One of our trainers Jeanette Appleton writes about the importance of those tiny digits.
Learning by touch
Babies can be seen bringing their hands to their mouths on ultrasound scans, so it is no surprise when they bring their hands to their mouths, sometimes as soon as they are born. But what does it mean, and why is it so important for their development?
As adults our fingers have more sensory nerves and brain space than any other part of our bodies. For a baby the same is true of their mouths.
At birth, a baby will reflexively suck any object placed in their mouths. This is the sucking reflex that naturally allows for successful feeding. This sucking is great for providing pleasure, comfort and warmth, and allows babies to learn all about their hands and fingers which is how, when they are older, they will explore the world.
Who wants to suck on a mouthful of cotton when you are seeking comfort or trying to learn about what is around you? Babies may scratch their faces a few times, but if you cover their hands it makes comforting themselves and learning about the world so much more difficult.
After a month or so, your baby moves on to start actually looking at their hands. The next stage is to then use their hands to reach out. What you have been watching is the progression from hand-mouth coordination to eye-hand coordination and the beginning of hand-eye coordination which will enable them to learn about all that lies around them.
Singing Your Heart Out
Brazelton Trainer Jeanette Appleton writes about you and your baby having a special song
Are expecting a baby? Congratulations! There is so much advice out there on how to care for babies. So, who do you listen to and how do you work out what is best for you and your baby?
Dr Berry Brazelton recommends that you listen to your baby. Your baby is the best manual for how he or she needs to be cared for. By watching your baby and following his cues, you will soon find out how he likes to be held, his waking and sleeping states and what his different cries mean.
A dialogue between you and your baby can start right from the beginning. Your health visitor and midwife will both encourage you to talk as much as you can to your baby during your pregnancy. Your baby can hear from as early as 18 weeks.
It doesn’t just have to be the spoken word, try to spend some time singing to your baby. Choose a song to sing repeatedly as babies can remember songs they have heard many times. When they are born, they will love to hear you sing their special song. This can be really helpful if you are in the car and baby starts to fuss, or if you have popped out of the room for a moment and they need reassurance that you are near.
You may worry that you can’t remember any lullabies or nursery rhymes. You do not have to stick to the traditional. One mother I knew sang an ‘Iron Maiden’ song to her baby while in the womb and he just loved to hear her sing this track after he was born.
I recently heard a celebrity say that their favourite song was the Skye Boat Song. They said they didn’t know why it was, but hearing that particular song gave them such a calm feeling. After the show had been broadcast, the celebrity’s mother phoned him and said, “That was the song I sang to you as a baby”.
Look who’s talking!
Brazelton trainer Inge Nickell writes about how to learn your’s baby’s language
Babies come into the world ready to talk – especially to their parents. They already know their parents’ voices and other familiar sounds in their home, such as the noises made by siblings and pets. They study you intensely as you talk, and in this way learn as much as they can about you.
Your baby will tell you everything you need to know about how to look after them. It’s not always easy to read them at the beginning, as you need to learn their individual language. Your baby is unique and not like any other baby. They will tell you, through their behaviour, when they like, or don’t like something. So what do these behaviours look like? This is the time to write YOUR baby’s manual – your observations about the way your baby, in particular, expresses themselves.
Some babies have very subtle behaviours and others show a lot. Some babies are therefore easier to read than others, just like some books. That’s okay, what is important is that you and your baby understand each other.
Most babies will give eye contact, move in a relaxed fashion and smile when they enjoy something. Be aware that even enjoying themselves can be intense for newborn babies and they need breaks. Looking away does not mean they are bored – they are often simply processing all the information they are receiving. Just wait for them to come back.
So how does your baby show they don’t like something? The answer is that baby behaviours are very individual. Look out for their faces becoming more red. This can be a sign that they are working very hard and may just need a little break. Finding something else to look at like a picture, or a light could be another sign. Their arms and legs may become more active and they may start to make unhappy noises, which we call “fussing.” Look out for any such changes and try to decipher what they are trying to tell you. They may need a period of quiet, a different activity, or a new position. Television and the radio can be overstimulating for babies, as can bright light and other noises.
Trust your baby’s language and trust yourself. Your baby is talking to you and you can hear them if you listen. Don’t worry about getting it wrong. If you keep watching and wondering, you will learn their special language.
One of our Trainers, Jeanette Appleton talks about how to recognise the quality of your baby’s sleep.
Is my baby sleeping or waking up?
Everyone knows that babies sleep, but did you know that there is more than one type of sleep and that these different kinds of slumber are all important for a baby’s development?
During deep sleep, your baby will be really still and quiet. It is during deep sleep that infants do a lot of their growing. When my own children were in a deep sleep, I sometimes couldn’t tell if they were breathing or not. I often wanted to give them a nudge to check, but despite the temptation to do so, I tried not to because I knew how important it is not to disrupt a baby’s sleep.
During light sleep, your baby will be more active. They may move their arms and legs, their eyes may open and close and they may make noises. My grandson sounded like a little squeaking and squawking dinosaur when he was in light sleep, but nonetheless, he was still asleep. He was also very active and wriggled around in his cot. Light sleep is essential, as this is when the brain grows and develops. So again, it is probably best not to wake your baby up during this type of sleep.
When a baby is going to sleep or waking up, they are drowsy. Their eyes are heavy lidded. Sometimes a baby can be asleep, become drowsy and then go back to sleep, so wait and allow them to wake fully before picking them up.
Don’t forget that as parents you need your sleep too. Make sure you get some rest when your baby is asleep, instead of rushing round trying to catch up on the chores.
My Baby Doesn’t Like Me
Jeanette Appleton shares her observations on how to understand the language of babies.
When babies are newborn they have to adjust to so many things, such as bright light, sounds, and being handled. Sometimes babies just need a break from this shiny, noisy world they now find themselves in. Babies may do a number of things to show that they need a break. Frequent sneezing, hiccuping, going pale or a reddening of their skin are just some of the signs.
At other times they may look away, just for short time before looking back. This sign of needing a break can often be misread. Several mums have told me that they thought when their baby looked away it was because their baby did not like them.
I would then sit with them and when baby looked away the next time, we just gave baby a break. Sometimes this was holding them up on mum’s shoulder. Other times it was simply stopping talking and waiting quietly. Sure enough, baby would turn back to look at their mum again.
“Just watch how baby always turns back to you when you give him the break he needs”.
Just this week I had this email from a health visitor who had completed a two-day training on Newborn Behavioural Observations (one of the Brazelton tools for aiding baby communication). She started to use this training the next day with a mother and baby. This is her email to my co-trainer and me.
I would like to thank you for the training yesterday and Monday it has been really helpful to enhance my skills within practice! I completed my first NBO today on a 6-week-old baby, the mother was feeling particularly low as another health care worker had made her feel her baby “didn’t like her” and she had struggled with this for a few days.
When I did the NBO mum brightened up and said- “I am so glad my baby knows me and loves me” and continued to talk to her baby throughout the visit. There was lots of reciprocity and mum was able to show a higher level of insight into her baby’s needs. Dad was equally receptive – he was off work with PND and you could tell he was very proud of his son!
Just thought I would share this as it was a lovely experience.”
Soothing A Baby The Brazelton Way
Jeanette Appleton shares her tips on dealing with a number one issue for new parents.
As a Children’s Occupational Therapist, I have worked with parents and their newborn babies for twenty-five years. I often meet parents just after their baby’s birth. I use the Newborn Behavioural Observations (NBO), a relationship-building, observation tool with them and their baby. This is so that we can learn from the baby’s behavioural cues about how they are adjusting in the first few weeks after birth.
I also chat to the mums about how they feel about being a mother- what they love most and what their concerns are. So many mums have told me that they feel they could not cope if their baby cried when they were out, whether this was while shopping or meeting up with friends. As a result, they have often not been out at all prior to my visit.
Of course, if your baby cries, you are going to check they are not hungry or need a nappy change first, but what are you to do if there seems to be no obvious reason for the crying?
Berry Brazelton, who developed the NBAS, (another Brazelton technique- The Neonatal Behavioural Assessment Scale ), discovered that some newborn babies can calm themselves, if given time, and that a baby does not always have to be picked up and rocked to stop crying.
Try these steps next time your baby cries…
• Place your face in front of the baby’s and engage their gaze. It is amazing when a simple action such as this calms your baby.
• If your baby continues to cry, then start talking to them in a voice that baby can hear over their own cries.
• If they are still crying, place your hand on their tummy while talking and looking at them. Keep your hand still. This is very important.
• Give each stage time to work (approximately 15 seconds) before moving onto placing your hands over their arms and legs to calm their movements.
• If the crying continues, pick up your baby and hold them still in your arms. Some babies prefer to be held on the shoulder and others horizontally. You will quickly find out which your baby prefers.
• Only start rocking if the crying continues and rock gently rather than with a bouncing up and down movement.
• There are some babies who require more support, such as wrapping or offering a pacifier, or both. If you are breast-feeding you may not want to use a pacifier, in which case, help your baby to suck on his fist. If baby is still crying you can lightly wrap a sheet round them, keeping the baby’s hands free.
However, remember that babies should not sleep wrapped or swaddled as this may result in the baby becoming too hot.
I remember one mother was amazed when her baby stopped crying when I placed my hand on her baby’s tummy. “Great, “she said,” in the night I don’t even have to get up. I can just put my hand on her tummy as she lies in her cot next to me!”
All I want For Christmas Is You
Emily Hills, Occupational Therapist and Brazelton Trainer, writes about how to survive Christmas
As Christmas approaches we are inundated with adverts and influencers on Instagram advising us on what we need to make Christmas absolutely perfect for our babies and families.
Beautiful handcrafted toys and carefully wrapped gifts are presented in such an alluring way that even I question whether my child might need this toy to improve his development (he is currently 17 and probably beyond redemption). However, when I think of my parenting or lack thereof, I don’t completely despair because at our Brazelton training we are gently reminded that we only need to get it right one third of the time.
We stand more of chance of doing this if we take the time to stop, look and listen to the language of our children. Our babies, children and teenagers will all tell us how they feel through their non-verbal communication. We know that the little signs of sensitivity including colour changes, pushing our hands and arms straight out or looking away all mean something. We need to stop what we are doing, listen and respond.
This is particularly important at Christmas, which for some people can be a complete sensory overload. For those who find the bright lights of the Christmas tree overwhelming, Auntie Daphne’s perfume too stimulating and the Christmas tunes deafening try to provide opportunities of calm. Find a quieter room, provide deep pressure, slow linear rocking is calming for most people, sucking on a soother (or a glass of prosecco) might help too.
Most of us don’t always have the skills to self-regulate and rely on each other for co-regulation. So this Christmas if it’s your four-week-old baby or your 100-year-old grandmother who finds it all a bit too much, look at their behavioural cues and help them co-regulate.
Lastly, Dr T. Berry Brazelton was always active in reminding parents that they are their baby’s number one toy. No purchased toy, no matter how wonderfully it is presented will take the place of a smiling parent. So in an over-stimulated world of social media, shopping and advertising know that this Christmas, you are enough.