Tribute to Dr. Brazelton

“I learn every time I see a new baby. Every time I talk to a new parent, I learn from them.”

The words of one of the most influential advocates in paediatrics and child development of the twentieth century.

Dr. T. Berry Brazelton MA, who held the title of Clinical Professor of Paediatrics Emeritus at Boston Children’s Hospital and who continued to publish and lecture well into his 90s, died Tuesday morning at his Barnstable home, MA, USA at the age of 99.

Along with his warmth and charisma Dr. Brazelton, was a pioneer, champion and living legend in the field of Paediatrics. His approach was the first to go beyond testing for abnormalities and instead look at the strengths of the baby, bringing out their best.  He has empowered and touched parents in their thousands and inspired practitioners and researchers globally.

Born in Texas in 1918, Dr. Brazelton ended up going to Medical School following a short spout on Broadway! His interest in infants lead to him opening a paediatric practice in Cambridge, MA while beginning a teaching position at Harvard Medical School. He then travelled widely in order to better understand different cultural approaches to childbirth and child-rearing, using those insights to inform his teaching and writing.

His accomplishments and influences, were far reaching including clinical work, research, and lecturing. As author or co-author, he published more than 30 books and 200 scholarly papers (his papers are archived at Harvard Medical School’s Centre for the History of Medicine) as well as traveling internationally as a global advocate for ‘enlightened parenting’. He has also been a tireless force in national affairs for the field including appearing before Congressional committees. In 2013 he was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, the USA’s second highest civilian honour.  Dr. Brazelton founded the Brazelton Touchpoints Center® of which there are now more than 180 Touchpoint teaching sites in 33 states of the USA leading a multidisciplinary approach dedicated to applying Dr Brazelton’s teaching principles to parental education

One of Dr. Brazelton’s most notable achievements in paediatrics is his Neonatal Behavioural Assessment Scale (NBAS), an evaluation tool used to assess not only the physical and neurological responses of newborns, but also their emotional well-being and individual differences.

The NBAS is now taught worldwide through a network of Brazelton Centres and institutions, including one in the UK.  The Brazelton Centre UK (formerly ‘Brazelton Centre in Great Britain’) based in Cambridge, England was launched by Dr Brazelton and his colleague Professor Kevin Nugent in 1997. The reach of the centre has grown greatly over the years. In 2017 the numbers

stood at over 4000 practitioners trained in the NBAS and NBO (Newborn Behavioural Observations; developed from the NBAS as a relationship building tool). The Brazelton Uk is honoured to be continuing the inspirational and vital work of Dr Brazelton.

Dr. Brazelton taught us that no behaviour in a newborn is random but that every behaviour is meaningful. In his own words;

“A baby’s behaviour is his language…and you can trust that language”

For clinicians, Dr Brazelton has inspired the concept of anticipatory guidance, a collaborative, dialogue-based approach and focus on the overall health of babies — their emotional well-being as well as their physical abilities.

Dr. Brazelton soothed generations of anxious parents, with an empathising respect that empowered and encouraged ensuring that they were active participants in their child’s care.

His revolutionary approach has and will continue to reach and impact parents though the sharing of a NBAS or NBO by a practitioner. Captured beautifully by one parent, “As a very nervous first time parent this assessment has completely opened my eyes in appreciating my baby’s behaviour and how to interpret it. Absolutely fascinating and so important for their future development.” The Brazelton Centre UK remains a busy training centre used by those both within and beyond the NHS.

It is undeniable that Dr. Brazelton will be missed in a profound way but it is also certain that he leaves a passion, vision and legacy that will have babies understood, parent’s heard and professionals inspired for generations to come.

–      Sarah Lam, Brazelton Centre UK