Talk to me, baby

Newborns, once considered helpless, are incredibly competent and have much to teach us adults, assuming we are watching and waiting.

Talk to me baby 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Talk to me baby 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Coming home from the hospital with a newborn in tow is overwhelming. Most new moms prepare for the delivery, not the days after. So Mom may be shocked to discover she is exhausted, sore and in need of much tender loving care. When she finally sits down, perhaps even only to feed the baby, she might just need to leave the world of diapers behind for a few moments of adult chat. Chatting with other moms, and even your own mom, is a great way to get support and important information, especially when everything feels so new and scary. Another valuable source of information, so close at hand, yet often overlooked, is... your baby.
Newborns are amazing. Despite spending long hours in the neonatal unit for my doctoral research, I was unprepared for what being a parent was really about. My husband, a pediatrician, was no better. While we may have, for a moment, wanted to hand our babies back to the nurse, we knew, despite our exhaustion, that we had to figure out what each baby needed, even if it took time to understand their cues. We had to learn to waltz together, one step at a time.
Contrary to what most new parents think, parenting isn’t entirely natural, especially when many new parents have no experience with newborns. This is a gradual process that demands time, patience and energy, but once you get the tempo down and the rhythm correct, you and your baby can dance forever.
Early relationships are essential for setting the stage for sociability, parent-child interaction and more. Moms wanting to nurse, for example, may think that by just putting the baby to their breast, everything will happen easily. While for some lucky moms this may happen, many ache, feel anxious and simply don’t know what to do. In the analogy of the dance, they step on each other’s toes – with cleats. Moms and babes need some gentle guidance for lots more than nursing, and with some practice, they will be great in no time. Without it, however, they may flounder, and depending on what else is going on, not quite ever get that dance right. Instead it may become a battle of wills as to who will take the lead. In this day of fast everything, this is one thing that can’t be rushed. Getting to know and enjoy your baby takes time, help and support from others, and a dose of confidence.
Newborns, once considered helpless, are incredibly competent and have much to teach us adults, assuming that we are watching, waiting and open to learning. Babies are preprogrammed to help parents bond. By being emotionally and physically available, the essential cadence of this dance becomes established.
Here are some ideas for new parents:
Hold your baby close to and facing you when feeding, as this is the perfect distance for your baby to gaze at your face and get to know you better. Use this precious time to relax and enjoy your baby.
Notice when your baby looks at you and when she turns away. Perhaps she looks at you longer when you are talking, smiling or singing to her. Amazingly, babies recognize your voice and scent within the first days of life. As you move your face from side to side or up and down, watch how your baby moves her eyes or head to follow you. When your baby turns away from you, she may be letting you know she needs a break from communication. If you’re not intrusive, she’ll be back for more as soon as she’s ready.
Use the moments when your baby is awake to talk, sing and read – to her. Explain what you’re doing as you go about your day. Babies from an early age will enjoy listening to your voice and understand much before they are able to speak. Change time is a perfect opportunity to play with, and name, various body parts. (You’ll find it best, though, to be quiet during a nighttime change or feeding, as this is not when you want her to party.)
Stimulate your baby with handmade mobiles, books and games. Black shapes can be pasted on white plates to make a face, and you can make your own textured books or laminated cards with pictures, letters or family photographs. Homemade toys can be inexpensive, fun and highly interactive. You’ll be helping your baby learn to socialize, a skill not gleaned from sitting in front of a television or computer.
Don’t be afraid to get down on the floor and play. It’s nice to see the world from their perspective. Don’t ever worry about spoiling a baby in the first few months of life. Left to cry, he learns that the only way to get attention is to scream more. When you respond to him by picking up or comforting him when he cries, he learns that someone is paying attention, cares and anticipates his needs. He’ll eventually cry less. Within a short amount of time, you’ll learn to differentiate among cries of hunger, pain and boredom.
Finally, learn to trust yourself. It may seem scary at first, but soon, you’ll be the real expert.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana. Her book, Life’s Journey: Exploring Relationships – Resolving Conflicts, will be released this month.