Keep in mind they’re just a baby

By Professor Jane Fisher, Jean Hailes

After nine months of waiting with baited breathe, your nearest and dearest are rightly excited to meet your newborn. But as highlighted by Professor Jane Fisher (co-founder of ‘What Were We Thinking!’, the award winning program now available to parents as a blog and app), while it’s wonderful loved ones want to celebrate their arrival it’s important to keep your baby’s needs in mind.

Whatever traditions we have come from, family gatherings and parties with friends are commonplace most weekends and at special times of the year. No time is more special than the birth of a baby so it’s no surprising that you’ll encounter these occasions once you and your newborn have settled into life at home.

Adults have all sorts of strategies to manage big gatherings. They can call on past experience to anticipate who they want to talk to and who they’d prefer not to; they can approach (or move away from!) people at their leisure and they can steer the conversation away from sensitive or difficult topics. If noise becomes difficult, adults usually have the option to go outside and when adults become tired, they have the ability to leave and go home. Babies, on the other hand, cannot do this.

It is wonderful to experience other people being excited to meet your baby and to celebrate his or her arrival, but it is important to keep the baby’s experience in mind and their capacity to understand and adapt.

Babies need to learn about the world and their relationships quite slowly and in a step-by–step way. In the earliest days of life they are most able to attend to their parents. Gradually over the subsequent months they can begin to recognise and respond to other people, such as their siblings and grandparents. In general, however, large gatherings of people can be overwhelming to a baby.

As adults we wouldn’t want to make close physical contact with someone we don’t know, yet handing a baby to a person they’ve never met is asking this of them. Babies cannot avoid these situations and can become over-stimulated and distressed. Babies naturally turn their gaze away from direct eye contact when they need to recover, but this is difficult if other people are not aware of the baby’s limited capacity to maintain sustained eye-to-eye contact. Loud or shrill voices, laughter or a lot of background conversation can also be alarming.

Try to imagine the situation from the baby’s point of view and then advocate on the baby’s behalf, even if other people undermine you. Babies benefit if the feed-play-sleep routine (detailed in the blog and app) can be continued, even during family gatherings. They can manage social interactions most easily during the ‘play’ phase which is after a good sleep and when they have been fed.

For a young baby this is not a very long period! Introduce babies to people one at a time. Set an example of speaking to the baby in a quiet voice and understand that it is better not to hand the baby around to other people unless the baby knows the person, or you’re confident that they will not be intrusive or insensitive. When the baby is asleep, it is better not to allow other people to go in to visit them – this is when they need time to rest and recover.

It’s useful to think about the baby’s human rights to being treated as an infant, and not as a little adult. A baby is not an object of entertainment but rather a very young person who will come to know and love your family and friends, but needs to be able to do this at a gentle pace.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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