DADS: LEARN INFANT MASSAGE FOR YOUR BABY & YOU

Nurturant Men, Successful Kids: You Can Help.

Children benefit immensely from affectionate interaction with both parents. Dr. Michael Lamb, author of The Role of the Father in Child Development says, “A warm, affectionate father-son relationship can strengthen a boy’s masculine development. A nurturant father is a more available model than a non-nurturant father. the nurturant father’s behavior is more often associated with affection and praise and acquires more reward value. Thus a boy with a nurturant father has more incentive to imitate his father than a boy with a non-nurturant father.”
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Girls, too, need wholesome bonds with their fathers. The Berkeley Longitudinal Study indicates that the women who are most healthy and well adjusted as adults grew up in homes with two loving, involved parents. The most successful women in the study had fathers who valued femininity and encouraged competency, who were both warm and affectionate with their daughters and supportive of their efforts toward independence.

Massage is a quality experience for parents and infants, from which both benefit immensely. The baby learns that Daddy can touch him gently and lovingly, that Daddy, too, is someone he can count on to help meet his physical and emotional needs. A father who realizes these qualities in himself as a result of the massage experience is certain to have his confidence as a parent substantially boosted.

The most important process that evolves from regular massage of a newborn by his father is bonding. Just as breastfeeding provides consistent reinforcement of the bonding process for mothers — with it cuddling, skin contact, and face-to-face communication — so massage can be just the thing to keep a father literally “in touch” with his baby. Fathers who massage their babies regularly throughout infancy later recall that massage time with fondness.

“I’ll never forget how my son would wiggle and smile when he heard the oil swishing in my hands,” said Ron, father of seven-month-old Jason. “It’s going to be fun to tell him about it when he gets older and to remind him of it when he has his own kids. Heck, maybe someday I’ll massage his baby too!”

That is a quote from a father in one of my classes in 1977. Checking back with him, he still remembers “baby massage time” fondly, and has told me that his son has two teenagers now, and he is looking forward to teaching them when they have kids. He says he talks about it often, and his daughter brags that “Dad learned how to massage me as a baby — he learned from that famous lady that wrote the book!”

As a new father, you may have to use some creativity to structure your time to allow for the twenty to thirty minutes you will need to massage your baby. The best time is usually the morning of your day off, when you can relax unhurriedly. After learning the basic techniques from your wife, this book, and/or a class, you should be alone with your baby for the massage. It is better not to have both parents massaging the baby at once, as this can give your infant mixed signals and make her uncomfortable.

In the beginning, proceed very gently, massaging only the legs and feet. You may have a sense of being too strong or too inexpert to massage your baby, your hands too big or rough. Nearly everyone is a little clumsy and nervous in the beginning, just feel the connection between the two of you, and concentrate on relaxing your body and letting your love go to her. When that feels more comfortable, you can begin simple stroking, stopping now and then to just hold and relax. Don’t worry about being too “big;” your baby recognizes your special way of handling him.

Remember to make all your movements very smooth and slow, almost like slow motion. Talk or sing softly, make eye contact when baby is ready, and in general follow the baby’s rhythms of communication. As time goes on and your baby becomes familiar with your touch, you may want to spend more time and move on to other parts of the body, developing your own special massage techniques.

If you would like to learn, you can get my book:
http://www.amazon.com/Vimala-Schneider-McClure-Infant-Massage–Revised/dp/B00N4EKZJK/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1438282581&sr=1-2keywords=infant+massage+a+handbook+for+loving+parents+by+vimala+schneider+mcclure

THE CONTINUUM CONCEPT: PRECEDES MANY MODERN IDEAS ABOUT INFANTS

I found Jean Liedloff’s Continuum Concept very early in my children’s lives and my work with infant massage. It made great sense to me and informed my parenting – especially the first couple of years of my children’s lives. What is it?

The continuum concept is an idea, coined by Jean Liedloff in her 1975 book The Continuum Concept, that human beings have an innate set of expectations (which Liedloff calls the continuum) that our evolution as a species has designed us to meet in order to achieve optimal physical, mental, and emotional development and adaptability. According to Liedloff, in order to achieve this level of development, young humans—especially babies—require the kind of experience to which our species adapted during the long process of our evolution by natural selection. For infants, these include, for example, that they experience:

  • Immediate placement, after birth, in their mothers’ arms: Liedloff comments that the common hospital protocol of immediately separating a newborn from its mother may hormonally disrupt the mother, possibly explaining high rates of postpartum depression;
  • Constant carrying or physical contact with other people (usually their mothers or fathers) in the several months after birth, as these adults go about their day-to-day business (during which the infants observe and thus learn, but also nurse, or sleep); this forms a strong basis of personal security for infants, according to Liedloff, from which they will begin developing a healthy drive for independent exploration by eventually starting to naturally creep, and then crawl, usually at six to eight months;
  • Sleeping in the parents’ bed (called co-sleeping), in constant physical contact, until leaving of their own volition (often about two years);
  • Breastfeeding “on cue”—involving infants’ bodily signals being immediately answered by their mothers’ nursing them;
  • Caregivers’ immediate response to the infants’ urgent body signals (flaring temper, crying, sniffling, etc.), without judgment, displeasure, or invalidation of the children’s needs, but also not showing any undue concern nor obsessively focusing on or overindulging the children;
  • Sensing (and fulfilling) elders’ expectations that the infants are innately social and cooperative and have strong self-preservation instincts, and that they are welcome and worthy (yet without making them the constant center of attention)

Liedloff suggests that when certain evolutionary expectations are not met as infants and toddlers, compensation for these needs will be sought, by alternate means, throughout life—resulting in many forms of mental and social disorders. She also argues that these expectations are largely distorted, neglected, and/or not properly met in civilized cultures which have removed themselves from the natural evolutionary process, resulting in the aforementioned abnormal psychological and social conditions. Liedloff’s recommendations fit in more generally with evolutionary psychology, attachment theory, and the philosophy known as the Paleolithic Lifestyle: optimizing well-being by living more like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who Liedloff refers to as “evolved” humans, since their lifeways developed through natural selection by living in the wild.

AN OPEN LETTER TO MY FRIENDS, FOLLOWERS, AND WELL-WISHERS

Thank you for your friendship, your kindness, and the love that comes to me over this “invisible” thing called Facebook.

You may have noticed some change from me over the last year or so. Most of my FB friends are from other countries, so I’d like to explain the evolution of my life and work.

I have had a disease called Fibromyalgia for 30 years. I had a total remission from 2014 through October of 2018. Just guessing at why it re-appeared, a few months of intense stress — physical, mental, emotional, financial — may have contributed but I’m not sure. When it re-emerged, it surprised me and I had difficulty accepting it, thinking that I’d get “back to normal” in a few days. It never went away, and I had symptoms (intense and debilitating all over pain, migraines, exhaustion) for months. I finally accepted that it’s back, and started learning how to dance with it. There are days when I have to be in bed all day; there are times when the pain is so profound I cry in spite of medications that are supposed to help.

Then there are days, sometimes weeks, when it lifts, and though I’m in pain, I can function with joy. Recently I went through a period of having my blood tested for everything you can imagine, and the fear was that I was getting Rheumatoid Arthritis. I rejected the fear, and it turned out that I’m okay.

As the founder of the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM), I’m still involved, basically posting blogs and articles about infant massage and babies in general. I’ll continue doing that. What I needed to accept is that I will never teach or train again. At first feeling grief, eventually I started to feel lighter, and stepped into my “eldership” feeling relief and peace.

Thinking about how to manage this pain disease, I looked back to when I first developed it. At that time, I was pursuing art professionally, and when I was making art, the pain calmed. I decided to try returning to that, and began exploring how I could sew again (my passion). I began hand sewing, doing embroidery, in April of this year. Now I’m making embroidered “landscapes” and have sold many of them. In July I opened a shop on Etsy (in May, I imagined I might do that sometime during the summer). You can see my work on my Facebook page “Vimala’s Textile Art,” on Instagram TextileArt_by_Vimala, and Etsy.

If you would like to support my work, you can go to etsy.com and find my shop “Beaux Textiles” (French for beautiful textile art). There you’ll see all available pieces, and you can “favorite” the shop, and “favorite” any pieces that appeal to you. This will help get my shop noticed. No purchase necessary. I love doing this more than I thought I would. It’s a mindful practice, and most days I’m sewing all day long. I even have some commissioned pieces to finish. When I told my son about it, he said of course it would be successful — “Mom, you’re an artist; you always have been an artist, and whatever you make has been successful.” He was happy that I was getting back to art. I’m also learning Spanish and French — because I have so many friends and family members that speak these languages, and also for my brain!

Another change that you may have noticed is my political posts. I have always been pretty loud about things I see as threatening the poor, endangered species, racism, and cruelty. Unfortunately, in my country right now, some of our leaders are doing just that every single day, and I saw this coming years ago. I won’t be silenced. I’m not an angry person, but I cannot sit by and watch my fellow beings suffering.

As you can see if you look at my page, and my other pages — The Tao of Motherhood (mostly posts about toddlers) and The Path of Parenting (mostly posts about older kids)— I’m still making my views about parenting known. The Tao of Motherhood page has more than 10,000 likes and counting. My personal page is mostly about babies, so maybe people whose babies grow relate to that page more.

In my heart, I am very much with Infant Massage, my life’s work and my legacy. I love hearing from instructors and parents, and I love to see what the chapters of IAIM around the world are doing.

If you have any questions, please message me; I’m happy to hear from anybody.

Infant Massage, Bonding, Babywearing & Attachment Part 3

The Importance of the First Few Months of Life

If a failed relationship is detected, especially when the infant is six months old or younger, the chances of helping the parent and child form a strong bond is greatly improved. The fact that damage can begin that young should be sobering to parents, but as is so often the case, the parents most in need of help are often the least likely to seek it. This is often the case in families who have the powerful factor of poverty. For instance, boys growing up in poverty are more than twice as likely to have behavioral problems in school if they did not have a strong bond with a parent. Babies without a strong bond with parents have difficulty living a successful and fulfilling life.
What these studies show is the importance of those first few months of life, when a tiny baby is sent on a trajectory that will partly determine success at something as simple — and critical — as getting along with others. Other research shows that simply touching, or caressing, a newborn is critical to the infant’s sense of security.
FATHER HAPPY NEWBORN
In another article about these studies, Lauren Jimeson says, “These studies prove that those first few months of your child’s life, when life can be overwhelming and it can be a major adjustment for everyone, are the most critical. It’s important that both parents take the time that they need to really focus on being a parent and showing that immense love to their child. Hold them, cuddle them, rock them to sleep, do whatever you can that makes life happy for you and your baby.”

“It’s this love that will help shape your child’s life forever.”

Children Without a Conscience

Experts in many fields are becoming increasingly alarmed at what has been termed the “bonding crisis” in Western countries. Long before an outbreak of violence among children in the United States, Dr. Ken Magid, psychologist and author of High Risk: Children Without a Conscience, pointed to what he called a “profound demographic revolution” that is changing the course of history. “Working mothers — and the possibility that their children are suffering bonding breaks — are simply not being given enough attention,” he said. In 1988, in a chilling foretelling of events to come, he cited the stresses of two-income families, single parents struggling to survive, an achievement-addicted society, poorly run and understaffed day care, little or no parental leave in the job market, poorly handled adoptions, and inadequate child custody divorce arrangements as high-risk factors for the newest generations of infants. I had the good fortune to study with Ken Magid when I went back to school in 1986; I majored in psychology and was able to put together a minor in Infant Psychology because Ken was there. Fortunately, because parents became more educated about the importance of bonding and insisting that daycare be responsive to families’ needs, things have changed. Though there is still work to do, parental leave, good childcare and parents making these crucial months a priority have all made changes in the way things are done. However, low-income families still face an uphill struggle when trying to provide their babies with what they need.

Anxiously Attached Infants

Unattached and anxiously attached infants can grow up to exhibit a range of disorders from difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships at one end of the spectrum all the way to sociopathic criminal behavior at the other. Anxiously attached means that a baby is not consistently responded to with love by her caregivers, so the baby cannot relax and depend on her needs being met and the world being a good and friendly place to be. Such children are fearful of the world and have a difficult time trusting and opening up to others, and they often have buried anger that can come out inappropriately later in life. Solid, loving attachments are hard for them to make because as anxiously attached babies, they did not learn how to trust.

The Highly Sensitive Child

As time goes on, more information about anxiously attached children is helping parents realize it is a problem and that they can turn the situation around. In a book titled The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them, published in 2002,author Elaine Aron says that this is a personality trait that occurs in 15% to 20% of the population. Though Highly Sensitive Children (HSC) tend to be “empathetic, smart, intuitive, careful and conscientious.” they are easily overstimulated and require informed parenting in order to prevent temper tantrums, stress illnesses and the avoidance of pleasurable activities. HSC have great difficulty with change; it is necessary to prepare them gently so that they do not feel powerless during transitions. Many “baby-boomers” were HSC, which may account for the epidemic of depression among adults in the 80’s, 90’s and beyond.

Human Babies Cannot Initiate Bonding

Unlike the clinging monkey, the human infant has no physical means of initiating contact with his mother and thus getting his needs fulfilled. His life depends upon the strength of his parents’ emotional attachment to him. Where there is early and extended mother-baby contact, studies show impressively positive results. Mothers who bonded with their babies in the first hours and days of life later showed greater closeness to their own babies, exhibited much more soothing behavior, maintained more eye contact, and touched their babies more often.
Early contact mothers were more successful in breastfeeding and spent more time looking at their infants during feeding, and their babies’ weight gain was greater. At age three, these children had significantly higher IQ scores on the Stanford-Binet test than children who had been separated from their mothers.

Infant Massage, Bonding, Babywearing and Attachment

The Fourth Trimester

During my time of research in 1975-1976, I made many trips to the medical library, studying everything I could find regarding the effects of touch between parents and infants. I read through anatomy books and edited some of my massage routine, working with the babies’ internal organs.

For example, the tummy strokes follow the intestinal tract and colon, which helps strengthen these organs and they begin to do their work earlier than they might have; I discovered that many researchers and physicians called the first few months of life the “fourth trimester.” Newborns are helpless; they cannot get up and walk like many animals.

We are like kangaroos in this way; our babies need a few months more with the soothing touch of a parent’s massage, skin-to-skin contact, and carrying. Their gastrointestinal systems are not yet mature, and many infants experience “colic,” or painful gas and digestion. The elements of massage that help babies eliminate fecal matter and gas are the sweeping of palms down from rib cage to pelvis, and the clockwise strokes over the stomach that move trapped matter down and out.

Parent-Infant Bonding – A New Concept in 1976

In 1976, Dr.s Kennel and Klaus published their groundbreaking research on bonding. Their work inspired me so much, along with what I read in Montague’s research, I decided to massage my baby every day from the beginning. It was just the right timing — in our culture there was a kind of explosion of interest in, and acceptance of the importance of the elements of bonding and good birth practices. In September of 1976, I gave birth to my first child. I began massaging him, starting with the massage I had learned in India and gradually adding and revising strokes and the order of the strokes, and writing information that would become handouts in my classes later on. I took the notes that would be the foundation of my book, Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents

What is Bonding?

Bonding is a basic phenomenon that occurs throughout the universe. In terms of physics, it is established within the energy field from which particles arise. Two particles of energy brought into proximity spin and polarize identically, even when separated. Two living cells of a human heart brought into proximity begin to beat together. Throughout the animal kingdom and in human life as well, affectionate and tactile bonds between mother and young ensure healthy interaction and development for time to come. Proximity between parent and infant, via sensory experiences and loving interactions, brings them into an important synchrony with each other.

Imprinting

Animal researchers discovered imprinting long ago, when ethologist Konrad Lorenz showed that ducklings were biologically programmed to follow and bond with the first moving object they saw. Meanwhile, Harry Harlow and his associates studied monkeys and goats and found critical bonding times and elements that were important not only for the infant’s physical survival but for what we might call emotional health as well. Monkeys would abuse their infants if their own bonds as infants were disturbed.

In animals, the crucial period for bonding is usually a matter of minutes or hours after birth. The mother bonds with her infant through licking and touching, a type of massage, which in turn helps the infant to adjust physically to life outside the womb. If mother and infant are separated during this time and are subsequently reunited, the mother will often reject or neglect her young. As a result, the newborn may die for lack of the mother’s stimulation, even if fed by other means.  

The Elements of the Bonding Process

I was determined to include as many of the elements of bonding in our massage as possible: eye-to-eye contact, skin-to-skin contact, singing or humming to my baby, allowing natural odors, adding movements to maintain flexibility. The closeness of mother and baby allows the baby to smell the mother; a newborn baby can distinguish the smell of his or her mother from that of another mother. Parents can also recognize their baby from smell alone. Because of this important aspect of bonding, I decided to emphasize the use of unscented oil.

Resilience, as it relates to massage, is an indication of the quality of the bonding/attachment the baby develops with the parent or caregiver. It is through the elements of bonding that babies learn to be resilient, to bounce back from intense experiences.

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The Difference Between Bonding and Attachment

In studies paralleling animal research, doctors John Kennell and Marshall Klaus, among others, have revealed that there is also a sensitive period for bonding in humans. The critical period seems less rigidly defined and may continue for months, even years, after childbirth. Another word often used in connection with bonding is attachment. While bonding is specific to birth and our connection with the animal kingdom, attachment happens over time and can occur between any two beings. 

Frank Bolton, in his book When Bonding Fails describes bonding as a one-directional process that begins in the biological mother during pregnancy and continues through birth and the first days of her baby’s life. Conversely, attachment is an interaction between parents and children, biological or not, that develops during the first year they are together and is reinforced throughout life. He describes it as the feeling that the other is “irreplaceable.”

Often these two terms are interchangeable, because in humans the bonding period is so loosely defined as to merge into the attachment process. Kennel and Klaus define bonding as “a unique relationship between two people that is specific and endures through time.” That definition could also apply to the word attachment.

Kennel and Klaus cited cuddling, kissing, and prolonged gazing as indicators of a developing bond. Dramatic evidence in their studies and others correlates the lack of early bonding and attachment with later abuse, neglect, and failure to thrive. Mothers who are separated from their babies during the newborn period are often more hesitant to learn and unskilled in basic mothering tasks. Even very short separations sometimes adversely affect the relationship between mothers and infants.

Lack of Bond Affects Babies in U.S.

Shockingly, new studies confirm that four out of ten babies born in the U.S. do not form a strong bond with either parent. In the early 70s, there was an upsurge of interest in birth and bonding, with parents choosing home births, rooming-in at hospital births, and learning infant massage and other things that brought parents and infants together. But unfortunately, that progress has decreased as time went on, in spite of the upsurge of programs like infant massage.

According to a study at Princeton University, 40 percent of infants in the U.S. live in fear or distrust of their parents, and that translates into aggressiveness, defiance and hyperactivity as they grow into adults. Of that number, 25 percent don’t bond with their parents because the parents aren’t responding to their needs. A tragic 14 percent find their parents so distressing that they avoid them whenever possible.

Sociologist Sophie Moullin of Princeton, lead author of the study, along with coauthors from Columbia University, analyzed more than 100 research projects, including data collected by a U.S. longitudinal study of 14,000 children born in 2001, to reach their conclusions. Yet critical, bonding, the researchers contend, is amazingly simple to achieve. The study notes,“When a parent responds to a child in a warm, sensitive and responsive way – picking up the child when he cries, and holding and reassuring him – the child feels secure that they can meet their needs.” 

Four Out of Ten Babies Do Not Form a Strong Bond

Incredibly, four out of ten infants born in the U.S. do not form a strong bond with either parent and, according to the authors of an article on the subject, “they will pay for that the rest of their lives.” Other research shows that simply touching, or caressing a newborn is critical to the infant’s sense of security. Infant massage, therefore, becomes an incredibly important art for parents to learn.

Usually it is the mother who is the central focus of studies like these, probably because the mother is often the main caregiver, especially in infancy. But a study at the University of Iowa two years ago concluded that “being attached to dad is just as helpful and being close to mom.” A similar study in 2012 from the Imperial College London found that fathers were especially important in helping the infant avoid behavioral problems later in life. If the father is remote or distracted, the child is more likely to be aggressive.

DADS: LEARN INFANT MASSAGE FOR YOUR BABY & YOU

Nurturant Men, Successful Kids: You Can Help.

Children benefit immensely from affectionate interaction with both parents. Dr. Michael Lamb, author of The Role of the Father in Child Development says, “A warm, affectionate father-son relationship can strengthen a boy’s masculine development. A nurturant father is a more available model than a non-nurturant father. the nurturant father’s behavior is more often associated with affection and praise and acquires more reward value. Thus a boy with a nurturant father has more incentive to imitate his father than a boy with a non-nurturant father.”
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Girls, too, need wholesome bonds with their fathers. The Berkeley Longitudinal Study indicates that the women who are most healthy and well adjusted as adults grew up in homes with two loving, involved parents. The most successful women in the study had fathers who valued femininity and encouraged competency, who were both warm and affectionate with their daughters and supportive of their efforts toward independence.

Massage is a quality experience for parents and infants, from which both benefit immensely. The baby learns that Daddy can touch him gently and lovingly, that Daddy, too, is someone he can count on to help meet his physical and emotional needs. A father who realizes these qualities in himself as a result of the massage experience is certain to have his confidence as a parent substantially boosted.

The most important process that evolves from regular massage of a newborn by his father is bonding. Just as breastfeeding provides consistent reinforcement of the bonding process for mothers — with it cuddling, skin contact, and face-to-face communication — so massage can be just the thing to keep a father literally “in touch” with his baby. Fathers who massage their babies regularly throughout infancy later recall that massage time with fondness.

“I’ll never forget how my son would wiggle and smile when he heard the oil swishing in my hands,” said Ron, father of seven-month-old Jason. “It’s going to be fun to tell him about it when he gets older and to remind him of it when he has his own kids. Heck, maybe someday I’ll massage his baby too!”

That is a quote from a father in one of my classes in 1977. Checking back with him, he still remembers “baby massage time” fondly, and has told me that his son has two teenagers now, and he is looking forward to teaching them when they have kids. He says he talks about it often, and his daughter brags that “Dad learned how to massage me as a baby — he learned from that famous lady that wrote the book!”

As a new father, you may have to use some creativity to structure your time to allow for the twenty to thirty minutes you will need to massage your baby. The best time is usually the morning of your day off, when you can relax unhurriedly. After learning the basic techniques from your wife, this book, and/or a class, you should be alone with your baby for the massage. It is better not to have both parents massaging the baby at once, as this can give your infant mixed signals and make her uncomfortable.

In the beginning, proceed very gently, massaging only the legs and feet. You may have a sense of being too strong or too inexpert to massage your baby, your hands too big or rough. Nearly everyone is a little clumsy and nervous in the beginning, just feel the connection between the two of you, and concentrate on relaxing your body and letting your love go to her. When that feels more comfortable, you can begin simple stroking, stopping now and then to just hold and relax. Don’t worry about being too “big;” your baby recognizes your special way of handling him.

Remember to make all your movements very smooth and slow, almost like slow motion. Talk or sing softly, make eye contact when baby is ready, and in general follow the baby’s rhythms of communication. As time goes on and your baby becomes familiar with your touch, you may want to spend more time and move on to other parts of the body, developing your own special massage techniques.

If you would like to learn, you can get my book:
http://www.amazon.com/Vimala-Schneider-McClure-Infant-Massage–Revised/dp/B00N4EKZJK/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1438282581&sr=1-2&keywords=infant+massage+a+handbook+for+loving+parents+by+vimala+schneider+mcclure

or find a class:
http://www.infantmassageusa.org

WHY BABIES CRY AND HOW TO LISTEN

Babies cry for many reasons, and it is important to learn your baby’s personality and his or her different cries so that you can respond to them. There are cries that mean, “I need affection,” “I’m hungry,” “I’m in pain,” “I’m uncomfortable,” “I’m tired and cranky and don’t know how to get to sleep,” and still others that are simply “venting” all the stress the baby takes in, adjusting to the world of non-stop stimulation.

Each cry can and should be responded to appropriately. Each baby will differ in his or her need for physical affection. Some need to be held nearly all the time for the first months before crawling. Others are curious and independent almost immediately. To force an infant one way or another is to disempower her and disrupt the flow of chi she needs to become strong, healthy, and independent.

Some people think that babies who cry always need to be calmed and shushed, or, conversely, should be left alone to cry it out. Neither is true. Infants should never be left alone to cry, unheeded, but sometimes they need to cry in the safety of a parent’s arms, without being shushed, to discharge stress. After a certain period, when they sense they are being attended to, they calm and usually sleep much more deeply.

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To be responsive to your baby, read up on the art of “Active Listening.” When you talk to your baby with a listening heart, he or she knows it and you can see the quality of their cries change. Locking with you eye-to-eye, you will see your baby moving her mouth as if trying to speak.

This is one of the most important reasons for pregnant women to massage their bellies, and to massage their infants regularly after birth. You learn, as nothing else can teach you, what your baby needs, and his cries and fusses don’t distress you so much as inform you of what you need to do to respond appropriately and thus allow your baby to grow and blossom like a well-tended flower in your garden.

My book, Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents, was the first, comprehensive book to introduce infant massage to the West. The nonprofit organization I founded in 1979, the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM), has instructors in 71 countries. You can find an instructor and take a class — a great way to learn, have your questions answered, and be with other parents who value the crucial “fourth trimester” bonding process.

CREATING A SAFE AND RESPONSIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR YOUR BABY

If you respond in the right way, you needn’t worry about when to wean, when to potty train, and all the other advice people want to give you. You will become an expert on your child, and you will naturally know and understand what she is ready to do and when. This gives you the confidence to listen to the experts and then go by your inner sense of what is right.

If you want to create a transition environment for your baby that imitates aspects of the in utero experience, you may want to get a baby pack that keeps your infant close to your body so he can hear your heartbeat and feel your warmth, your breathing, your rhythms.

BABY WEARING

Some pastel organza material, draped over the cradle, can soften the light. Putting a warm cap on her head when going outdoors will prevent heat from escaping from her head. A baby monitor can help alert you to your baby’s sounds when she is sleeping and you are in another room. Other aids include a heartbeat simulator for the baby’s cradle and setting the volume low on your stereo or television.

SLEEPING TOGETHER

Some parents want to try family co-sleeping, which is a much debated practice, particularly in the U.S. We practiced family co-sleeping until my youngest was around five years old. After doing a lot of research on this subject, I have concluded that the tales of accidental suffocation by “overlying” are real, but seem to be related to parents who co-sleep for convenience, who don’t take the precaution of removing any fluffy items from the bed, and/or they smoke.

When and if obstetricians and pediatricians give any information to new parents, co-sleeping is roundly discouraged. Unless expecting and new parents take the time to research the subject and 1) prepare, 2) find out what is the very best way for families to sleep together with a newborn, parents will be frightened and reject the notion, not realizing that sleeping together can reduce parental sleep deprivation and infant fussiness, irritability, and crying.

Dr. James McKenna, Director of the Center for Behavioral Studies of Mother-Infant Sleep at Notre Dame University says, “It is a curious fact that in Western societies the practice of mothers, fathers, and infants sleeping together came to be thought of as strange, unhealthy, and dangerous. Western parents are taught that ‘co-sleeping’ will make the infant to dependent on them, or risk accidental suffocation. Such views are not supported by human experience worldwide.”

FATHER SLEEPING

After having observed how families in India sleep together in a very small space, I wanted to do that with my family. This arrangement, in my experience, allowed me to breastfeed my babies without having to fully awaken. The warmth of my body, my heartbeat and odor, was just right for them. We could respond quickly to cries, chokes, or other needs. The babies could nurse frequently, giving them more antibodies to fight disease and helping them transition from womb to room.

Dr. McKenna goes on to say, “Human infants need constant attention and contact with other human beings because they are unable to look after themselves. Unlike other mammals, they cannot keep themselves warm, move about, or feed themselves until relatively late in life. It is their extreme neurological immaturity at birth and slow maturation that makes the mother-infant relationship so important.”

Dr. John Medina, in his book Brain Rules for Baby, says, “During the attachment process, a baby’s brain intensely monitors the caregiving it receives. It is essentially asking such things as “Am I being touched? Am I being fed? Am I safe?” If the baby’s requirements are being fulfilled, the brain develops one way; if not, genetic instructions trigger it to develop in another way. It may be a bit disconcerting to realize, but infants have their parents’ behaviors in their sights virtually from the moment they come into this world. It is in their evolutionary best interests to do so, of course, which is another way of saying that they can’t help it. Babies have nowhere else to turn.”

One of my fondest memories is when we were sleeping with our little ones in a family bed. Once, in the middle of the night, my 18-month-old daughter awakened to nurse. She looked up into my face and patted my cheek. “I like you, Mommy, I like you,” she said, then closed her eyes to sleep with a sweet smile on her face. Every time I remember that moment my heart fills with love, joy, and gratitude that this child has come into my life. Now that she is an adult with her own little girl, I share these memories with her and it still has the effect of bringing us close.

Dr. McKenna agrees that this types of interaction is beneficial for both parents and infants. He says, “Studies have shown that separation of the mother and infant has adverse consequences. Anthropological considerations also suggest that separation between mother and infant should be minimal. Western societies must consider carefully how far and under what circumstances they want to push infants away from the loving and protective co-sleeping environment. Infants’ nutritional, emotional, and social needs as well as maternal responses to them have evolved in this environment for millennia.”

Often a baby’s crying can lead to and respond to marital discord. Dr. Medina goes on to say, “If the infant is marinated in safety— an emotionally stable home— the system will cook up beautifully. If not, normal stress-coping processes fail. The child is transformed into a state of high alert or a state of complete collapse. If the baby regularly experiences an angry, emotionally violent social environment, his vulnerable little stress responders turn hyper-reactive, a condition known as hyper-cortosolism. If the baby is exposed to severe neglect, like the Romanian orphans, the system becomes under-reactive, a condition known as hypo-cortisolism (hence, the blank stares). Life, to quote Bruce Springsteen, can seem like one long emergency.”

“Infants younger than 6 months old can usually detect that something is wrong. They can experience physiological changes— such as increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones— just like adults. Some researchers claim they can assess the amount of fighting in a marriage simply by taking a 24-hour urine sample of the baby. Babies and small children don’t always understand the content of a fight, but they are very aware that something is wrong.”

Some parents reject co-sleeping because they are concerned about its impact on their sex lives. We found other rooms in the house suited quite nicely. This may not be an option everyone chooses, but I encourage you to read up on it before deciding. It can contribute immensely to the well-being of your whole family. My favorite book on the subject is The Family Bed by Tine Thevenin. I very much recommend Dr. Medina’s book, Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five.

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