I remember standing in the massive baby supply store 17 years ago, with a list so long it was partly concealed by my belly. I worked my way through the big things, (having a baby isn’t cheap). I worked my way through the small things, (having a baby isn’t cheap).
Just when I thought I was done, I was confronted with a product I hadn’t researched: first toothbrushes. This triggered a wave of panic. How had I missed this? If I had missed this, what else had I missed? I’m not fit to be a mother….
Only when the panic faded did I realise: They don’t come with teeth! It’s going to be ok. The baby thing is back on!
It’s funny but not funny.
Every new parent feels overwhelmed. There is so much to think of! Will I give a dummy, will I breastfeed… all the way to ‘will they go to university?’
Back then I didn’t even know how wonderful wiring would make my parenting reality extra challenging.
What would we give for just one job as a parent!
This month we look at the work of Baby Expert, Meg Faure, following on from what learnt from Dr Mona Delahooke. Between the two we discover some good news :
Whether that baby of yours will be wonderfully wired or just wonderful, you have ONE job in becoming a good parent: Become a Responsive Parent.
Responsive parents are warm and affectionate and respond to their babies’ needs. They tend to do three things: observe the baby’s cues (e.g., yawning and rubbing their eyes), accurately interpret the cues (e.g., guessing that the baby is tired and needs rest), and take action to meet the child’s needs (e.g., putting the baby down for a nap).
Delahooke, Mona. Brain-Body Parenting
In the next few weeks we’ll make baby parenting simple again by understanding our baby's experience in the world and the effect of a parent observing clues, interpreting cues and taking action to meet needs.
It helps to understand just how overwhelming the sensory world is for your baby:
Landing on a different planet: The shock of being born
To understand what the nervous system of a newborn experiences, we need to consider the massive change from womb to world.
On the Podcast, Meg explained the complete miracle of sensory development in the womb to us. As early as twelve weeks your baby feels touch and by 24 weeks, when you are just loosening your jeans but not yet wearing maternity ones, the baby is able to hear. Unborn babies feel, hear and taste, and all they sense is calm and safe and muffled and warm. They are always deeply held, always rocked by your movement, always warm and cozy.
“There's this kind of almost absolutely perfect pristine space in which these senses are honed” says Meg.
And then they are rudely evicted!
The first three months are a massive adjustment to all babies, regardless of their wiring. Colic, that fussy crying discomfort, is completely typical. Baby has to adjust to a louder, colder, more exposed reality.
Enter your job in the early months:
Observing babies sensory cues
Babies constantly take in information via their 8 senses, (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, vestibular/balance, proprioceptive/movement, interoceptive/internal) . Sensory input, Meg explains, is either stimulating OR calming and will determine just what state of arousal a baby is in.
The good news is that babies communicate what state they are in all the time, even while they can’t understand or regulate them. Meg Faure has a brilliant guide to these signals on this podcast episode of “The Sense by Meg Faure.”
Interpreting babies cues
In her book BabySense Meg imagines a baby's state of arousal like a flight of stairs. On the bottom rung is deep sleep and each step increases in alertness till, at the top of the flight is a crying, overstimulated baby.
Such a ladder can be descended too. When sensory input is calming (read: anything that feels like the womb again ) a baby can move from the active-alert step, down the calm-alert step to the drowsy and eventually deep sleep step.
Taking action to meet babies needs
Our job as responsive parents is to respond by helping the baby climb up and down those stairs. When the baby is too aroused, we create conditions for calm and share our own regulated nervous system with our immature baby. (That’s called co-regulation and it deserves a blog of its own next week.)
When the need is physical we respond with food or a changed nappy. Sometimes we nail it the first time, sometimes it takes much trial and error to find the right way to meet a need.
It’s not getting it right that makes good parenting. It’s the willingness to intentionally keep trying.
“reflective function is something that develops slowly, because every child is different and every parent is different” says Meg
This is the shift toward Responsive Parenting that I ask all parents to make, regardless of the wiring of your child: Stop applying formulas and assumptions about children and about good parenting and start seeing and responding to (supporting and celebrating) the particular child you have.