T. Berry Brazelton Offers Tips
Welcome, Baby! Now what?
After about nine months in anticipation, new parents are often faced with a big surprise: Their baby is not just a baby but a human being with his own personality. He is not someone they can mold entirely. He has his own ways -- already -- of expressing his needs and desires, and many new moms and dads just aren't prepared for that.
T. Berry Brazelton, internationally known pediatrician and child development expert, shares some thoughts to help parents prepare for one of the biggest changes of their lives.
"It takes a while to learn what that baby's cues are," says Brazelton, author of more than 25 books on parenting and child development, including the best-selling Infants and Mothers: Differences in Development, Touchpoints: Your Child's Emotional and Behavioral Development and his latest The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn and Flourish. Brazelton says that, during the nine months or so of pregnancy, parents-to-be are anticipating what their child will look like, and emotionally preparing themselves for what is to come: Will he have 10 fingers and 10 toes? Will he be "normal?" What if he isn't?
"They wonder how they can ever nurture a baby," Brazelton says. "They are preparing themselves for whatever baby they get... and working up energy to face whatever they have to (once the baby is born)."
And then there is reality. The baby usually is "normal" on the outside, but often different than they expected. He cries more than they ever expected, needs to be held all the time or won't sleep in the bassinet or on his back.
The learning begins
While it may take several weeks for parents to learn their baby's different cries -- the only way a baby knows how to communicate -- Brazelton recommends parents ask whether their hospital or pediatrician performs a screening called the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS). This is also called "the Brazelton," a test he developed that assesses an infant's reactions to a variety of stimuli such as a light in the eyes, a rattle, a moving ball, etc., thus indicating the child's temperament. By the end of the assessment, the examiner has a behavioral portrait of the infant, describing the baby's strengths, individuality, adaptive responses and possible vulnerabilities.
Brazelton says that, if parents can understand their baby's temperament, the faster and better they are able to relate to the child, creating more harmony between parent and child early on.
"I think the main job of the parent in the beginning is to learn what their baby is like and (think) 'How do I interact with that baby so that he feels good and I feel good?'" Brazelton recommends, though he admits it often takes learning from mistakes to reach that success.
Brazelton says two of his books, On Becoming a Family: The Growth of Attachment and Earliest Relationship: Parents, Infants, and the Drama of Early Attachment, discuss these issues to help parents-to-be prepare for whatever type of personality their baby may have.
Brazelton recommends parents-to-be read books on child development before their baby arrives. He also recommends childbirth classes, in which prospective parents get a chance to learn about infant behaviors and the potential their baby will have from the day she is born.
"Parents need to recognize that you can do so much (for the child), but some of it a child has to do for himself," he says. "The behavior of a child is his language, and the sooner parents can recognize that, understand it and enjoy it (or accept it), the sooner they will feel like they know what they are doing with their baby."
And the while the 94-year-old doctor has seen numerous new parents over the years deal with the unexpected surprises and rewards of parenting, nothing can prepare parents-to-be for one thing: "The passion that they feel. I don't think anybody can get ready for that."