When we are in a happy place with the vagus nerve, the world is good. But when the vagus is unhappy, we are in tears and tantrums. So what and where is vagus? Not far away, I assure you. The vagus nerve runs the show on the most basic states of the nervous system. We have complex states of being, but the most basic two default options for the nervous system are:

  • Rest & digest
  • Active & alert

We need both states, and if we don’t get both, life is not pretty. A child lost in rest & digest is very passive, with very little movement or attention for the outer world. This is a cause for big concern, especially if a child is not social. If a child is not smiling, is unresponsive to language, or is disinterested in being held, she misses out on huge arenas of development.

On the other end of the extreme is a child who seems wound up from an early age. As baby he may have been agitated often, need to be held and jiggled to be happy or to sleep or cried inconsolably. As toddler then, a child may have been prone to tantrums. Perhaps this child is hurtling through life, running and diving.  Perhaps he often hits his head by accident or even intentionally. This child is lost in active & alert with inadequate rest.

A child’s behaviors may be due to many causes, so we have to investigate a child’s history and complete story to understand how to help. A child’s birth and breastfeeding experience provide key clues. A child who is deeply passive could be in a shock state from birth trauma. This topic will be its own post later. A child with early tears and tantrums, and with later behavior problems may also have experienced difficult birth.

Sometimes, a baby’s birth experience mirrors a mother’s experience. But sometimes the birth can be intense for a child, even when very short for a mother. When the baby travels through her mother’s snug birth canal, the vagus nerve can become restricted. Difficulty with breastfeeding points directly at the vagus nerve as a source of many problems of temperament. The hours of crying are calls for help.

How did we get to this unhappy place? Look for a continuing post on Pirates of the Subterranean realms.