Baby Stimulation Basics

momandbabyhands.jpgI’m thrilled to introduce new guest contributor and local parent educator Hetti Wohlgemuth; today, Hetti covers the basics of baby stimulation:

We all worry that our babies get too much or too little milk, too much or too little sleep, they cry too much or too little, their baths and porridge are too hot or too cold and we worry that we stimulate our babies too much or too little. Rarely do we think we are doing it just right. However, I believe that as long as we feed, bathe, change diapers, clothe, comfort, and love and look at our babies often, those baby-related activities add up to the just right amount of stimulation.
The following are observations and tips on the basics of baby stimulation:

Parents provide the necessary stimulation naturally, automatically, and instinctively. Parents didn’t used to question themselves as much as they do now. Twenty years ago when I raised my babies, I didn't dangle attractive and colorful objects in front of my babies and I didn't feel the need to dance, sing, and story tell 24/7/52. And my daughters - as well as you and me - turned out just fine. We worry more now because there's been so much press about the importance of the first three years on a baby's brain. What is mentioned less, though, is that the parents who are reading or listening to the press are already doing everything necessary, naturally, automatically, and instinctively.

We discount the very stimulations we provide. Each time we diaper baby, we provide a healthy dose of stimulation. Parent and child faces are close, sometimes we coo and talk, and the power of touch is working by necessity. Each time parents feed their babies, the same good things happen. Each time you hand baby a simple, inexpensive rattle or take her outdoors for a stroll you're providing stimulation. It seems that the easier or more natural the stimulation, the more we discount it. Somehow stimulation has to be exhausting or exhilarating in order to matter.

We wonder about the "more is more approach" (the more simulation the better). If dangling objects and talking to baby are good actions, it seems reasonable to think more might be better and make for a brighter baby. But sometimes less is more. Watch baby for clues and watch yourself too; if you are exhausting yourself with over-entertaining, take a step back.

Enhance visual and touch stimulation naturally. Research indicates that visual skill expands mostly during the first 8 months of a baby's life. And touch and caregiver responsiveness are also critical. The good news is that you can enhance those senses naturally. I used to sit my daughters in their car seats (placed securely on the kitchen table) and have them watch me walk around the kitchen preparing their food, or we would sit in the living room window seat and take in the outside world, or we would go for a ride or walk. Every room, scene, mirror, person, and yard are new to baby and endlessly visually satisfying.

Touch is provided each time we bathe, change, dress, feed, soothe, and kiss babies. And if upon occasion we can't get to our baby immediately because our needs intervene, so be it. I certainly didn't get to my babies each and every time they started to cry and I believe they were helped, not hurt, by an occasional lag time. A helpful mantra to remember is: “Well being will not be destroyed within a loving environment.”

The stimulations that work best are the ones that please both mama and baby. I simply was not a play-on-the floor type mama. I did enjoy going out with my babies: walking outdoors and indoors, and yes, even in malls. I love museums and fortunately we enjoyed a membership to the Museum of Fine Arts and so we went often. I love coffee shops and listening to NPR, and would enjoy these things with my babies. I played with my daughters in ways that I also enjoyed. If we do that, our babies will feel loved and nurtured and this love will only foster growth, intelligence, and contentment.

Other forms of good stimulation. Infant massage is a magnificent form of stimulation and an aid to bonding. Infant massage classes are readily available, or you can check your local library for books or DVDs. Listening to music that you enjoy also is a lovely form of stimulation. And remember, simple toys are best. Those are the ones that don't require batteries and the ones that don't guarantee future Ivy League success. Select toys where baby can shake, rattle, or roll then see his/her own outcomes.

Consider temperament. Activities such as reading to baby are rewarding if your baby is of the temperament to watch and listen. Many aren't. And they're all okay. Some babies are simply too active for that kind of activity. And that's just fine and isn’t a predictor of future success or worth becoming frustrated over. Eventually all children will learn to read and perhaps even love to read, as long as we don't coerce or insist on it.

Bottom line: Take care of your baby's basic needs. Get to know your baby. Enjoy your baby. Love and look at him/her often. Cuddle your baby. Keep it simple, and that will be the just right amount of stimulation.