October 22, 2020

How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across the Lifetime

On Day 4 of Celebrate Babies, we urge you to think about “childhood trauma across the lifetime.”  In her TEDTalk (below), Nadine Burke Harris, MD, MPH, FAAP, explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and caregivers struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues have real, tangible effects on the development of the brain.  These have been referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES).  The more categories of ACES a person has experienced, the greater likelihood they will have severe health problems, and engage long term in self-comforting behavior that exacerbates health problems (e.g. smoking, substance use, over-eating, etc.).  Find out your ACE score here.

In 2018, Dr. Burke Harris wrote a book about what she has learned so far, “The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity.”  In her book, she identifies the following as ways to combat ACES in children:

  • Reduce the adversity
  • Regular, consistent sleep
  • Regular, consistent exercise
  • Healthy diet
  • Regular mindfulness practice
  • Access to mental health treatment
  • Access to healthy relationships

…we know all about that last bullet point in the infant-early childhood mental health (IECMH) field!  It’s why we do what we do!  We know that a relationship with another person buffers the stress experienced and we work hard to strengthen the ability for the child’s primary caregiver to be that healthy buffer!  Through Dr. Burke Harris’ research, IECMH providers can help parents understand that the relationship that they have with their child can have direct physical health benefits!

Learn more about the book here.  You may even consider starting a book club with your colleagues.  This book would make an excellent first pick!

How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime

Nadine Burke Harris