What Baby Needs to Thrive
We parents all want what’s best for our babies. They’re so little, fresh and new to this world, and so deserving of the best care we can give them. But how do we know we’re doing everything correctly? Is there a secret recipe?
Although there isn’t a magical recipe, you don’t have to be an expert to know how to give your baby a wonderful start in life. Research has shown that humans have known a baby’s needs all along: love, attention and taking care of the basics, such as regular checkups and keeping immunizations up to date. But that’s not all! Here are some other great tips to follow to help your wee one reach his full potential:
- Touch and hold your baby. Believe it or not, touch is critical to development. It’s the source of comfort and how infants first know they are loved, safe and secure. Touch sends signals to your baby’s brain telling it to grow. If touch is not nurtured at an early age, infants cannot thrive. It’s a vital nutrient for both the brain and the body. Infants need gentle touching, holding and eye contact the same as they need food to grow and develop. In fact, research has shown that nurturing touch actually helps infants gain weight and develop healthy relationships with caregivers. It stimulates the brain to release important hormones necessary for growth.
- Check the environment. The environment in which you raise your baby is very important. Raising your baby in a healthy environment has a dramatic effect on the building of a baby’s brain, resulting in how well a child will think and learn throughout her life. Try getting down to your baby’s eye-view and look around to spot dangers, such as electrical outlets and small objects lying around that can become choking hazards. When they learn to crawl, babies will be exploring everything that’s within reach. Also, make sure your little one has enough toys to play with (and be sure they match Baby’s age and abilities).
- Give love and attention. These are very real needs, and they’ve been scientifically proven to have a direct and measurable impact on a child’s growth—physical, mental and emotional. Babies thrive on affectionate love. So shower your little one with love. Hug, cuddle and rock her. Smile at him, encourage her learning, listen to him and play with your baby … a lot! Avoid leaving your baby in a swing or infant seat for long periods of time.
- Encourage imitation. Your baby is constantly analyzing you and trying to figure out ways to imitate your voice and facial expressions to learn about the world around him. Be sure to show your delight to his giggles, smiles and gurgles as he mimics others around him.
- Use your voice. Talk and sing to your baby, especially with a soft, kind voice and a lot of expression. Babies whose parents speak to them extensively during babyhood develop more advanced language skills than those who don’t receive such verbal stimulation. So talk to baby during feeding time, bath time, and during diaper changes, and be sure to look at your baby while you speak.
- Be there. Always respond to your infant’s requests without hesitation. This gives her a strong sense of trust and emotional stability and teaches her she’s worthy of your love and attention. As the saying goes, “You can’t spoil a baby.” However, after 6 months of age, if you run to Baby’s aid every time he cries, you’re taking away important learning opportunities. By this age, it’s okay to let him cry a little, as long as you are giving him positive attention and loads of love the rest of the time.
- Stimulate Baby’s senses. Babies need to be exposed to a variety of people, places and things in order to learn about them. These interactions give him information about the world and his place in it. Daily activities that may seem simple and unimportant can actually stimulate your baby’s development. Go on shopping trips together, take walks, play peek-a-boo and patty-cake, and let your baby meet new people. Play music during playtime or naptime, and purchase toys that have different shapes, textures, weights, colors and sounds. Avoid screens. Screen time for babies and toddlers under 18 months is strongly discouraged by doctors.
- Read books. Introduce Baby to the world of literacy early! Your little one can’t follow the story quite yet, but he will love the pictures and sound of your voice as you read. Reading to Baby is also a great way to strengthen emotional attachment and a wonderful way to connect with each other.
- Allow challenges. Is Baby getting frustrated with a new toy? Resist the urge to immediately jump in to help her out. See if she can figure it out first. If she continues to struggle, you may step in and show her how it’s done, but then hand it back so she can try again. Little ones need to learn to tolerate a little distress. Allow them to struggle to figure things out sometimes, because it helps them learn how to cope.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “A happy parent makes for a happy baby”? There’s truth in this statement. Be sure to take care of yourself, too. Allow yourself to get exercise every day, even if it’s just walking Baby in her stroller around the neighborhood. Eat healthy foods instead of grabbing the first thing you spot in the cupboard for survival. Squeeze in naps when you are able. Sleep is important! Also, find ways to divvy up household and parenting responsibilities with your partner. If you’re a single parent, surround yourself with people who can help and support you, and loving childcare providers who can help your baby thrive.
Fascinating facts researchers have discovered about babies:
- Infants have a biological need and desire to learn.
- Infants have a definite preference for the human face, voice, touch and smell over everything else. An infant’s best toy is you, as you speak, move and talk with him!
- The experiences that an infant participates in really do matter, both physical and social-emotional. The more age-appropriate and interesting these experiences are for your infant, the more circuitry is built for enhanced learning in the future.
- Providing interesting stimulation can enhance curiosity, concentration, attentiveness and a love of learning in your growing baby and toddler.
Mom and author Gina Klein resides in Kansas City with her husband, two daughters and a houseful of rescued animals.
As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.