Getting to know your baby

From the first day your baby comes into the world, the main brain circuits that control their basic functions – like breathing, heart rate, body temperature, digestion, sucking and reflexes – are ready to go. However, trillions of complex connections between their brain cells are still waiting to be formed. 

You can help your baby’s development through lots of interaction – playing, cuddling and caring for them. Cries, gurgles and body language are how your baby communicates, so be attentive and work out what they’re trying to tell you. Every time you interact with or respond to your child, you’re stimulating new connections within their brain.

Play helps babies grow

 Soothing noises, physical affection and gentle stimulation encourage your baby’s brain to produce the chemicals and hormones it needs to grow emotionally and physically. Most parents – once they get used to handling their baby and feel more confident – enjoy playing and engaging with their child.

  • “Tummy time” – placing babies flat on their stomach to play – helps your baby’s muscle and brain development. Some babies can get a bit bored or grizzly in this position, so be ready with a toy or funny face to keep them occupied.
  • If you’re on to your 97th game of peek-a-boo for the morning, maybe it’s time to mix things up. Variations in types of play and toys helps to stimulate your baby and builds skills in different areas.
  • Rattles develop your baby’s physical and hand-eye coordination.
  • Using words, rhymes and stories builds your baby’s storage of language and memory.
  • You are your child’s most important toy.

Brain facts

  • By the 17th week of pregnancy, your unborn child already has one billion brain cells more than an adult.
  • At seven months, your unborn child has 100 billion brain cells of potential.
  • The brain is the only body organ incomplete at birth.
  • At birth, the most complex parts of the brain are least developed, and the most affected by the environment.
  • By your baby’s first birthday, their brain has already doubled in size. By the time kids are three years old, their brain is approximately 90 per cent of the weight of an adult’s brain.

Problems bonding with your baby

After the birth, most people expect to bond instantly with their baby. We’re constantly exposed to images of new parents picking up their newborn and immediately feeling a connection. But for some parents, this attachment takes time to develop – a few days, weeks, or even months – which can lead to feelings of guilt, stress and disappointment. This can be especially hard for new mothers.

When a woman feels little or no attachment to her baby, she may be distant or withdrawn and can find it hard to care for them. These interactions between mother and baby can affect the baby’s development even at these early stages – so if this is happening, it’s important to seek help early. Usually, with support, rest and a bit of time, most women will feel more bonded to their baby and better able to respond to their needs.

If you’re concerned about how you’re bonding with your baby, it’s important to talk about it with a health professional as there are lots of things you can do to strengthen your attachment. Some mothers will benefit from going to a specialist parenting centre – these offer support, parenting education and guidance, which can increase parenting confidence, reduce distress and allow you to rest in a supportive environment. Some parenting centres also cater for fathers, partners and siblings.

Talk to your GP or maternal child and family health nurse about how you can access this support. You can also check out Raising Children Network for practical tips on connecting and communicating with your baby.

I found it difficult coping with the demands of a newborn. No sleep, constant crying and a lack of time for myself. This was supposed to be the most beautiful time of my life.

Tips for teaming up

Approaching parenting as a team has a bunch of benefits. As well as sharing the load, caring for your baby together gives you both a chance to develop a relationship with your child and learn their language. Pretty soon you’ll both be tuned in to the difference between an ‘I’m hungry and a bit uncomfortable’ grizzle and an ‘I’m having a great time but am now really tired’ wail.

Some partners feel it takes a bit longer to bond because they’re not feeding the baby. If you’re finding this, make sure you get involved in all the other aspects of parenting – bathing, playing and changing nappies all help to deepen and strengthen your connection.

If you’re a single parent, having family members and support people help out with bathing and playing is a great way to both give you a short break and develop relationships. 

Facts about crying

  • Your body is really clever – it responds to the sound of crying by releasing hormones that make you feel stressed. This is your body’s way of alerting you to your baby’s needs.
  • Babies have to adapt to a totally new world and even small changes can be stressful for them. Leaving babies to cry without comfort, even for a short period of time, can be distressing for them.
  • Your baby may cry for up to a total of three hours in a 24 hour period for no apparent reason, and you won’t always be able to calm or soothe them. This can cause feelings of distress and frustration. 
  • Babies’ crying begins to increase at about six weeks of age and usually begins to lessen by about three to four months. This is part of their normal development.

This content has been adapted with permission from Ngala