You can do important things for your baby in the first days and weeks of life that are a great gift and a wonderful blessing to your child.
We did not know how those processes worked for each child until very recently. We now know from great medical research that the very first days and the very first months of a baby’s life are very important to each child.
That is wonderful new science and those processes are an incredibly important thing for us to know and understand so we can use that information to help each child.
We used to think that those first days, weeks, and months were meaningless, irrelevant, and even wasted times for the development of each child. That belief about those times being unimportant to each child was wrong.
We now know that we can do wonderful and important things for babies in those first days and weeks that help give children both a strong start and emotionally secure underpinnings for life.
The newest brain science now tells us that those first days and weeks are actually times when important emotional connections are being formed as part of each baby’s brain development.
Many people have believed that children don’t need or benefit from direct interactions with adults until they are many months old . Many people—including most medical caregivers–have believed that the first weeks and first months of life are just unimportant placeholders and that they are meaningless time fillers on the baby’s calendar.
Those people have been entirely wrong.
We now know from the very best new medical science that baby brain development starts just before birth. We now know that babies often do far better for both health and happiness when their first weeks and first months are highly and very directly supported in immediate and individual ways for each child by their family and by the people who are around them and who are interacting with them at that point in their life.
The science of epigenetics tells us that each baby brain is waiting to be shaped by the world that the baby is born into. Epigenetic scientists now tell us that if a new born baby is hungry and is fed—and if the new born is stressed and is comforted—then the brain actually wires itself in one direction. But if the newborn baby is hungry and not fed and if the baby is stressed and not comforted, then the brain of that baby who is not fed and not comforted wires itself differently to prepare the baby for a more difficult world.
Scientists can see differences in the impact of those first week and month experiences on brains at one hundred days that research shows can last for years.
Several Great Research Programs Are Showing How Important Those First Weeks and Days Are For Each Child.
Both Columbia University and Harvard University have brain research programs that show how incredibly beneficial those first encounters can be for each baby.
Dr. Jack Shonkoff at Harvard, Dr. Beatrice Beebe at Columbia, Dr. Ross Thompson, at the University of California in Davis, and Dr. Patricia Kuhl at the University of Washington are all doing research into early development for children that is so powerful it is almost magical.
We don’t want or need all parents to be scientists or psychologists or neurobiologists, but we do need all parents to know what a wonderful opportunity exists in the first days, weeks, and months of life to help all children enter the world with a brain wired for both security and learning.
We need all parents to know before their baby is born the importance of interacting in direct, responsive and positive ways to the needs of each newborn child. We need all parents to know that the old science was wrong about the first months not being important.
We need all families to do what are basically fun and mutually rewarding things in those first weeks and months with each child to give the best possible start to each child.
The key for parents to help their children is to respond directly to the child in those first days, weeks, and months of life.
Children Need To Have A Sense of Being Heard.
Children who have just been born need to have a very direct and personal sense that they are being observed and personally cared for by the adults in their world and they need to have a sense that adults in their world are responding to them directly in those first days and weeks.
The children begin to have that sense of their world from the very first day—but most parents do not know that to be true. We have not taught that information in effective and consistent ways to parents.
Because we actually did not know that process was happening in the brain of each child, we have not shared that information about that process or those time frames in any useful or systematic way with parents, families or communities.
We have actually done a horrible job of teaching that information about the importance of those first weeks and months to each parent. We also have done a terrible job of teaching information about the importance of the first three years of life for building strong brains for each child.
We have not had our caregivers teaching that information in any systematic way to mothers and families. It also has not been common knowledge for parenting programs or for parental education materials.
Some children have personal experiences that are highly beneficial in those first days and weeks, but many others very unintentionally have experiences that are less beneficial and even negative in that key time frame.
All parents love their children—but we have not done a very good job of sharing the new science about how to best show that love in those first days and weeks of life to all parents.
We need to do better. We need to teach those opportunities now to every parent and every family in our country.
Children are absolutely and clearly not doomed to failure if those first weeks and first months do not go well for the child. That is a wonderful opportunity, however, and it is a shame to miss it for any child.
This is new science—and it is wonderful new science because it points us in directions that can have huge positive impacts on children.
The science of child development is entering a golden age. We now know much more about the developmental processes for all of our children than we have ever known.
The First Three Years Are Important For Brain Strengthening And The First Three Months Are Important For Emotional Security.
Wonderful and extremely useful new science about learning processes for each child now teach us that the first three years of life are critical opportunities for building brain strength and learning skills for each child. We now also know that the first three months of life are extremely useful for building emotional strength and social ability levels for our children.
We need to teach that information to every family and to every parent so that it can be used at the point in time when it has the greatest positive impact for each child.
Your Newborn Needs To Know You Are There And That You Care.
Please—if you have a newborn child, make sure your child knows that you are paying attention to him or her. If your child is hungry, feed him or her. If your child is stressed, hug him or her. Talk constantly to your child and respond directly in caring ways to any sounds your child makes with sounds of your own.
Remember—your child was ten inches away from your mouth for his or her entire life before being born and your child is used to hearing you talk constantly. Being in a crib alone and away from the comforting and familiar sound of your voice can feel very isolating and even frightening. When he or she has heard you constantly ever since the moment that her ears were physically formed, it can be disconcerting not to hear you now.
Breastfeeding your baby has great nutritional benefit and value—and we now understand that that process also has great value for both brain development an emotional security as well. This website has a section on helping with breastfeeding success.
Ensuring your child feels nurtured and cared for through positive interactions such as cuddling, talking, singing and comforting in those first weeks and months of life can help build a basic sense of emotional security that will impact your child positively for life.
The addendum to the book “Three Key Years” goes into more detail in slightly more academic language about the long-term significance of a child’s first experiences in those first Three Key Months. That book addendum points out–
Each child is born with the ability to discern very quickly whether the world around him or her is safe or unsafe. Immediately after being born, children cry. They are also hungry. They each discern very quickly and very directly how the world around them responds to their crying and to their hunger. Each child reaches mental conclusions about the world they live in from the nature of the response to their crying.
If the response they receive to their expressed concerns and to their perceived needs in those first days and weeks of life is to be picked up, cuddled, and comforted, and when they are hungry, if the response they experience is to be fed, then the child’s brain tends to make the assumption that he or she has been born into a safe world.
However, if the child tends not to be picked up and if the child is not cuddled or fed when those needs are expressed, then the assumption is made from that information that this world might not be a safe and supportive place.
You can read the full chapter addendum regarding the first Three Key Months here
If you are about to give birth or if you know someone who is about to give birth—
—please share this information about the importance of those first weeks and first months with them. Too many parents are not given good information about what to do in those first weeks and months—and both mothers and fathers tend to be very happy to learn that simply holding their child and talking to their child in a nurturing way create great benefits for both the children’s capabilities and sense of security and belonging. We need to teach that information to every parent because simply understanding those simple patterns and those basic and simple interactions can make it functionally easier to be a parent in any setting.
For more resources and more information about helping to give your child a healthy emotional foundation in those first days and months, check out the other resources throughout the Three Key Years web site.
For wonderful and extremely interesting and useful information about the first months of life, go to the Harvard Center for the Developing Child website or look at the work done by Dr. Patricia Kuhl at the University of Washington Center For Childhood Brain Development. Read Dr. Beatrice Beebe’s work on the first hundred days or parent child interactions and look at Dr. Thompson’s great research into preventing toxic stress in babies.
All of those programs have great information and are wonderful learning sites.