Welcoming a new baby into your home can be challenging. Mom may be exhausted from the physical toll of childbirth and Dad and siblings may be overwhelmed by changes a small new person can bring to their daily lives. For some parents, the realization that their little “scientist in the crib” is aleady processing daily interactions and beginning the life-long process of learning can be a source of stress.
Research from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, which has a web site at ilabs.washington.edu, shows that daily interactions parents and other caregivers have with their children have a definite impact.
Babies as young as a year old take cues from adults in the room when completing simple tasks, according to the institute’s co-director, Andrew Meltzoff, who recently spoke to the Walla Walla Valley Early Learning Coalition on the strong socio-emotional factors of early learning. He also discussed how early language skills predict future reading abilities, and that problem-solving skills and even brain development are guided by the experiences at early ages.
Forming a secure attachment to your infant is key to creating a good learning environment. The ability to manage your stress, respond to your baby’s cues and soothe her helps creates a predictable world in which she will spend less energy fussing over her needs and more time learning.
Creating that attachment starts with taking care of yourself. Ask for support around the house, get enough sleep and find ways to calm yourself in stressful times: take a walk outside, take a deep breath and team with other family members to hold and care for the baby.
Understand your baby’s eating and sleeping cues may take time and be fraught with false-starts, but know it is an interactive process that requires thoughtful observation and a willingness to fail — the gentle “baby bounce” walk may calm a fussy baby in the morning but be too stimulating in the afternoon.
Have fun. Bonding with your infant can be as easy as “Love, Talk, Play,” an education and awareness campaign that highlights the simple things parents can do to be successful (visit lovetalkplay.org).
You demonstrate love when you learn and respond to your baby’s cues; you stimulate their brain and language learning skills when you talk to them.
And play for an infant will mostly center on caregiver interactions. Smiles, laughter and touch are as important to a baby’s development as food or sleep.
Your body language, tone of voice and loving touch are all important ways of communicating with your baby. Blow gentle kisses on their tummy while changing them, sing songs to accompany daily activities, play peek-a-boo or try a silly voice. Let your baby hear your voice as much as possible; the newborn brain is especially interested in sound.
If a parent is suffering from depression, anxiety or other emotional problems, high stress levels from lack of support, overwork or isolation, there can be challenges to creating a good attachment bond. Often, new parents find themselves in their new phase of life removed from their old routines and support groups. It may take time to form new ones.
Several community resources offer help to support the infant attachment bond.
The Moms’ Network of Walla Walla offers a hospitality committee, which provides home-cooked meals to members with a new baby or who may be having surgical complications or other life-altering events. Its web site, themomsnetworkww.com, also offers a detailed list of parent/child activities in the area, including infant parenting workshops.
Children’s Home Society of Walla Walla, emphasizes two infant care programs it offers. One is Early Head Start, which serves low-income families with children up to age 3, pregnant women, or expecting fathers. Families participate in home visits, family center activities, center-based child care and can receive referrals to other community resources
The other CHS offering is the Home Team Parent Aide Program is a parent mentoring program. Parent aides make weekly visits to families with children younger than 12. Families receive information on child development and management, health, nutrition, home management, and problem-solving skills.
For more information about CHS programs, visit online at bitly.com/SPATg0 or call 509-529-2130.
The Walla Walla Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect supports the “Hug your Baby” project in local hospitals. Every new mom in the Walla Walla Valley is provided a bag with the “Period of PURPLE Crying,” a DVD about normal infant crying and the dangers of shaking an infant, and other parenting resources before leaving the hospital. Visit purplecrying.info for more information.
The state’s Department of Early Learning has information about recognizing and coping with postpartum depression on its web site at bitly.com/SPATg0. Many mothers experience mood changes often called “baby blues” two to five days after birth. Symptoms can include feeling sad or down, crying easily, loss of interest in favored activities, irritability, feeling hopeless, trouble sleeping, lack of energy, appetite changes, shame, guilt or low self-esteem. If these mood changes last longer than one to two weeks, it is time to talk with your health care provider. Treatment will help you be an engaged parent.
Tracy Thompson is Walla Walla Valley Early Learning Coalition’s communications and outreach coordinator.