The Newborn Stage of Child and Parent
This stage is the beginning of the infant parent relationship. While the prenatal experience has influenced child, mother, father and caregiver in many ways, sometimes profoundly, it is with the arrival of a child that the work of relationship unfolds. The newborn is working on being attached with the basic trust that all s/he needs will ultimately be met with immediacy. This is the stage of building trust in their belly, skin, brain and nervous system.
From the beginning, let your newborn know the plan. Talk to them about diapering, feeding, holding and soothing. New babies sleep a surprising amount of time, sometimes up to 16 or 17 hours a day. However, newborns will typically wake every 2 to 4 hours for feeding, connection and comfort. An exhausted parent may find they’re waiting for their new little one to wake up, delighting in this new human and seeking the reassurance of a well baby.
Newborns are learning about the world through all their senses, and they are learning about themselves too. The world of the newborn is close at hand. It is touch and taste, sight and sound within the proximity of another’s arms. Some newborns will gaze towards objects in the distance, but many will be looking closely for eye contact. Too much stimulation and baby turns away or has fast breathing, maybe puts hand to mouth and is measuring the amount of stimulus comfortable in their ever so tiny bodies. Noises may startle newborns and you’ll witness a quick physical jerking response.
Newborns cry. Some cry more than others and some days are better than others. Your baby is communicating just the way they know how. The best way to help a newborn is to be available, empathetic, and calm. It’s important for mothers and fathers to get the support they need during the first three months. This is a time for helping hands. Parents are learning to understand this new person’s cues, both comfort, and discomfort. Engagement cues, or I need you, include staying still, turning toward and gazing at “your” face (en face), smooth arm and leg movements, and cooing sounds. This is the time of deep co-regulation or calming of baby by mother, father, or other caregiver. Often, baby needs mother most for calming. And, mothers are healing from pregnancy and birth. Fathers or other partners are now able to feel physical connection through touch, eye contact, voice and motion. This is a caregiving time requiring stamina, inquiry, and perseverance. Parents are learning about their capacity and flexibility.
For the newborn, night and day are the same as they are new to the rhythm of light and darkness. Night sleep times usually stretch to “longer than day sleep” about 6 to 8 weeks. Newborns eat, cry, sleep, and poop in a dizzying order as their body adjusts to milk, nipples, diapers, clothes, air, water and skin. Their job is to be seen and heard, to survive, to experience their body and others, and to learn about love.