After nine months in utero and having delivered your baby, now comes the moment you’ve been waiting for: your first meeting - love at first sight, right? Well, sometimes yes, but often it takes a little longer. The first meeting between any two people is difficult to predict. Some couples say they fall in love at first sight, whilst with others the feelings grow over time. It is just the same with a baby. In fact, there is so much pressure on women to instantly love their baby that it’s amazing some actually do! The fact is that it doesn’t much matter whether love is immediate or gradual - relax; it will come.
An acclaimed American Paediatrician, Dr Berry Brazelton, said that if he could give new parents one gift it would be the ability to ‘read’ their baby’s cues so that they could respond accordingly. In the early days this is most important, as this is when the baby is at their most vulnerable and they need you ‘to tune’ in to them and meet their needs. This mainly involves helping them to calm down, as being new to the world can be stressful. In one of my antenatal sessions, in order to help parents empathise with how the baby may feel following birth, I ask them to do the following exercise. ‘Imagine being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night, being stripped, having all your teeth removed and being forced through a tube into a cold, bright, noisy room’. After this experience, what most say they need is comfort.
As babies experience the world through their senses initially, you have five allies to guide you. Hearing develops at about 20 weeks’ gestation, and so baby will have heard your voice consistently for a while and the familiarity of you speaking in a warm, relaxed tone should help. As babies are born with the rooting reflex, feeding will comfort them both through taste and nourishment. Baby’s vision is pretty blurry at first and extends about as far as your eyes if you’re holding them in the crook of your arm for a feed. Babies don’t generally like strong smells, but they do like the smell of their mother as well as her touch. Most babies like to be held - it helps them to feel contained, physically and emotionally, while they transition into life in the outside world. In utero they were contained for nine months, so being held gently and firmly supports their new found independence.
Through tuning in to your baby and providing the comfort they need, love between you both will begin to grow. The trouble is that, sometimes, parents’ internal voice is full of anxieties and overwhelms their ability to listen to their baby’s cues. It is hardly surprising in a world that puts so much pressure on parents to be perfect that they have a list of worries. 'Is the baby feeding enough or too much?', 'Is the baby too hot or too cold?', 'Is my baby normal?' - to name but a few. Throw in sleep deprivation and there is a perfect recipe for these worries to grow if not checked. Small concerns can escalate into either stress or depression, or both, if they are not countered with the voice of reason and balance.
Sometimes this voice comes from a partner, friend or family member. It may also come from a health visitor, a book or even someone you sit next to on a bus. However, back to Dr Brazelton; if you can learn to read your baby’s cues, here is probably where you will get the most reassurance. Your baby gives you feedback all the time about what they do and do not like. Listen to that and be guided by it. In the first few months you will not spoil a baby by holding, soothing and feeding them, by tuning in to them and meeting their needs. If anything, the reverse is true - they will learn to trust, love and to be calm. The perfect foundation for their next developmental stage - becoming social.