August 27th, 2014

Talking (and listening) to baby

If you’re expecting your first baby you will have done a lot of preparation. You will have been to doctor’s check-ups and ante natal classes and you’ve probably been trying to eat healthily and take care of yourself physically. You may have been taking special supplements for mothers-to-be and no doubt you’ve been avoiding a long list of prohibited foods. You may also have just gone off some! So those are all the physical needs of pregnancy taken care of. No doubt you’ve had lots of advice on taking care of your baby’s physical needs too. You will have some idea already of how to feed and wind the baby, bathe it and change its nappy. 

But will you know how to communicate with your baby? What? Surely it’s not that hard? Anyway they can’t understand what you’re saying.



Well, they may not understand the exact meaning of the words but right from the beginning parents can use ways of touching and holding their baby, responding to its cries and other forms of communication, to help them become secure and trusting and to know that they are cared for, that they matter. Babies make bids to connect with others from the moment they are born and they communicate more than you might think.

Linguistic processes begin long before birth. Experts know that babies are able to hear noises in the womb - the ear and the auditory part of the brain that allow this are formed by around 23 weeks' gestation. Babies get familiar with their mother’s voice (and dad’s) while in the womb and are soothed by it from the minute they are born.

Your baby is ready to interact with you from the moment it is born.

How to talk to baby

When a baby is born it cannot focus very well more than 20cms away which is exactly the right distance to an adult’s face when feeding. It helps penetrate the double vision that exists until the eye muscles strengthen if we use the exaggerated expressions that seem to come naturally when talking to babies.

Babies are fully engaged in the moment, with their attention focused solely on the parent. Their favourite toy is you. They like it when adults change the way they speak to a higher tone with exaggerated words. It also helps babies decipher sounds if adults speak slowly, repetitively and in a sing-song way. A baby’s readiness to interact with you is dependent on its alertness so parents need to read the cues to judge whether baby is ready and able to interact.

There are 6 states of consciousness:

quiet alert –baby is attentive, breathing is regular, face looks bright. This is the best time to interact

active alert –baby is moving, fussy, sensitive to stimuli, her breathing is irregular –this signals a need for feeding, changing or repositioning.

crying –again a signal for change or cessation of activity.

quiet sleep –still and difficult to awaken. This is not good time to play or connect although new parents have been known to wake their baby to play with them. This phase doesn’t last long!

active sleep –moving, breathing irregular, may make faces or smile. Feeding in this state is often unsuccessful.

drowsy- delayed responsiveness, breathing irregular, eyes may open and close but appear glazed and heavy lidded. If left alone baby will return to sleep or gradually awaken.

To communicate well with your newborn recognise baby’s cues –learn what your baby is saying and help him to self soothe. Because a baby has an immature nervous system face to face play can occasionally overstimulate the baby so adults need to follow baby’s cues. It is important to recognise when your baby is overstimulated or upset and to help her to self soothe 

  • signs of overstimulation
  • looking away from you (to decrease stimulation, not because they are rejecting you). The baby may suck on a hand to regulate arousal/self soothe and the parent needs to allow this to happen or she may lose the ability to soothe herself and may show increasing signs of distress.
  • shielding face with hands
  • pushing away
  • wrinkling the forehead
  • arching the back
  • fussing
  • crying 

It is important to respond to baby’s cues so that she gets the message that what she does matter to her parents and that she can affect her world by letting people know how she feels.

If baby is overstimulated:

  • back off and let her calm down and give her a rest if she is showing the above signs, but is she is enjoying the game –keep going. Let the baby look away and soothe himself. If he can’t soothe himself give him something to suck or pick him up and rock him, making soothing noises. Nursing or feeding may help.
  • stay calm
  • soften your voice
  • sing to baby
  • maybe continue with play, action or song but in a softer, less stimulating way

Most of this will probably come naturally and hopefully both mums and dads will enjoy playing with, touching and communicating with their newborns. Just remember that it’s not one-way traffic and that your baby is trying to communicate with you too. Be open to what your child is saying from early on and you will have mastered one of the secrets to successful parenting –connectedness. 

Sometimes parents find themselves saying the most inane things to their babies –what’s the weirdest thing you’ve said to your baby/heard parents say to their babies?

If you’ve found these ideas interesting share this with other expectant or new parents and sigb up to our newsletter (click here) for other free ideas, suggestions and information. 

Happy parenting! 

Elaine and Melissa

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August 20th, 2014

Moving from a Couple to a Family

Are you ready emotionally?

The tragic news last week of the death of one of the world’s most beloved actors and comics, Robin Williams, has left many of us reeling and wondering why people take their own lives. His battle with drink and drugs and the ‘black dog’ of depression is well documented and sadly is not as uncommon as we may believe.

Another tragic case recently, nearer to our practice in SW London concerned a young mother who, also  suffering from depression, took  not her own life but the lives of her three children. Mental illness can affect us all even without such catastrophic and well broadcast outcomes. A recent report from our local hospital - St George’s in Wandsworth - highlighted that many new mothers are affected by depression post birth.

If you are an expectant  parent, I am certain you will have  prepared for the physical aspects of having a baby, done the ante-natal classes, prepared your birth plan, maybe even packed your hospital bag; you’ve bought the cot, the pram, the clothes etc, etc and you’ve probably being nurturing your body during your pregnancy. Hopefully your medical advisers have spoken to you about post-partum depression.

But are you prepared emotionally for the transition to parenthood?
Have you thought about how it will affect you and your relationships with your partner, your parents, your friends? Do you know what to expect of the first few months? How will you cope with all the (well-meaning but possibly conflicting) advice? How will you take care of your own mental health to ensure that your baby gets the best possible start in life?

Every year approximately 720,000 babies are born in the UK. Having a baby is an opportunity for a new beginning – new relationships are built, new goals are set and new dreams are created. However, as well as the excitement that comes with becoming a family the transition to parenthood also brings with it stresses for the couple which can impact on the infant. Research shows that after the birth of a child many couples experience a drop in relationship quality which can lead to compromised parenting and decreased quality in parent-infant interaction. (Source: The Gottman Institute)

Years of research show that a strong emotional life between the parents is the best foundation for a baby’s development

As you move from a couple to a family be aware of some of the changes you can expect. Being aware is being prepared and ensures you are realistic about what changes are afoot.

• Both parents’ love for the new baby can form a very strong bond between them as they take on new responsibility for another life. A couple may act more as a team than ever before; becoming  more flexible, learning to adapt, to be creative. You will reassess your values and goals and get in touch with your fun, playful side.

• Babies can teach adults to wonder and marvel at simple things, to experience the joy of discovery. Children are great teachers and we learn a lot about ourselves through interacting with them.

• Research shows that both men and women (about 67%) experience a decline in relationship satisfaction after the first baby is born and it continues to decline after the birth of the second child (which adds to the complexity of family dynamics and places additional demands on resources). There is also often a change in relationship with your own parents and with friends with or without children.

• Sleep deprivation can lead to depression (one study shows even when healthy volunteers were deprived of sleep for one month they became depressed) so get as much support as you can and don’t be a super Mum! Naps are more important than housework.

 Sex/intimacy declines – be patient. Developing a culture of appreciation for each other will help greatly –that means telling each other regularly what you appreciate about each other. Develop a daily practice around this or it won’t happen. My partner and I kept a little book on our bedside table and we wrote one thing in it each evening that we appreciated about each other. It created a lovely atmosphere of trust and made us both feel more confident in our handling of our new daughter.

• Fathers sometimes withdraw if the mother or the women in the mother’s circle, in an attempt to be supportive to her, inadvertently make him feel not needed. He may also feel replaced in her affections as she bonds with the new baby. This needs to be aired. Fathers have a very special role to play with newborns and are just as capable of caring from them as mums. (More on this in subsequent blogs)

• Reduced emotional availability-conversation/communication declines with tiredness. Awareness of this possibility allows you to make communicating a priority.

• Philosophical/psychological changes-shift in roles, relationship roles may become more traditional than previously, which can be challenging for both parents. If you’ve been a working parent in a challenging job and now you’re at home on leave or you’ve made the decision to be a stay at home parent you may experience a drop in status that is challenging. Reframe these assumptions by thinking about how important, challenging and rewarding your role as a parent is. Nurturing a small human being is a critically important job that goes way beyond the physical aspects of her care.

Ensure you are emotionally prepared for your baby.

Had you thought about how having a baby would affect your relationship with your partner? Do let us know what you do to nurture your couple relationship.

If you found these ideas interesting please share them with friends and family and subscribe to our newsletter. Click here to sign up

PS  Watch out for the follow up blogs on how to build a strong emotional foundation with your partner and reduce conflict between partners and how to communicate and bond with your baby.

Happy parenting,

Elaine and Melissa

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