You are your baby’s teacher from the first day he lays eyes on you, so being mindful of your actions will have a huge impact on his behavior later on.
Janet Y. Higgins, M.D., combined internal medicine and pediatrics at The Christ Hospital, say babies actually begin mimicking facial expressions before they are 1 month old. The adorable “coo” starts around 2 months, and that heart-melting baby laugh begins around 4 months.
“The positive and negative emotions of caregivers directly shape an infant’s understanding of human emotions,” Higgins says.
If you are ever told, “You hold him too much,” brush it off and keep the snuggles going. According to Higgins, babies feed off of comfort and care — especially when they are crying or fussy. This comfort teaches Baby to trust and gives him a sense of security. When you are stressed out or depressed, and Baby is ignored, they lose that security blanket.
“Babies whose needs are ignored do not develop the same sense of security,” Higgins says. “Unfortunately, when caregivers are stressed or depressed, they often cannot give the baby the comfort he needs,” she adds.
EVERY ACTION MATTERS
The question is, will my actions affect my baby’s emotions and mental health later on in life? Higgins says every action matters. Positive interactions such as smiling back to your baby and talking back with little babbles helps to strengthen your bond and gives Baby’s communication efforts positive reinforcement.
“This positive interaction is good for both the mental health of the baby and the caregiver,” says Higgins. “It is important to try to respond to positive communications and behaviors by the infant to encourage more attempts.”
Practicing positive behavior now with your baby and praising good behavior when she stacks her blocks and hands them back to you, can actually prevent temper tantrums and “acting out” when the wild toddler years come around, Higgins says.
“Many negative behaviors are the child’s attempt to get parental attention,” says Higgins.
And, according to science, even while Baby is floating safely in your uterus, maternal stress can cause changes in the way their brain’s wiring develops.
“After birth, stress and negative emotions continue to influence the brain’s development, especially during the first year when the brain doubles its weight,” Higgins continues.
The good news? It can all be reversed with tender love and care. For parents feeling stressed or actually depressed, there are many resources available to help you through this tough time. Many mothers experience depression during pregnancy and after their baby arrives. Higgins says doctors are paying much more attention to postpartum moms today.
But also know that as your baby grows, acting out is not always due to YOU. All babies have different temperaments, so some do better with change than others. Babies go through a lot of life-changing experiences: living in the outside world, responding to strangers, etc. If you think your baby is being stubborn and cranky for no reason, take a step back, observe the environment and try some positive feedback.
A 2 month old may be experiencing colic, sleep disturbances or something else she can’t tell you about.
“Try to give positive feedback to your infant when she is doing a desired behavior,” suggests Higgins. “Smile back when she is smiling, take time to play before they start nagging, and remember to enjoy the wonder she sees in the new world.”
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
Babies are a lot of work, but being a parent is also a reward. If you feel your hands are tied and Baby’s crying is too much, try these steps to help you through it.
• TAKE A BREATH AND A BREAK: Put Baby in his crib, and allow yourself a few minutes to take deep breaths and recollect your thoughts.
• REACH OUT TO FAMILY OR FRIENDS: Your family and friends are a great resource for when you need a shoulder to cry on or just need someone to help take the load off.
• CALL THE PEDIATRICIAN: Pediatricians are great for parenting tips or referrals for support services.
• REACH OUT TO YOUR DOCTOR: Never ever hesitate to call your OB/GYN. Post-menopausal depression can be devastating if it is not properly treated, but it is treatable.
• CALL FOR HELP: If you feel like you are going to harm yourself or your baby, call 911.