If yes, then your focus has likely been on conception and having a healthy pregnancy and delivery. This may have consumed all your time and energy, due to the worry and stress that often accompanies fertility struggles. Once baby arrives, you are suddenly overloaded by advice concerning baby care. The future of this wonderful little person is all in your hands, and the responsibility may be quite overwhelming!
As adults, we tend to forget to play and explore, but babies always remember! We need to give them the opportunity to touch, test and look at things from a prone position. Babies should always sleep on their back, reducing the risk of SIDS, but in an awake state, the stomach should touch the floor as much as possible. Sometimes this position is tough on the muscles and the child may easily tire. You can roll a towel or blanket as support them under the arms, helping the baby position comfortably, or lay in front of your child on your stomach and play while offering eye contact.
See and explore something together with your baby. This is the ultimate opportunity for you to re-explore your surroundings with fresh eyes. For example, your child could sit on your knee while you read a book. Seeing the same things, at the same time in a synchronized way, while giving a word or sign for that whatever you are looking at is a powerful learning opportunity. Sometimes having eye-contact may be a challenge for you as a parent, especially if tired, so focusing on an object may help you better focus.
Follow your child’s lead, mirroring whatever they do and then gently wait for their response. If you manage to do things one at the time, while taking turns, you are teaching your baby the first communicative skill! The action itself may seem trivial, but making a certain sound or smacking the lips helps promote your newborn's development!. Remember to be patient-- let your child formulate a small piece of communication before you copy.
Sometimes I meet adults who express that there is really no need to to talk to a baby since they don't understand the words yet. Nothing could be more incorrect! Even a small child hears the melody, mood, body language, and social skills that are developed long before speech. Talking and singing to your child, even in the neonatal unit, is beneficial. Don't be afraid to use your "mother tongue" – the language of your heart. If you don’t know what to say, just gently comment on what you see around you or what you are doing. ”I’ll have to wear a rain coat today, even if it is a bit itchy, because just look at the grey skies!”--is a perfect sentence for a newborn to hear.
What a strange piece of advice! However, when you look into your child's eyes, look for the details and formulate what you see into words your child can hear. Practicing this between you, your baby, and the other parent is a powerful tool for parental mentalization – the duel part of attachment in the parent-child dyad. Try to use all your senses--how does your baby smell? What utterances do they produce? How did they move today? Trust me – this non-judgmental and detailed exploration with your senses will make a difference inside of you and between the two of you!
I hope I contributed with some ideas about the first few months at home with your new family member. My best of luck to all of you!
Erika Baraldi is Swedish child psychologist specializing in infant mental health and psychological aspects of neonatal care. She is the mother of two children (aged 8 and 9) and stepmother of yet another two children (aged 9 and 12). Her research concerns early interventions for extreme preterm born children and their parents after discharge from the hospital. Her goal is to make psychological knowledge about infant, as well as parental mental health, accessible and easy to understand. Apart from research, she works part-time at the neonatal unit of Karolinska Hospital. Her spare time (if any) is preferably spent in a kayak or swimming. You may find more of her posts on prematurity on Instagram @igodtid, which means “in good time”--relating to the premature birth long before due date.
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