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You and Your Baby

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This volume is to help parents understand what their baby is likely to be feeling in the first year. It describes how the baby's sense of self develops, with intentionality, empathy and recognition of the self. It focuses on the baby's subjective experience of the world, viewing the baby as a subject in his or her own right, and in this way makes a unique contribution in the area of understanding the early non-verbal experiences of infants.'Each of the authors featured has published papers and books for the academic and clinical communities; the present volumes, however, are specifically aimed at parents. The intent is not to convince but to inform the reader. Rather than offering solutions, we are describing, explaining and discussing the problems that parents meet while bringing up their children, from infancy through to adulthood.'We try to provide portraits of the various stages in the child's cognitive, intellectual, and emotional development and how these unfolding stages affect not only the child's experience of himself, but also how he perceives and relates to the world in which he lives. Our hope is that establishing this context will help the parents who read these books to see their child from a different perspective.'- Dr. A. H. Brafman, from his Series Editor's Foreword

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11 Chapters

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1. setting the scene

ePub

Babies want, more than anything else, to be enthusiastically enjoyed. That may seem an unexpected place to start, but it lies at the heart of how, as a psychoanalyst working with and observing babies and their families, I think about babies. Babies come into the world already knowing a lot, with a functioning mind primed to communicate and to learn quickly. Appreciating this is of fundamental importance for understanding babies.

This series of books was conceived pardy as a resource for parents to gain some understanding of what their child is likely to be feeling. We cannot know exacdy what a baby thinks and feels, but knowledge about how babies may experience their interaction with their parents is increasing exponentially. The great English paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winni-cott, who saw some 60,000 babies, believed that the answers to understanding their baby lay in the parents themselves. My hope is that understanding more about the exquisite capacities with which babies come into the world empowers their parents to feel that the answers are in them. Once we know how babies are capable at an early age of understanding and carrying out certain actions, we become, in turn, even more aware of their capacities. If parents can tune-in to how much their baby longo connect with people, they might be fascinated to engage with and share their baby’s fascination with them.

 

2. the developing self in the first two months

ePub

Babies come into the world with exquisite capacities and are primed, hard-wired, to communicate with their parents and other people. They have a drive towards completing development, including a drive towards developing a self.

Even before birth, babies are aware of their mother’s voice, feelings, and activities. They can hear, taste, and respond to pressure and touch, and they react to painful stimuli by moving away. About two months before they are born, they are aware of a rose-coloured light through the thinly stretched wall of their mother’s abdomen during the day. Babies therefore come into the world with some cognitive and emotional knowledge of their parents.

Newborns are actively processing from birth onwards and know that they are separate. They can recognize their mother’s face and voice from birth. They match up the sight of her face as she speaks to them with the sounds they have heard her make while they were in the womb. Some babies lock onto their mother’s eyes in the delivery-room as if feeling that this iomeone already known to them. Within the first hour they can turn to track their parent’s voice, even if the parent is on the other side of the room. They can synchronize hand movements to syllables of adult speech in any language1 and imitate an adult’s facial gestures, such as mouth opening, and also finger movements. If an adult puts his or her tongue out, a baby usually imitates the gesture. The baby will repeat the imitative gesture even up to two minutes later to encourage the adult to do it again and re-engage with the baby. When babies are imitating, their heartbeat increases, and when they are inviting the adult to reciprocate, it slows.2 Imitating helps babies be more attuned to their mothers and more alert.

 

3. a baby's intentional self

ePub

“.,. blest the babe … who ,.. cloth gather passion

from his mother’s eye”.
William Wordsworth1

When babies experience a sense of pleasurable mastery, this contributes to their sense of agency and to viewing themselves as an agentive self—as one who can cause things to happen. By age 12 weeks if not earlier, babies have learned about cause and effect in the external environment, but they have also been learning this about themselves since much earlier.

The phrase primed to communicate captures an important aspect about babies. Babies have a capacity for primary intersub-jectivity, to recognize another person as a distinct subject.2 To facilitate this, they have the capacity to communicate from birth. Within the first two months, babies, when face to face with an adult who is talking to them, make lip and tongue movements similar to those the adult makes and respond with coos and murmurs as well as with expressive head, eye, anand movements. By age 2-months, babies often “point” with their index finger as part of this.3 Videotapes of mother-baby interactions show the gaze of mother and baby interlocking and their expressions mirroring one another. As a mother moves her head one way, her baby follows; as she moves it another way, her baby does, too. Second by second, she influences her baby and her baby influences her. Mother and baby seem to want to lose themselves in communication with one another, with no other purpose than to do just that.

 

4. a baby's self-recognition

ePub

The roots of the self are in the body, in being conscious and recognizing feelings. Babies know who they are by recognizing their bodies as different from those of other people and by recognizing their own feelings—that they have experienced them before and remember what they felt like. It is impossible not to be experiencing feelings all the time, even if we are not aware of them.

Once babies know that, for example, their mother is the same person whether she has a happy face or a sad or surprised one, they have a coherent view of her as another person. When they see parts of their own body from different positions, whether sitting or lying, and know that they are the same person, they have a coherent view of themselves. Babies of 5 months of age respond to their name, as they can to their reflection in the mirror.

As babies become familiar with how their body works, they learn how to settle, to get pleasure from their body, and to feel good. They come to trust that their body will find its own rhythms (in the way that their parents also come to trust that their baby’s body will function well enough). Babies build from the experiences in which their parents successfully comfort them to being able to comfort themselves. The mouth quickly becomes a source not only of pleasure but also of comfort. As soon as babies can reliably get their fingers in their mouth, often within the first weeks, sucking their thumb is both pleasurable and settles them. If babies feel they are on the point of falling apart, thumb sucking helps them reintegrate, in the way that the teat in the mouth would or using a dummy. If they feel themselves to be agentive, they internalize their parents’ soothing. Gradually babies recognize that calming themselves is under their own control and that they are not so dependent on other people for this, which adds to their sense of being effective.

 

5. a baby's empathic self

ePub

Babies have been described as wise and knowing. Is this farfetched, or is it based on a solid knowledge of babies? Empathizing is the natural way to understand a person and occurs when feelings are triggered by another person’s feelings. Understanding the feelings of other people and sharing subjective experiences takes place very early. A mirroring system for matching expressive states between people is active in the brain of a 2-month-old baby1 and provides a neurobiological basis for intersubjectivity or empathy in its widest sense, so that one person can share the feelings and thoughts of another person. Intersubjective communication helps to build an important aspect of the self.

From 7 mondis, if not earlier, babies begin social referencing—checking their parent’s emotional expressions to find signals of safety or danger as they explore.2 They can communicate that they want their parents to look where they are looking, so the parents will see how exciting it is and share their babies’ pleasure.

 

6. relating to fathers, siblings, and other people

ePub

For most babies, a psychologically secure base from which to start exploring the world usually extends from their mother to their father and to other family members such as siblings and grandparents.

Babies quickly become aware of their father and differentiate him from their mother through distinguishing his physical characteristics. They can differentiate their father’s voice from the mother’s soon after birth and very quickly respond in a preferential way to his voice compared with that of other adults. Fathers usually quickly become important to their babies, who try to draw them in by gesture and vocalization. When the father of a 2-month-old girl went back to work, his daughter cried continuously, missing him.

Babies’ attachment relationships with their father cannot be predicted by the type of relationship with their mother but reflects the qualities that the father brings to the relationship. Fathers relate differently to their babies from the way their mothers do and differently again to a son or a daughter.

 

7. attachment and separation

ePub

Throughout evolution, babies have needed to stay close and attached to their carers for safety, so that the process of separation occurs within the envelope of attachment.

Babies register separations, even if the separations are very short A 5-month-old girl, left for two hours for the first time with a motherly babysitter, lowered her eyes for seconds when her mother returned, in a way that her mother had never seen before. She was overcome with feelings, both longing for her absent mother as well as wiping her out in the way that she had felt wiped out Babies can cope with separations, but it is probably always at some cost Those who are adaptable and easygoing manage separation best. Separations are easier to deal with when there is some attempt to ensure some kind of continuity with the environment with which they are familiar. For other babies, separation, whenever it happens, may feel as though it has come too soon. What a baby needs to develop is a flexible balance between closeness and separation.

 

8. thinking

ePub

Implicit in much of what has been described up to this point is how a baby thinks. Cognition and feelings, which once were viewed as separate, are now much more considered to be indivisible. It is impossible not to feel something at every moment of our lives, even if it is very much a background feeling and we are not aware of it. How we feel therefore influences all our thinking. For a baby, thinking involves being curious and making links.

The inner world of babies and their lived experience intertwine in their developing minds.1 Parents help their babies to differentiate a more realistic picture of the outside world and the contents of their mind. Babies want to relegate to the outside world what is unpleasant or does not fit with the existing inner picture, and they then realize that some of it needs to be taken back. This process continues as the inner world picture becomes more aligned with reality. The parents’ response that feelings are meaningful and manageable focuses their baby’s attention on internal experiences. One of the ways parents do this is by responding to babies’ feelings with a similar but not exactly the same expression, so that babies realize that there is enough space to do this. If they are frightened and their parents replay a fear expression but vary it a little to show that they are not worried, their babies learn how to cope.

 

9. feeling good and feeling the best: healthy narcissism and omnipotence

ePub

Feeling good about the self is a developmental process that starts in the first year. This is a short chapter, but it describes an important aspect of a baby’s first year.

When babies sometimes think that they can make an event happen just by wishing it, they feel all-powerful. Not for nothing do parents talk about “His majesty, the king” when they attribute kingly powers to their baby. It is easy to see this with the toddler-aged child who crows, “I did it!” Babies who want a feed could imagine that, with the breast appearing when and where they want it, they make it happen, perhaps even that the breast is a part of them. (In the case of very young babies, they could feel this whether they are breastfed or botde-fed.) When things go well, babies start off with a sense of “I created the world, I wanted the breast and I just made it happen, it just magically appeared right where I wanted it”. There is both illusion and magical thinking.1 The baby has created the illusion. It is the baby’s magical thinking that made it happen. But when babies feel all-powerful, they then feel responsible for events that happen when they wished them to happen. While this is not easy to see in the first year, the roots are already there—feeling omnipotent and thinking magically are unlikely to appear out of nowhere in the second year.

 

10. concern and oedipal wishes

ePub

The early developments in intersubjective threesome communication contribute to a baby’s developing concern for his parents. These developments also contribute to the baby’s feelings and wishes about being at times included in a couple’s closeness and at times excluded from it. Some babies seem easily able to let another person come into their relationship with one other person, some babies find it very hard to share.1Over their first year, babies discriminate more about whom they reach out to and how they do so. Early in the year they reach out to include whoever seems to be left out. But within a few months they seem to reach out specifically to certain people in a way that is often different from how they are with most other people in their environment. Several male observers have reported girl babies aged about 15 weeks acting in a flirtatious way with them;2 female observers have also commented on both girl and boy babies behaving in a more excited way with them than with their fathers or siblings,

 

11 physical and emotional difficulties

ePub

The majority of babies experience minor illnesses and procedures in the first year. Most babies who have heel pricks and injections in their first year tolerate this well, and some use these experiences of invasive procedures to make a developmental move forward. Other babies seem so sensitive that having an invasive procedure feels as though it should not have happened, that it is too much to cope with, and they regress temporarily. If parents are able to think about the effect an intervention is having, despite any distress they themselves may feel, their babies usually can too, without it being traumatic.

A simple cold may have a considerable effect on babies in the first few months, resulting in regression and in expressing their feelings less vigorously. Such regression as a response to illness allows a baby a rest from the demands of life, even if occasionally it may look as though the baby does not regain the ground lost for quite some time.

We can only begin to imagine what the experience of being seriously unwell or suffering a disability feels like. Even a newborn baby can respond to a threat to survival with enormous anxiety. Some parents feel that when invasive procedures are done to their baby, they would like to be there for support. Others cannot bear to see their babies hurt, or they fear that their babies may associate them with the hurting. There is no single right or correct way. If parents could feel that what matters is to find what works best for them and their baby— and realize that they usually know their baby better than anyone—this would guide them in providing the support their baby needs. Their baby’s personality and past history, as well as those of their parents*, would then point to what the babies would find most supportive. For some babies, if at all possible the parents need to be present so that the baby can keep his gaze locked on them. Other babies manage better if they have their transitional object during the procedure and their parents are there to greet them in a less frazzled state after it is completed.

 

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