Babies’ Hearts and Minds

By Meg Stanaker, IBCLC

One of the great privileges that I have as a lactation consultant is to spend time meeting and getting to know lots of babies. As I say to parents all the time, babies reveal who they are at the breast when they are feeding. They show us their personality, their temperament and are always communicating their general needs and wants. Our challenge as parents is to learn and understand their language.

As soon as a baby comes out of the womb, within minutes they are focusing on their most basic skill of survival and that is feeding. Parents and health care providers are often amazed when they observe the baby scoot themselves up moms belly to the breast and locate and latch on to start their first feed. From that time on babies continue to engage their brain and body to connect with mom in the most primal way and that begins with breastfeeding.

“The Philosophical Baby” by Allison Gopnik explores the many ideas of what a baby is here to tell us. She challenges us in our thinking that babies are not only here to get their basic needs met but that “babies and young children can help answer fundamental questions about imagination, truth and consciousness, identity, love and morality in a new way.

In the last 25 years there has been a revolution in our understanding of the minds of infants and young children. We used to believe that babies’ movements and actions were random without meaning and that their thinking and experience was limited. “The Philosophical Baby” explores the most recent scientific and psychological research that reveals that babies “learn more, create more, care more and experience more then we could ever have imagined.”

When parents bring their baby into the world they are confronted with the overwhelming fact of childhood and that is the child’s dependence on us for their basic survival. Childhood could not exist without their caregivers. Human beings have a more extended period of immaturity and dependence then other mammals. Gopnik argues that this protracted period of immaturity is intimately tied up with the human capacity for change. She says that, “Our human capacity for imagination and learning have great advantages; they allow us to adapt to different environments than any other species and to change those environments too. The great disadvantage to this capacity is that learning takes time.

As parents, our children challenge everything about our lives as we are forced to adapt to our babies needs. Just the act of feeding a newborn asks us to sit down and pay attention to what our babies are communicating to us. This can take hours and in our busy lives we are forced to examine all of our current values and actions in our sleep-deprived state. I often say that the development of the baby is happening in a symbiotic way with the development of the parent. The changes that babies can bring to our lives can be difficult and sometimes emotional.

I believe that if you take Allison Gopnik’s ideas to heart in the stage of metamorphosis for both parents and babies, it can help us appreciate this stage of great change and help us look at our babies with greater curiosity and appreciation. As Gopnik says, “There’s a kind of evolutionary division of labor between children and adults. Children are the brainstormers and the developers of the imaginative ideas and adults are production and marketing. Children make the discoveries and we make them real.”

I agree with Gopnik that children can open our own minds and hearts to what makes life worth living and enjoying by appreciating what they are here to teach us.
Meg runs her private lactation business through Zenana Spa as well as holding weekly Breastfeeding Support Groups and teaching Breastfeeding classes to expecting families. You can connect with Meg at Meg Stalnaker Lactation Services, Naturallatch.com.

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