When your baby is born, they become a member of the most emotionally sophisticated social group of beings in the known universe – the human race.
Babies are ready and primed to be sociable, loving and very interested in other people. A baby’s attachment to their parents and the loving relationship that develops is the most crucial foundation to their social and emotional development.
Studies of babies emotionally and socially neglected in large orphanages or with neglectful parents have found that babies who lack a loving, consistent and sensitive caregiver face huge problems as they grow up as children and become adults.
Think of the first few weeks with your baby as a ‘babymoon’– a kind of honeymoon period with your baby where you are physically and emotionally close, a time to bond and a time to fall in love with your baby.
In those early days your baby doesn’t really need a tidy house, lots of visitors and new toys – she simply wants to be with you.
Promoting your newborn baby’s emotional development
To do this, respond to her and make her feel loved:
- After the birth and every day have skin-to-skin contact
- Whether your are breastfeeding or bottle feeding your baby, make feeding time a special time – with lots of eye contact and soothing. Try not to see bottle feeding as a ‘job’ anyone can do. Your baby will love to be with you during this quiet and intimate time
- Enjoy lots of eye-to-eye contact and chats during cuddles, nappy changes and baths
- Respond quickly and sensitively to your baby’s cues of hunger, tiredness and need for interaction
- Spend as much time as possible carrying your baby in a soft sling or in your arms
- Play, sing and talk to your baby
- Let grandparents and older siblings (children need to be supervised with your baby) have cuddles and eye-to-eye contact too. Your baby will love to have lots of opportunities for cuddles and chats.
Bonding builds resilient babies
We know that babies who experience no love, laughter or stimulation during their first year of life will be stunted in their emotional development and the development of their brains.
The new science of ‘epigenetics’ indicates that a loving parent is even more important than we could have imagined, and a loving environment actually might physically alter the ‘expression’ of a baby’s genes and can physically alter the development of their vulnerable brains.
Emotional development underpins all other development
Scientists and psychologists are confirming what people have long understood. Babies need their parents to help them develop socially and emotionally – they cannot do it alone and they cannot do it without love. We now understand how a loving bond leads to resilience and good mental health for developing babies.
Emotional development promotes a baby’s general brain development and therefore a loving, consistent and sensitive parent will also encourage general physical and cognitive development too.