Tune in to your baby
09:30 (GMT+2), Tue, 23 March 2010
Your baby sends you clear messages about how she feels and what she needs – you just have to listen carefully and respond.
“A baby who is fully responded to by loving parents, learns that life is joy, love, connection, celebration and excitement, and that her inner world is right and filled with goodness,” says psychologist Dr Naomi Aldort. “How we treat babies will result in how they come to see and value themselves and how they develop a view of the world,” she adds. “As a culture we have been taught that we have to ‘shape’ babies and children into becoming human. This thinking has landed us in something akin to a ‘war’ against babies. We ‘make’ them sleep alone, ‘make’ them be quiet, and ‘make’ them obey. “But this view misses the fact that the baby already is a perfect, tiny human being with a soul, and has the capacity to communicate the correct instructions for her care. When mothers listen to their babies, trust them and take their needs and feelings seriously, babies respond and thrive!”
“Your baby is a sentient, sensitive being capable of learning, remembering and communicating before, during and after birth,” says perinatal psychologist Dr Carrie Contey. Every experience in the first months is imprinted on her developing brain and will lay down life-long neural pathways. These play a role in developing a negative or positive self-esteem and how she’ll respond to different situations in adulthood. A baby’s brain is a biosocial organ, which means it can only develop physically through interaction with loving caregivers. Research shows that unborn babies know and communicate with their mothers and even recognise their father’s voice (and others), so the way that parents relate to the unborn baby – and to one another – is very important. You can communicate with your unborn baby by gently massaging your abdomen and by talking or singing to her, which will soothe her. Unborn babies respond to touch and sound with increased movement. When parents speak to their babies, warmly repeating words and phrases, babies ‘remember’ this communication and respond positively to the same language after birth.
Right from birth your baby needs to build a strong attachment to you in order to survive. Although she doesn’t yet have any verbal skills, she will ‘talk’ to you using body language, sounds and crying. She will let you know how she feels and what she needs. She also has special ways of responding to and communicating with you that will help you fall in love with her. In the first hour of life your baby – if perfectly healthy – is in the ‘quiet-alert’ state, the ideal state for communicating and interacting with you. You are also very receptive to your baby in the first hours after birth, so this is the perfect time for you to be together to have private, uninterrupted time to get to know each other and strengthen the bond that is developing. (Hospital routines can be delayed or done with your baby in your arms).
What does your baby need?
Your baby is born expecting familiar people to be waiting for her when she arrives. As soon as she is over the shock of being born, she searches for your eyes – parents usually instinctively hold their babies in the ‘en face’ position that makes eye contact possible. Your baby can focus clearly to a distance of about 30cm, the ideal distance for gazing into your eyes when she is held in your arms. “Parents are surprised to see how quiet their baby becomes if she is placed on the mother’s body,” says paediatrician Dr Marshall Klaus. Crying is an expression of distress at being separated from the mother. When your baby is warm and safe on your chest, she will be alert but peaceful. Mothers instinctively stroke their babies gently with their fingers and speak to them in a quiet, high-pitched voice. Eye contact deepens bonding and this simple interaction is necessary to ‘switch on’ your baby’s brain for further learning.