Why Smiling at a baby today helps make a brighter future for all of us
Babies need lots of smiles to help develop their brains.
A Baby’s brain continues to develop rapidly after birth and for the first 2 years of life.
It is at this time that the front part of the brain, behind the eye, develops.
This part of the brain is responsible for
- learning abilities (which will affect school performance)
- limbic system which is where we learn how to relate to others, about having our needs met, impulse control, and how to cope with the world.
If these crucial pathways are not laid down – the damage is irreversible. The younger the baby who experiences neglect or even abuse – the greater the damage.
In the early months, the baby learns about his/her world from the way his caregivers – usually Mom and Dad – respond to his cries – he/she learns social behavior from the way the parents handle him/her – from eye-contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, the experience of the type of touch that they receive – soothing and loving – or abusive.
A baby slowly builds a relationship of attachment/trust – made of up tiny little experiences with the person caring for him/her – one baby step at a time.
If damage or non-development of this front part of the brain happens, this leads to learning difficulties later. The baby may appear “slow” – is also then more likely to be abused by a short-tempered carer – the child grows to feel different/stupid and isolated – progresses to feel more withdrawn or develops aggressive behavior – becomes more isolated, and may join up with gangs – where they feel more accepted – can lead to criminal behavior – In the USA there is now strong evidence that adolescents/young adults who become criminals – were themselves neglected or abused as babies.
There is also evidence to show that we tend to be the same sort of parent – as our parents were. These same abused or neglected babies, grow up to have behavioral problems, become sexually active at a young age – and in turn, become a parent – who has never seen good parenting skills. And so the cycle keeps repeating itself.
All babies are vulnerable – they are totally dependent on the care they receive from their Mom or Dad. If they are not being lovingly cared for – i.e. they are being hurt or neglected – they are unable to run away and protect themselves. Instead, the baby “shuts down” or “freezes” and disassociates itself from what is happening around them.
We nurture a baby when we hold them lovingly, touch them gently, make eye contact, speak with a loving tone, sing, and rock them gently, and most of all by responding positively to their cues or cries.
It is crucial for the baby that their main caregiver – their Mom or Dad is nurturing and smiling at them – if we support the parents of babies, they are more likely to be in a position to smile and play with their baby – a smiling face is the most positive social expression that anyone, especially the baby, can receive.
Studies now show that if the Mom or Dad is not able to nurture and smile at their baby – one consistent extra caregiver who becomes involved and nurtures the baby – can offset the negative effect of the other caregivers.
One person can make a difference.
All babies are vulnerable – how are we to know which Mother is developing Post Natal Depression – her partner may be climbing the Corporate ladder and be unsupportive. Post Natal Depression can lead to the Mum being unable to respond positively when her baby cries – her baby can be neglected – the Mum may even reject her baby.
Parenting Author Steve Biddulph says research supporting the importance of Dads is overwhelming. “Boys with absent fathers are statistically more likely to be violent, get hurt, get into trouble, do poorly at school, and be members of teenage gangs. Fatherless daughters are more likely to have low self-esteem, to have sex before they really want to, get pregnant, be assaulted, and not continue their schooling.”
We know which groups of parents are more likely to have babies that would be at risk.
These are the babies of Teenage Pregnancies, very young Parents, Single parents, unsupported Parents, Parents suffering from mental illness, or who are abusing drugs/alcohol and unable to care for their baby.
We can help by
- Individually supporting parents of babies, including being Non-judgmental – preferably from the time of the pregnancy
- Including Fathers and teaching them positive parenting skills right from the start
- Resources such as “Seven Steps to Baby Bliss”
- Support groups in the community
To break the cycle – we need to be involved particularly over the next 16 years – when those babies are likely to in turn become parents.
We need to be involved with the baby – particularly until they reach 2 years of age.
By being consistently involved with one baby – you can make a difference
By making that Baby’s life brighter – you increase the chance he/she grows up to be a more positive adolescent and makes the world a better place for all of us to live.
How to dress your newborn baby
Can you dress? Yes, then you can dress your newborn baby too!!!
The main problem with newborn babies is that they have very little muscle control – so they wobble all over the show – especially their heads!!! They’re like those little dogs you see in the back of car windows – going in every direction. And seriously, it’s not going to do them any good if their neck/head yanks back and forth.
Your baby’s head is the main area you need to “support”.
OK so let’s start at the beginning.
You know that newborn babies have trouble maintaining their body temperature – so dress them as quickly as you can, especially if it’s just after a bath.
It is great if the room where you are changing your newborn baby – is not too hot or too cold.
Get everything ready before you start taking off your newborn baby’s clothes.
How to decide how many layers your newborn baby needs:
As a very broad generalization, I say that women tend to feel the cold more than men, so – dress your newborn baby in as many layers as the mother is wearing in the same environment (including blankets), but on a cold day – include one extra layer. On a very hot day, a Singlet and diaper may be all your newborn baby needs.
Having decided on what your newborn Baby will wear – find an area where you can work easily – without hurting your back, and which is safe for your newborn baby – in other words, your baby can’t roll off the surface
A firm clean surface is best.
Change the diaper/nappy first – clean the area appropriately (see: changing the nappy/diaper).
Remove the outer layers of clothing – booties, socks, bonnets, cardigans, etc.
Keep your baby lying on their back, and gently but firmly support the head, when removing items of clothing over the head, e.g. Singlet. It’s a good idea to bunch all of the items of clothing together so that only the hole that the item has to go over – is exposed. Place the required bit, e.g. the head through the hole, and then do the limbs – one arm, one arm, one leg, one leg at a time.
When it comes to those fancy “all in one -suits” with “poppers” or whatever else you like to call them – the only advice I can give is to start right at the bottom and keep going, or start right at the top, and keep going.
Invariably, there is usually one popper leftover – but if you don’t tell the baby, he won’t know that you don’t have the “Popper -grow-suit- degree” and no one will be any the wiser!!!
There you are – your newborn baby’s all dressed – hopefully he/she won’t do a little puke, and you’ll only be 45 minutes late for your appointment after all!!
All Health Professionals expect new Mums and Dads to be late for appointments – if they don’t – they haven’t been in the job for very long – so just do your best.
Learning how to “settle” your baby
A baby who is hungry, dirty, or wet bottomed, overtired or overstimulated, uncomfortable, or in pain – is not going to settle down and go to sleep. You need to check through your list to eliminate why your newborn baby may be crying (refer to a baby trying to communicate).
Once you are happy that your baby’s needs have been attended to and problems identified – it’s a good idea to let your baby have a sleep so that you can do a few things for yourself. I am a total believer in keeping your newborn baby close to your body, but carrying your baby around in a sling ALL the time, can make life very difficult, and it won’t harm your baby to have a little quiet time by him/herself.
Newborn babies seem to be able to sleep anywhere – even in the noisiest of places. Your newborn baby will become accustomed to a certain routine if you keep following it, and will be more likely to fall asleep quickly if they know what to expect.
Make sure the place where you will lie them down is safe – (check the safety section), and that they are appropriately dressed and covered. A firm but not hard surface like a crib mattress is usually suitable.
Most babies like to be clothed, even if only lightly on a hot day. Lie your newborn baby on the back, making sure your baby can’t roll over, and that they can’t bury their heads in soft toys or pillows – and that there is good ventilation in the sleeping area. Newborn babies often like to feel “cozy” or “swaddled” – ask your health professional to show you how to do this. Usually, a light blanket is used, and the baby feels “tucked -in” or secure – again check with your Health Professional, as you don’t want to wrap the baby too tightly so that they can’t get their arms out if they want to have a good stretch. Kiwi-Green is a good type of wrap to use.
Some babies like to have some way to soothe themselves – using a pacifier/dummy. Just do be aware that if you use soothers/dummies in the early weeks when you are trying to establish breastfeeding – it can cause all sorts of confusion for your baby, and actually prevent you from establishing a good breastfeeding routine.
A rocking motion or “shushing” sound is often comforting for your newborn baby – it will remind your baby of when he/she was inside the womb.
Playing some soothing music may help too – and your newborn baby will get used to the idea that that particular music means sleeping time.
Even though your newborn can’t tell you, your baby will like you to be nearby when he drops off to sleep – you can slowly experiment, and once your newborn baby is asleep – quietly/gently remove yourself.
By the way – babies are the noisiest sleepers – don’t be disturbed by the grunts and groans that go on – that doesn’t mean they are awake again, and needing to be picked up – it’s just the way babies are.
Whoever said “I slept like a baby” – certainly has never been anywhere near a newborn baby!!!! Once they are asleep – you can do the “cha-cha” next to them, and they won’t flinch. Most of the early months – babies very easily adapt to noisy surroundings. Do remember that if you are going to whisper and tip-toe always around your baby – when they’re a few months old, they will expect the same noise level. I think it is a good idea to be realistic and aim for something where life can still go on – even if your newborn baby is sleeping.
Some newborn babies actually love the sound of a vacuum cleaner – it sends them straight off to sleep!!!! It’s all a case of getting to know your newborn baby – and what is going to work for you and your baby – learn to trust yourself – it is your baby after all, and you wouldn’t want to do anything that would harm your baby. There are a million ways to bake banana bread, so who is to say that your way is not good enough???
I have written a separate section on “helpful advice” – that might be worth a look at.