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Four Books That Help Explain Babies

The saying that ‘all babies are different’ has become a bit of a cliché, though there is a truth to it and it does explain – at least in part – why there is no technique that works for every baby, all the time.

But if there is no technique that works for every baby, all the time, then presumably the opposite is true too: some techniques – for settling, feeding, soothing crying – must work for some babies, some of the time.

So how can parents find which technique works for their individual baby?

The world is full of good-intentioned advice for parents. So much so that now there’s books giving advice on how to deal with the overwhelming amount of advice. But whatever we do with our babies, whatever techniques we employ, whatever parenting philosophy we ascribe to, will only be effective if it actually meets a baby’s needs. Imagine how much of our frustration in the early days of parenting might be able to be reduced – even just a little – if we had more information about how to find out what our own baby needs, rather being inundated with a myriad of techniques that other people are convinced are right, but that may (or may not!) have anything to do with what is going on in our own baby’s mind. Once we figure out the needs of our babies, working out the best techniques might follow a little easier.

So, this month we are highlighting books that nailed it when it comes to explaining the needs of babies: what they are thinking, feeling and what they want us to do about it.

Diary of a baby (Daniel Stern)

The Diary of a Baby is the first book on our list because It provides a stunning, inviting and fascinating insight into just how much awareness and emotion babies experience.  After all, to meet a baby’s needs, we first need to acknowledge that they actually have needs beyond being fed and changed. Using the voice of “baby Joey”, Stern chronicles the feelings, sensations, and experiences of a baby, from birth to four years. Research in infant consciousness is usually complex and difficult to digest (see Stern’s The Interpersonal World of the Infant as an example). In contrast, using Joey’s voice to narrate the research gives the writing an almost poetic quality – giving life to the research which informs it.  The most important aspect of this book, is that it doesn’t present babies as miniature adults – but instead gives a real insight into the emotional states and sensations in the context of how babies develop.

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Your baby is speaking to you: A visual guide to the amazing behaviours of your newborn and growing infant (Kevin Nugent)

Graduates of our training program will be intimately familiar with this title, because it is one of the core texts of our course. It is a truly beautiful book with exquisite photographs to help illustrate the subtle, often overlooked, way that babies use their bodies and faces to communicate with richness. The book, written by Kevin Nugent, Founder and Director of the Brazelton Institute in Boston, explores different smiles, cries and reflexes and how these give clues to the baby’s internal mind. The text and photos combined give insights into how a baby’s emotions and sensations influences their body posture, facial expressions, eye contact and even yawning, which can help serve as clues as to their needs.

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The Wonder Weeks (Frans Plooij).

It had to be on this list, right? The Wonder Weeks is one of those books that gets passed from parent-to-parent, and that mums of older children say “I wish I had known about that book when he was a baby”. The Wonder Weeks is a delightful and in-depth exploration of the various stages of infant development. But unlike most anxiety-provoking infant development books that focus on ‘achievement’ of milestones – the Wonder Weeks describes to parents how each developmental stage impacts on a baby’s mood, emotions and behaviour and the social needs they have as they progress through each stage. It’s this acknowledgement of the interplay between growth and development and emotion (frustration, pain, excitement, curiosity, regulation) and the baby’s social world that makes this book such a valuable – and unique – one in helping parents understand and interpret their baby’s needs.

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The psychology of babies: How relationships support development from birth to two (Lynne Murray)

Another beautifully illustrated book, The Psychology of Babies is a full-size volume that brings together some of the most recent research about the minds of babies. In this book, Murray achieves the remarkable feat of presenting the perfect balance of information that is comprehensive, yet both parent-friendly and non-patronising. The remarkable capacity that babies have for love, tenderness, empathy, curiosity – and the extraordinary rate at which they develop and grow in the first year will not only stun most parents but give meaningful insights into their behaviour. This book is even more valuable because it doesn’t give in to the temptation to ‘instruct’ parents on what to do to meet their baby’s needs. Instead, Murray has divided the book into sections based on the way the social interactions of babies change – highlighting that parents don’t need to ‘do’ anything special but that “it is the context of these social relationships that almost all other skills are fostered”. Yes indeed.

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