The Newborn: Traditional and Anthroposophical Perspectives

From a Traditional Physical Therapy Perspective regarding Normal Development:

Full-term is 38 weeks onward.  37 weeks’ gestational age is NOT full-term.

The neonate has NO experience with life outside of the womb – Please remember that as you expose your infant to his or her first sounds and sights of the outside world.

Very little movement is independently controlled – most movement is random and affected by gravity (gravity is also a new experience).

The elbows, hips, knees, and ankles have strong flexion, meaning that they are bent up and if you try to straighten them they will recoil back into a bent position.

Newborns are usually moving when they are awake and display a wide range of vigorous movement with rotational components of the ankles and wrists.  Usually one can see this better when the infant is lying on his or her  back.  There is much about tummy time and its importance out there, but giving an infant opportunity to freely kick and move while lying on their back is also important.

A neonate is interested in breastfeeding, being held and cuddled and in hearing their mother’s voice.   If you are a first-time mother, I am here to reassure you that less material things are needed than you think.

A neonate can fixate on your smiling  face and track briefly. They typically see best when the object (your bright smiling face!) is about 9 inches away. 

Extension (lifting) of the head and neck while lying on the stomach is one of the first things you will  see against gravity, but I am not so personally  convinced that a neonate needs a whole separate “playtime-tummy time” on  the floor on a blanket by themselves.  Tummy time can also be achieved over your legs, over your lap or being held with the infant’s tummy on your chest as you are laying down.

There are a wide range of reflexes that help the infant organize themselves and drive an infant’s ability at this age, along with the  musculoskeletal constraints already mentioned (strong flexion) and the way the bones start out.

If your baby has a history of prematurity, intraventricular hemorrhage, bronchopulmonary dyplasia, low birth weight under 1500 grams, or lack of oxygen to the brain, please follow your baby’s development carefully.

From an Anthroposophical Point of View:

(One of the best resources on the Web regarding The Waldorf Baby can be found here:  http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/early-years-nurturing-young-children-at-home/the-waldorf-baby.html).

Rahima Baldwin Dancy talks about in her book how the infant experiences space, time and gravity differently once born compared to life within the womb.  Birth also is the first experience an infant has with temperature regulation and the rhythmical qualities of breathing.

With the first breath,” she writes, “inner emotional life begins, and the breath serves as the connection between the inner and outer worlds.  With the first in-breath, the possibility exists for the soul life to enter into a deeper relationship with the body, a relationship it will keep until the last expiration.  Although the baby is spiritually present and physically responsive to stimuli while in the womb, the soul cannot come into the body without the breath.  Then the soul gives expression to our emotions through the breath as sound and speech.”

Incarnation into the body is a gradual process.

The infant is viewed as entirely a sense-organ where all impressions from the environment go into the infant without filters and influence physiological processes – such as digestion and circulation of the blood. 

Sleep of the infant is seen as needed to “shut-off” from the world because if one is a sense organ where impressions are just flooding in, imagine how exhausting that is!

Things typically recommended by authors such as Rahima Baldwin Dancy, and Joan Salter  include having a special place for the baby to rest, such as a bassinet or co-sleeper, and draping this with silks to provide rest for the infant’s eyes.

Provide harmony and rhythm through singing.  You can also play a soft flute or kinderlyre.

Provide a sense of warmth for your infant and keep your infant’s head covered throughout the first year.  Remember, an infant does not do a great job regulating temperature by themselves!

Think about 40 days of rest and of being at home – there is an entire post on this blog regarding that subject here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/07/17/40-days-after-birth-and-beyond/

Joan Salter asserts that the baby’s most natural position within the first six weeks is HORIZONTAL, not vertical. 

You may consider keeping your infant inside for the first 40 days and after that introducing your infant to the wonderful sounds of nature outside.  Trips to the store, in the car, in a bus, etc should be avoided if at all possible. 

Joan Salter recommends swaddling with the upper extremities bent and the hands near the infant’s mouth – as a therapist, this is the position I most frequently recommend as well.

I suggest if you would like to read more about The Waldorf Baby, to go back and re-read pertinent chapters in “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher” and “The Incarnating Child.”  Sometimes a third or fourth read of these chapters can really provide further illumination!

Many blessings,

Carrie

Stress Signs in Infants

(Note- This is from a pediatric physical therapy viewpoint today).

A brilliant comment from anthromama on my last post regarding “40 Days After Birth and Beyond” stimulated a small idea in my head!  Many of you know that I am a neonatal physical therapist by profession and in my work, recognizing and calming an infant in stress is a huge part of what I do.  So, with that in mind, I thought I would list the stress signs of an infant here for everyone to see because it never occurred to me that folks might not recognize stress signs in their own full-term infants (yes, a full-term infant can still have stress signs – remember, protect those 12 senses!)

Stress signs:

The baby will salute you – essentially this looks like a baby stretching out their hand toward you, (usually the back of the hand toward you) and up towards their face.  Parents will say, “How cute! He is waving at me!”  Nope, nope and nope.

The baby will extend the arm and splay the fingers apart.

The baby will frown, grimace, grunt.

The baby will all of the sudden start yawning, hiccupping, or sneezing multiple times.  (Yes, babies do yawn, hiccup, or sneeze but this is more like 10 times in a row or more all of the sudden).

The baby will arch the back and neck and push away (and yes, some babies with gastroesophageal reflux disease will also arch and push away).

The baby will look away suddenly and for a long period after having a period of wonderful eye contact on a caregiver’s face – think about this one carefully.  We ourselves do not maintain focused eye contact on others when we are in conversation, but often our eyes are scanning and resting, scanning and resting.   The looking away is a sign the baby needs a break and less focus.

The baby will cry.  This is usually a last sign when all other signs have been ignored.

The baby will become frantic and move all extremities wildly.

Or, conversely, the baby will just shut down, shut his or eyes and tune everything out.

What To Do:

Breastfeed and gently but firmly snuggle your infant

Try tucking your infant’s arms and legs close into their body.  See if you can help your infant clasp their hands together or to bring their hand to their mouth if they are not nursing.

Try talking to your infant before touching them – let them know you are there!

Hold your baby about 10 inches or so from your face – the distance they see best at first if  you are wanting to make direct eye contact.  Vision is not the most utilized sense in a newborn!

Turn down the lights; bright lights bother many infants

Swaddling!

Most importantly, decrease the multiple inputs going on – if the other kids are screaming, the dog is barking, the phone is ringing – well, see if you can turn the phone off, calm the kids, let the dog go outside.

Let the baby hold your finger.

For “All-Out Crying”

Sometimes babies just need a release and that is okay while being held and soothed, but we really want the infant to establish trust in that a caregiver will meet their needs (in other words, no crying it out for a small baby!)   If nursing is not doing the trick, some babies enjoy being swaddled and held upright with motion such as  being walked around.  Some babies I have loved who had more severe neurologic challenges have responded best to being rather tightly swaddled, sucking on my gloved finger in a sidelying position with their head higher than their stomach and being “gently  rhythmically bounced” (ie, if they are on your leg, cross one leg over the other leg, put the infant on their side on the leg that is highest with their head away from you and tap your bottom leg to a  slow rhythmic beat).  I need to take a picture so you all can see it better.  Sometimes sucking along with a gentle rhythmical bouncing or rocking is very helpful for any infant in distress.

Babies that are happy:

Are in a quiet and alert state.

The face, arms and legs are relaxed.

The baby can focus on objects or people.

Their eyes are open and they try to smile.

There was a post I wrote quite awhile ago regarding why babies cry, typical crying patterns, etc:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/01/19/when-babies-cry-and-what-we-can-all-learn-from-the-high-needs-baby-and-child/

Hope this helps stimulate some thought,

Carrie

40 Days After Birth and Beyond

Gypsy, a reader of this blog from New Zealand, wrote this post on her blog that I wanted to share with you:

http://domesticallyblissed.blogspot.com/2009/07/more-than-suburban-neurosis.html

I am sharing Gypsy’s concern regarding not only  the general lack of time mothers today have to prepare and dream for a birth while pregnant, but also this thought that as soon as possible one must jump back into the old routine.

My Dutch neighbor asked me yesterday why people in the U. S.  brought tiny infants to movies….. (My European and Down Under readers, is this only a U.S. phenomenon???  I would like to know!  Please leave me a comment!)  Her thought was that a movie is so very loud and overstimulating and she wondered why mothers are trying perhaps hard to prove that “they have had a baby but can still do all the things they used to do”?  I am not sure if this is the reason mothers bring infants to movies, or if it is just “something to do to get out of the house”, but I do wonder. What makes us think that this is okay for a tiny baby?  (Well, okay, what makes us think this is okay for children in general under the age of 7 or 9?  That is a whole ‘nother post topic!)

A child under the age of 9 and especially a small baby is WIDE open to the world with no filters, no sensors.  All those sensory impressions just come pouring in!  I cannot tell you all the number of hospital rooms I have walked into to treat a tiny newborn and had to ask the parents to please turn a very noisy and loud television or radio program off!  I have felt badly for these infants’ assaulted senses.

I am a very attached mother, and I have many, many attached friends.  But please, let’s not use the fact that we can breastfeed in a sling to drag a baby all over creation!  Our bodies can act as a filter for some of the sensory impressions for our babies, but the question is shouldn’t part of being a mother be that we put the sensory needs of our smallest and most fragile first and foremost?  Shouldn’t the birth of a baby be a time of wonder and  enjoyment and yes, a slower pace?  What have we to prove by running errands all over town and everything else?  I had one friend who came from a large family who commented wryly  that a new baby was always

Your baby will only be a tiny baby once.   I encourage you to not only take your forty days, but also to slow down your life for a year and get used to being home.  I think this adjustment comes sooner or later.  I have had many mothers who have lamented to me that once their baby was walking and such it “was difficult to go to Starbucks and enjoy a cup of coffee” or go out to lunch as the child wouldn’t sit there any longer.  I understand that, I really do – they hit an adjustment period, a true adjustment.    They realized after a bit of time that they needed to be more firmly entrenched in their homes and that  having a child was changing them and their lives.  It was this sense of surrendering that had to occur and these mothers had to take charge of their own homes.  This can be a difficult journey for so many of us, and I would love to dialogue more about how to make this transition to home a reality.

More to come,

Carrie

A Few Thoughts About The Waldorf Baby (And Beyond!)

I have recently been reading Steiner’s “Theosophy” and re-reading bits and pieces of Lois Cusick’s wonderful book, “The Waldorf Parenting Handbook“.”  (This is an excellent book, by the way, although it probably could have had a better title!)

At any rate, what I have been discovering is the view of the baby through the lens of the three – (and four-fold) human being.  Even if you are not an anthroposophist, I think there is a lot of wisdom to be gained from this perspective.  Grab a cup of tea, sit down and think with me for a few minutes!  You can understand this!

From an anthroposophic viewpoint, birth is seen as the end of a long spiritual process where the infant chooses parents and the infant struggles to “incarnate” into a new physical body.  This notion seems odd to many folks, but I ask that even if you don’t believe this, observe babies!  As a neonatal/pediatric physical therapist, I have had the opportunity to observe literally thousands of babies – some developing “normally” and some not.    Watch them, look at them – their arms and legs are not under their control at first, they have to develop that control over time and yes, through a bit of struggle!  The tasks of the first three years from a simplified anthroposophic viewpoint especially is to develop eye contact,  to develop  this  physical control of the muscles, to then attain an upright position, to learn to talk  (through imitation) and then that glimmer of thought when they first refer to themselves as “I”. 

Lois Cusick notes in her book on page 1 that when small children ask, “Where do I come from?” that a picture is a better way to answer than an abstract notion.  She remarks, “One old picture that has done good service is the archetypal white dove-shaped form winging its way down from heaven.  This shape on the medieval tapestries and stained glass Cathedral windows  is called the Dove of the Holy Spirit.  To the peasants, it looked remarkably like the shape of the homely village storks dropping down to roost in the chimmneys.  From them we have inherited the notion of the stork bringing the child’s soul to earth.”

No, I am not suggesting you tell your child the stork brought them per se!   However, read on for an interesting connection to this as seen by Lois Cusick:  “It is interesting to find that the archetypal shape of the descending Dove of the Holy Spirit is indeed laid into the very structure of the human body, in the larynx, breastbone and womb……..The human larynx gives birth  to human words; behind the breastbone lies the human heart, where love is born, and the womb gives birth to the child…..In early Christian art, where the Dove of the Holy Spirit hovers over  Mary, there are often the words Et incarnatus est.  And it incarnates.  What incarnates?  In the larynx, the human word; in the heart, the divine quality of love; in the womb, the child of God.  Those are my answers,” she writes, “The picture symbols leave each mind free to interpret and judge according to one’s inclinations.”

All of this is very interesting!  However, even if you don’t believe in or agree with the anthroposophic viewpoint that the child has come to you after a long spiritual journey with a destiny to have you as a parent, perhaps you can resonate with the fact that the physical body and control of that body is something an infant has to grow into!  In fact, this process of “growing into” the physical body happen during – yup, you guessed it!- the first seven years of life!  We lay down rhythms to help our child in this process, we keep our children in their bodies and not so much their heads and we help our children lay a foundation for their future health in doing so!

So the question becomes:  what can we do with the baby to assist this process?  Here are some thoughts!

  • We can work on ourselves!  We can  work hard to lead the lives of good people, moral people, upstanding people.   This work never ends, but does continually grow.  As a Christian, I personally think about the Fruit of the Spirit, those traits.  Steiner talked about “The Great Virtues” – justice, prudence, courage, wisdom.  He also talked about faith, hope and love.   Most major world religions have these attributes as part of their faith.  If you have no specific spiritual path, I urge you to look closer at this for the sake of your children; leave your own adult baggage behind and investigate it further and see if you can open your heart to what may resonate inside.
  • We can protect our child during birth with good birthing practices and by breastfeeding. Rahima Baldwin Dancy has much to say regarding this in her book, “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher.”  Perhaps you can  go back to that book and re-read that part and see if it resonates differently with you.
  • We don’t let infants “cry it out”, we provide loving warmth and joy and eye contact between all family members and this new life.
  • We keep the baby home for at least six weeks after birth, and we protect the infant’s 12 senses by not dragging the infant around for  endless errands in a carseat after that if possible!  Who has done a 40-day “lying in” out there?  Please do leave some comments in the comment section!
  • We can keep our babies warm!  Warmth is such an important thing in small babies.   Try this post to help give you inspiration:  http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/early-years-nurturing-young-children-at-home/the-waldorf-baby/dressing-the-very-young-child.html
  • We can take our babies outside, weather permitting, for walks and even for naps outside!
  • The baby experiences “good” in its world in these early months by being loved by its mother and father. The parents can  attempt to live an unhurried and unstressed life so the baby can develop trust and see goodness.
  • We  can recognize that  it takes years to develop into the physical body, and we honor not to rush this process through infant walkers, through the use of “Teach Your Baby to Read” programs, through “Baby Einstein.”  We respect that the baby is a baby with skills and abilities that will unfold.
  • We allow the baby to move – we have times where the baby can move freely in a safe environment.   By the same token, we allow the baby to speak without “teaching” speech and correcting the heck out of the imitated speech that is just forming!  However, on the other hand, we don’t use baby talk!
  • As the child learns to think, to have a sense of themselves as separate, around the age of “3”,  we can provide boundaries even if we had not had to set many before!  This is of utmost importance – provide these loving, warm boundaries  but  yes, boundaries that  exist for the child so the child learns to function in our world and in our space.  In the article “Birth to the Age of Three:  Our Responsibility” by Dorothy Olson and available at www.waldorflibrary.org, she writes, “When we give direction to the child or make requests of the child, or say that we are going to do something, we must be clear in our thinking, phrase our request in the positive, then stay with the direction and be consistent.  If we reverse direction, we damage the child, we cause nervousness and insecurity.”  (Carrie’s note:  And yes, I know many attached and loving parents who would totally disagree with that last sentence!).  She goes on to write, “Parents and teachers who are constantly inconsistent, do not allow the child to meet the realities of existence.  The child is then educated for a life which does not exist, becomes weak, and is at the mercy of its surroundings and of other people.”

(What this talk on boundaries  means is NOT that you are a dictator – you are gentle, loving, and calm and  you THINK about your house, the tone in your house, and yes, what boundaries you need in your house from there with the needs of everyone considered!  There are posts on this site regarding creating family mission statements that may assist you.  The key is to understanding a three year old and a four year old is in IMITATION, and in their BODIES.  Thinking ahead and “consequences” is not really up their alley yet!  :) ).

It is a big task, a wonderful task , a wonderful opportunity,  a gift to be able to refine the kind of parent you want to be, starting from now!

Thanks for reading!

Just a few deep thoughts for today,

Carrie

Bringing Rhythm to Your Baby

There is a mother’s story here on the Christopherus website’s  “Waldorf Baby” section that may interest those of you thinking about how to bring rhythm to your baby  (and my personal caveat is that this is one mother’s story and does not necessarily reflect my own personal opinion!  But good ideas for thought!  And please note the number of times this mother says the establishment of rhythm must be done over time, and gently!)

http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/early-years-nurturing-young-children-at-home/the-waldorf-baby/bringing-rhythm-to-your-baby.html

As a lay breastfeeding counselor, I have to say here the idea is NOT scheduled feedings; scheduled feedings in breastfeeding mother/infant dyads can lead to failure to thrive!   Please remember this rule:  RHYTHM is TOTALLY DIFFERENT THAN A SET SCHEDULE!   That being said, however, it is about being able to see as your infant grows and gently OVER TIME what sort of rhythm to the day you are setting in order to protect the infant’s 12 senses (if you need help remembering which of the 12 senses is affected by rhythm, try this post here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/06/22/the-twelve-senses/)

It is also interesting to me that many parents comment how their second, third and subsequent children fall more easily into a rhythmical pattern than their first…I feel this is probably because a more set flow to the day is already in place and you are not re-creating the rhythmical wheel.

It is also remembering that from a Waldorf point of view, you are not “squishing” your infant’s individual temperament or anything else by providing a flow to things.  In my personal experience, children who are “high-needs” are by definition VERY irrhythmic, irregular and need your gentle help to move them towards rhythmical patterns….This can be very difficult for parents to accept and work with!  Re-frame your thoughts in this way:  you are providing a rhythm that not only uplifts and enfolds your infant and their personal traits and their health but  also provides peace and harmony for  the whole family as well.  This is setting the tone in your own home, and your rhythm is just what your family does.    Again, rhythm  is just about life within your family; we rest and we play, we go outside and are active, we are inside and we listen and are quieter.  There should be an ease and a flow to it, not a “military” sense of punctuality!

Within Waldorf parenting and Waldorf parenting, sleep and rest are very important cornerstones, one that rhythm is very important in promoting and preserving and I am going to address this important topic in another post.  Get your cup of tea ready, because the way Steiner and Waldorf Education views sleep may be different than what you have ever heard of before!

Blessings on this day,

Carrie

The Waldorf Baby: The First Year

Here is a link to a great article by Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschool regarding the Waldorf baby and the first year:

http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/early-years-nurturing-young-children-at-home/the-waldorf-baby.html

There is also a link on there to an article I wrote regarding the impact anthroposophy has had on my work as a neonatal physical therapist:  http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/early-years-nurturing-young-children-at-home/the-waldorf-baby/not-too-hot-not-too-cold.html

And, of course, as a lay breastfeeding counselor and as an AP parent, I agree with the position Christopherus has taken regarding breastfeeding and co-sleeping!

Lots of food for thought in this article!

Happy Reading,

Carrie