding. Apart from its irreplaceable nutritional value and the immune protection it gives the infant, breast-feeding serves as a transitional stage from unbroken physical attachment to complete separation from the mother’s body. Now outside the matrix of the womb, the infant is nevertheless held close to the warmth of the maternal body from which nourishment continues to flow.

Breast-feeding also deepens the mother’s feeling of connectedness to the baby, enhancing the emotionally symbiotic bonding relationship. No doubt the decline of breast-feeding, particularly accelerated in North America, has contributed to the emotional insecurities so prevalent in industrialized countries. Even more than breast-feeding, healthy brain development requires emotional security and warmth in the infant’s environment. This security is more than the love and best possible intentions of the parents. It depends also on a less controllable variable: their freedom from stresses that can undermine their psychological equilibrium. A calm and consistent emotional milieu throughout infancy is an essential requirement for the wiring of the neurophysiological circuits of self-regulation. When interfered with, as it often is in our society, brain development is adversely affected.”


Gabor Maté, Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It
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Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It by Gabor Maté
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