Sensory Integration, 4th Trimester and Beyond!
As a parent of a six year old and an early childhood educator. I have become more and more convinced, through anecdotal experiences and reading scientific research, that the development that is nurtured in the first months of life impacts our learning and our being. It impacts how a child's instrument is formed. I have become interested in Dr. Jean Ayers, Sensory Integration and the science behind 'Attachment Parenting' and the outcomes that come with it.
I have taught children K-5 for 15 years in the classroom and as a reading specialist one-on-one. I have a good understanding of what learning looks like in all of its forms. And what is happening when learning breaks down. As a parent, I was introduced to the importance of the first days, months, years of life and the development that is nurtured at each stage.
Like in the movie, "The Commitments", Where the question was "Who are your influences?" to join the band. Here are my early elemental influences of parenthood.
When I first read this book, i was just looking for the correct way to fold the receiving blankest I had made. I thought swaddling was a fashion statement. Now, I realize it allows the baby to relax and feel gravitational security. It helps the baby map where her body is in space. This mapping causes neurons to grow and connect throughout the entire brain. It mimics being held in the tight secure place of the womb. The patting or swinging mimics being jostled around as the mother walks. I still use the patting on the bottom and rubbing of the spine as a way to allow my daughter to relax into sleep or centering. In the first days of outside the womb, one mimics the life inside the womb to provide a calm transition. It truly is the Fourth Trimester with much nervous system mapping and adapting to life outside the womb. The more secure the baby is, the more aware. Quiet observing is learning.
Another book I picked up from the library recently is, "Bright From the Start; The simple science backed way to nurture your child's developing mind form birth to age 3." By Dr. Jill Stamm.
Dr. Stamm is a neuroscientist and a mother to two daughters, one born prematurely and one full term. Her first daughter has many challenges and Dr. Stamm can now understand how those first 4 months in the NICU has impacted her first daughter's adult nervous system. When Dr's said, " Oh, she'll forget that we intubated her without pain meds." Her nervous system still remembers. The limbic system, the ancient brain, remembers stress, fight or flight. Stress is not a good thing to hard wire into a nervous system. Her daughter still retains the gravitational insecurity startle response as an adult.
Dr. Stamm's basic take away is; Attention to needs, Bonding with touch, suck, nursing, smell, attachment; Communication with caregivers. So remember, all behavior is communication, even the stuff that makes you crazy. The little one is using it's instrument to get it's needs met!
A newborn babies needs are; to be close to it's mother, to feel her heartbeat, hear her voice, smell her, feel her warmth. The creche that the baby came from is the familiar point to which it retreats to assimilate new experiences. Keeping baby physically on you, nursing on demand, keeping the house quiet, the lights low, keeping baby fed and dry; this is the job of birth to three months. Walking the baby, wearing the baby in a sling, having a partner sleep with the baby on their chest on the couch, this will allow the baby to assimilate new experiences; sleep more soundly; nurse more deeply; and generally get to a level of nervous organization. You will know when you have gotten there when a 4 month old baby focuses on your face and smiles!
All this attention to needs allows the nervous system to map itself. The tree grows many neurons that then provide the framework for connections to be made and synapses to be strengthened and learning to occur. So, caregivers need to complete the cycle, to answer the need; to keep baby satisfied, quiet and aware.
It also highlights for me the importance of nurturing the caregiver and choosing the caregiver very carefully. They are the environment that your child's nervous system grows into and the framework that builds their perceptions of themselves and the world. In Walnut Creek, CA, a mother has founded Bloom Retreat for Mothers: www.bloomretreat.com. A holistic 'spa' geared to nurturing the caregiver with a wonderful play space for their child while they seek out what they need. It could be a massage, a cup of tea, a moment of quiet, Yoga, Zumba; a session with a life coach or a therapist. This is a prescient business model that gives back what nurturing the child takes out. This leads to a true whole that is sustainable and renewing for all. Find out what you need to renew and do it often.
As a parent, I now know how my baby wearing helped my daughter to 'map' her brain and place in space. I would dance her to sleep from the beginning. I danced every step I could remember from "Saturday Night Fever to Dance Off!" We listened to our lullaby mix and I moved through space. This helped grow a complex spatial, vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile tree in her nervous system.You can do all this too while wearing your baby in a carrier!
www.babywearinginternational.org has many resources. In my immediate area, Walnut Creek, CA; email; babywearingmomma@gmail; Renita meets with mothers and brings along a wagon full of slings and carriers for mothers to try to see which one your baby likes. It may be four months before the baby fits well and is comfortable in a carrier. Try it out! It may be a welcome rest for you and baby!
In the first 6 months there is lots of tummy time. In the Bay Area check out Tumetime.com, Kim Lyons M. Ed., CMT, She is getting rave reviews and helping families support/understand infant development. You may organize a class for your mommy group or find one meeting nearby!
At 8 months we started 'Music Together'. We talked to our daughter face to face, sang to her, played with her. We did watch 'Signing Time' videos when she was 20-36 months. She focused on Rachel's face and mouth. I think all of this modeling does encourage mimicry to mastery of how sounds are formed.
It is an intense time of nurturing and it yields wonderful results! Watching your child's personality take shape and interests begin to shine are the rewards!
Now that she is turning 6 in a few days, her brain is as big as an adult brain. All her experiences will form the stronger limbs of the tree. It is an exciting time of organizing and mastery. More on the brain of 'middle childhood' in a later post!
Please feel free to join this conversation in the comment section. Thank you!