Thoughtful Parenting: Supporting infant development

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A newborn baby is nothing short of miraculous as it develops before a parent’s eyes. The basis of that development is a complex series of experiences that come from attachment to the ones who love, nurture and instill trust in this world the baby has entered. Simple acts like gazing into a baby’s eyes, cooing in falsetto voices or a reassuring touch can do so much to encourage the healthy development of your baby’s brain.

In my work, I see parents focused on the schedule that a baby should be following in order to be developing “normally.” Instead of putting a chronological date to a baby’s skill set, I first try to impress on new parents that their relationship to their baby is essential to the foundation of learning that will continue for the rest of their lives. Being physically available to meet the baby’s food, hygiene and comfort needs obviously is key, but taken for granted is reading the baby’s cues for those needs. It often is said that the baby does the talking and invites the parent to the dance if they are paying attention.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when talking about baby development is realistic expectations. Our hopes can be high for this new life to do wonderful things right from the start, but that is not always the case. Babies usually develop in the same sequence but at individual rates. One of the most common questions I get is, “When will my baby sleep through the night?” Less than 20 percent of babies 9 months old or younger sleep without waking between midnight and 5 a.m. This disappointment of uninterrupted sleep can be important in the response desperate-for-sleep parents have to their infants.

Another expectation is that a baby will become spoiled if it is picked up every time it cries. On the contrary, recent studies have shown that babies whose cries are met consistently and promptly the first quarter of their birth year cry less and sleep better the latter part of that year. Being comforted is essential for babies to learn self-soothing skills and teach themselves how to be calm.

I have been amazed by the power of parents’ love for their children and their desire to be as good as they can be. I hope that focusing on this basic premise of relationship building will demystify parenting. There are many wonderful books that expand on this concept. One of my very favorites is “You Are My World” by Amy Hatkoff. She also has an excellent bibliography included at the end of the book.

Next week, I will give a more specific description of the sequence of infant development and practical activities in which to engage to encourage that development.

Hope Cook is a public health nurse with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. The VNA has been a member of the Routt County Early Childhood Council since its inception in 1997.

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