Listening to Babies

From the very beginning there is awareness, even in a tiny embryo, even before the central nervous system is formed. It is as if every cell in the body can remember. We do not yet know how this happens, but over the last thirty years, there has been a wealth of research that shows this to be so. Babies are aware and sensitive beings and experiences of conception, of being in the womb, of birth and early infancy have a profound impact physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, influencing their ability to relate to themselves, to others and to the world.

Communicating with Babies

Babies respond to life in a purposeful and intelligent way picking up meaning and understanding at a very deep whole body level. They are sensitive to attention shifts and like to have advanced warning, particularly when you are going to break contact or move away.
It is helpful to slow down when you talk with a baby, and to give time for the baby to really receive what you have said.
During pregnancy and after birth it can help babies to cope with and recover from medical interventions if they are told what is going to happen and why. Talking with the baby about whatever is going to happen, can actually prevent difficult events from becoming traumatic. It minimises shock and can build security and trust.

Coping with Crying

We may find babies' crying unbearable, particularly if our own infant crying was not received. For this reason adults have often repressed crying in babies, passing our patterns of controlling tears and anger, on to our children, unaware of the long term consequences for both physical and mental health.
For generations parents have usually coped with their crying babies in two ways. Not responding to the crying, for fear of "spoiling" the infant and so leaving the baby to cry alone, or being unable to bear the crying, doing everything and anything to quiet the baby with distractions, feeding, movement, pacifiers, music, etc.
Neither of these methods actually respects or listens to the baby.
Comforting techniques have their place, but we need to be aware that they can become imprinted as ways of suppressing difficult feelings, and are often the basis of later addictive behaviour.

Being with babies

Babies cry for a reason, so if crying seems to have no obvious cause, it is likely that the baby is releasing tension from fear, frustration, anger, loss or pain. In very young babies crying may relate to their experience of coming into this world and excessive crying can be symptomatic of trauma.
We need to learn to be with babies as they cry. hold them and hear their story,
without trying to hush or distract the baby, or make it all better. acknowledge their distress and hear their protests
without needing to interpret or understand.

Some stress is normal

As babies grow, even in the best of circumstances and with plenty of loving care, little children's lives are not free from stress. It is the inevitable result of living and growing and relating. They can have daily losses, fears and frustrations from a variety of sources ... separations, conflicts of interest, lack of competence, feeling hurried and being overstimulated from changing input.
Accumulated stresses can build up and need to be acknowledged.
Crying is a natural and beneficial healing mechanism for releasing stress and built up tension, and it needs to be received.

Staying Centred and Being Real

When a baby cries, you may get agitated and speedy and your attention can become either intrusive or scattered.
..pause, breathe, slow down,
..acknowledge what is happening for you.
..bring your attention into your body and focus on your breathing.
..remind yourself that :
Crying is a healing way of releasing stress and distress.
The baby is communicating with you, not judging you.
It is ok not to know what it is about.
Now talk to the baby about what is happening
and try to stay present in your body while the baby cries.

By acknowledging our own feelings and insecurities, we can support babies in expressing themselves.
By practising being present and centred when we are with babies, we deepen our ability to really listen to babies and acknowledge them as they tell their story.

Avoiding Overwhelm

While you are holding a distressed baby be aware of eye contact and body tension. As long as the baby opens his eyes and looks at you from time to time, you know the crying is ok. He is needing you to hear his story.
If the crying begins to escalate and the baby stops making any eye contact, or begins to tense up, it is important to limit overwhelm by comforting and quieting the baby.

When you notice your own anxiety rising, acknowledge it, and then deepen your breathing.
Remind yourself that the baby is not judging you but needing his distress or his protest to be heard.

In a slowed down state of quiet presence we can access our innate wisdom and so does the baby.

The more we can learn to be present, relaxed and centred in our own bodies, the more babies will be able to stay present and connected in theirs.

The more we can acknowledge and be with babies, supporting them with their feelings, the more babies will be able to access the full range of emotions and be true to themselves as they grow and relate in the world.

reference list:
"The Aware Baby" by Aletha Solter
"Tears and Tantrums" by Aletha Solter
"The Mind of Your Newborn Baby" by David Chamberlain
tapes: "It Won't Hurt Forever" by Peter Levine
booklets: "Being with Babies volumes 1 and 2, by Wendy Anne McCarty"

Links and References
Bonding and Emotional Health
Tears and Tantrums
Infant Trauma
Crying to be Heard
Bonding Before Birth
Touch and Attachment
index page
©Lesley Downie