Newborn (0-3 Months)
Enjoying life through the eyes of your Newborn – 0-3 Months
Human babies are born completely helpless – they are 100% reliant on the people caring for them. In fact the first 3 months of a baby’s life are sometimes referred to as the ‘forth trimester’ a continuation of the time of development and preparation for life in the outside world. However, although human babies are physically unable to take care of themselves they are born with an innate capacity to be social beings, right from their first moments in the outside world. Getting to know your newborn and supporting their early development can be one of the most rewarding first milestones of parenting.
Some babies arrive early – although the official medical definition of ‘preterm’ is birth before 37 weeks, some babies arrive much earlier than this. The staff in the Neonatal unit will be able to help you get as involved in your baby’s care as possible and there are many ways you can support your baby’s transition to the world and early development. The specifics will depend on how early your baby is. For more details on support available for parents of premature babies here in Luxembourg take a look at our article Having a Premature Baby.
Although newborn babies could be perceived as ‘helpless’, straight from birth, a baby’s natural reflexes support them to get the hang of feeding (think of how a young baby ‘roots’, head bobs, and often instinctively tries to find the breast if you cuddle skin to skin). Likewise young babies will automatically try to protect their airways for instance adopting a ‘fencing’ position, head turned, arm out, if placed on their front.
The first 3 months of a newborn’s life are a time of rapid development. In the early days, getting used to the physical sensations of life in the outside world (bright lights, loud noises, night and day, fresh air on skin…) is a huge milestone in itself and learning what startles your baby and what soothes them is one part of getting to know their unique personality.
By around week 8 your baby will be developing more control of his physical body. You probably already witnessed the magic of your baby’s developing facial muscles as they mastered their first smile! By week 8-10 that muscle development may mean your baby is starting to reach and kick out at objects. It will take a while for them to perfect this to a fine art but you may well notice that by around 12 weeks your baby will actually be able to reach out and ‘swipe’ at a toy within reach (such as one hanging on their bouncy chair or playmat).
A child’s brain develops at a phenomenal rate in the first 2 years and the foundations for many life skills are laid at this time so the relationships a baby has with those caring for them are particularly important in the early months and years. It is really quite amazing to acknowledge all the things your newborn can do already or is learning in his first 3 months. Read on to discover more…
Language (Communication) Development
Although you probably have around a year to wait until you hear your baby’s first word spoken with an meaning and intent, your baby is communicating and engaging in what is sometimes called ‘pre-speech’ from the get go. There is one well known piece of research which documents in photographs a newborn baby called Ethan getting to know his father in the early minutes after birth. It’s a beautiful sequence that shows Ethan and his Dad gazing at each other intently. Fascinatingly, over a period of just five minutes baby Ethan begins mimicking his Dad as he sticks his tongue out in a simple ‘conversation’.
Your baby also recognises your voices. She has spent the last few months, since her sense of hearing developed in the womb, listening to mum and dad and she finds the sounds of your voices familiar and comforting. Talk to your baby lots. They will enjoy the sound of your voice and find it soothing. It will also support their language acquisition for the future. Interestingly, research has found that adults typically interact with young babies using ‘baby talk’: a more high pitched and sing song tone and rhythm that we would use in ordinary speech. Baby’s respond particularly well to this ‘baby talk’ and if we are making eye contact and using animated facial expressions baby may well start to ‘join in’ by opening their mouth, sticking their tongue out or making ‘pre-speech’ shapes with their mouth as if they are a partner in the conversation.
To support your baby’s language acquisition encourage these pre-speech behaviours by acknowledging a mimicking baby when they try and communicate in this way. A helpful way to think about this is talk, listen, respond – that is talk to your baby, watch for their response and then encourage them by responding. If you are raising baby in a multilingual family then it is helpful for each parent to speak to baby consistently in their own mother tongue.
You can also read to your baby (your favourite newspaper or magazine will be fine reading matter – your baby just wants to hear your voice). Nursery rhymes, songs and lullabies are also great to share with babies. Babies love rhythm and repetition and if you start now in the first 3 months you are laying a great foundation for the future.
Emotional and Social Development
For a mother and newborn who have experienced a straightforward labour, the first hour together is likely to be suffused with love, in part assisted by the ‘love hormone’ Oxytocin. Many newborns are alert in the first hour or so after birth and are immediately drawn to human faces. In fact research has shown when given the choice of looking at a pattern that looks like a human face versus a random pattern made of the same elements, a baby will instinctively turn to the human face.
Interestingly, a newborn’s field of vision is only about 20cm, the general distance from a mums breast to her face, making first feeds an ideal opportunity for gazing in to each other’s eyes. For both mums and dads it can also mean nappy changing time is an opportunity for ‘conversation’ as you are generally just the right distance away from baby to be fully in focus.
Skin to skin contact with your baby in the early hours (and early weeks after birth) can offer time to bind and enjoy each other’s company. For your baby to lie skin to skin on the chest of either mum or dad is a great way to regulate baby’s temperature and help to regulate heartbeat and breathing to as baby adjusts to the outside world. Skin to skin contact also encourages us and baby to produce the ‘love’ hormone oxytocin which promotes feelings of calm and wellbeing. You and your baby may also enjoy skin to skin time in the bath as your baby learns to enjoy the sensations of bath-time in the outside world.
During these early months a strong bond is laid between parents and baby. As a baby’s main ways of communicating their needs are through body language and crying it is important that young babies learn that their cries are responded to. Research has suggested that if babies are consistently left to ‘cry it out’ and not responded to in the early months, the high levels of stress hormones created can result in a permanent change to the brain’s hard wiring, making such babies more predisposed to stress and anxiety in the future. Most parents will experience the occasional bout of being unable to soothe an agitated baby so the key message here is that treating you baby’s cries as an intent to communicate and trying your best to respond even if you can’t always interpret baby’s needs is what is important.
Your baby has spent 9 months in the womb, sleeping when she is tired and being lively when she is awake and so when she is born she has no understanding of the difference between night and day. This is something she will slowly learn with your support. New babies are too young to be expected to fall into a rigid timetable or attempt sleep training which requires baby to ‘cry it out’ but even young babies love routine and predictability. In the early months it can be helpful to start to establish some bed time routines or patterns to signal to your baby it is night time.
Popular bedtime routines include:
- A bed time story (it’s never too early to start)
- A bed-time feed
- Dim lighting and a quiet environment
Another thing that can help your baby learn the difference between night and day is ensuring your baby spends time outside in the daylight, if possible in the afternoon. Taking a walk together every day can be good for both mum and baby, helping mum to get a release of endorphins. Walking is a great postnatal exercise too.
For the first 6 months the safest place for your baby to sleep is in your bed room, in a cot, Moses basket or bed-nest beside your bed. For more information on safe sleep and co-sleeping check out these links.
Young babies sleep a lot but due to their very small stomachs, they wake often because they need to be fed. Feeding your baby regularly, on demand, is the best way to establish effective breast feeding. Although nearly every mum can successfully establish breastfeeding with the right support, for some mums and babies, it can be a bit of a challenge to start with. It may be helpful to think of breastfeeding as a skill which is instinctive for some and one which some mums and babies need to learn together. The good news is there is lots of breast feeding support available for the English-speaking community here in Luxembourg.
When you consider the huge transition involved in becoming a new parent for the first time, or expanding your existing family, coupled with the lack of sleep and the tasks involved in caring for a young baby it is hardly surprising that becoming a parent can be a time of ups and downs emotionally. However, for the ten percent of parents who experience postnatal depression the lows may seem to outweigh or eclipse any highs. If you think you or your partner may be affected by postnatal depression then read on for how to find support in Luxembourg.
Further Information: Useful Links
Pregnancy & Parenting
NCT: A helpful source of evidence based information and advice for parents.
Ask Dr Sears: the founder of the Attachment Parenting ethos shares both information and insights.
Sleep & Crying
Cry-sis: UK charity offering parents support to cope with excessive crying. Offers UK based phone helpline open 9am – 10pm daily.
NCT: UK parenting charity offering helpful information and research on babies sleep.
Lullaby Trust: Charity promoting safe sleep messages and supporting families bereaved due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Sage Femmes Liberales: Community Midwives in Luxembourg offering support and home visits to new parents.
Initiative Leuwensufank: Luxembourg parenting charity offering a helpline and email as well as counselling and breast feeding support.
La Leche League: Providing breast feeding support groups and advice via phone and email.
Well Baby Clinic: Also offers a range of groups to provide support to English-speaking mums through pregnancy and the early months of motherhood.
Antenatal and Postnatal Depression
NCT: Advice and information on parenting issues from conception to 2 years including ante and post natal depression.
NHS: The UK Health Service’s online patient information service including information on PND, symptoms and treatments.
Association for Postnatal Illness: UK based organisation offering support and helpline for those affected by postnatal illness.
Postpartum support international: International organisation supporting those affected by postnatal illness or anxiety.
PANDAS: Friendly and approachable pre and postnatal depression advice and support for families.
Your Baby’s Development
The Social Baby: Information and products to support parents in understanding their baby’s earliest communications.
The Wonder Weeks: Website, book and App that helps parents understand their baby’s ‘mental leaps’.
Words for life: The parents section of the National Literacy Trust UK’s website offers some helpful advice and resources.
Further Information: Recommended Reading
Babycalming: Simple Solutions for a Happy Baby by Caroline Deacon (2004)
Explores how to develop understanding of your babies 3 basic needs for food, comfort and sleep.
Child Sense by Priscilla Dunstan (2010)
Dunstan focusses on the babies sensory world, suggesting all babies have a predominant preferred sense. She offers questionnaires to help parents understand their won baby.
The Attachment Parenting Book by William and Martha Sears (2001)
The Sears are husband and wife, Dr and nurse and parents of 8 children. They share their ethos of attachment parenting in the belief it can help families be calmer and connected.
The Baby in the Mirror by Charles Fernyhough (2008)
Fernyhough mixes a personal account of his developing relationship with his own daughter and current theories about child development.
The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley (2002)
Tips and step by step techniques to encourage your baby to sleep.
The Baby Sense Secret by Megan Faure (2011)
Guidance on supporting your baby to make the transition from womb to world and establish early routines.
The Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect and Communicate with your Baby by Tracy Hogg (2001)
Hogg, a nanny with 20 years’ experience guides parents through her EASY routine.
The Social Baby by Lynn Murray and Liz Andrews (2000)
A beautiful photographic record of baby’s amazing communication skills from birth onwards.
What Every Parent Needs to Know, by Margot Sunderland (2006)
Sunderland, a child psychologist explores some of the psychological aspects of raising a child.
The Wonder Weeks by Hetty van de Rijt and Frans Plooij (2013)
This husband and wife team explore the idea that babies encounter massive developmental leaps or milestones at predictable times and understanding this can help explain babies changing behaviour.
Article by: Kate Ensor, who is a coordinator for Passage and a postnatal group facilitator & childbirth educator at the Well Baby Clinic of Luxembourg.
Last updated: Wednesday 14th October, 2015