There are so many ways you can get your baby respond­ing to you. Babies respond best when they are face to face with you. This hap­pens every time you change their nap­py (dia­per) — so many oppor­tu­ni­ties every day for com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the ear­ly weeks of life!

Did you ever see a per­son with earplugs or a cell phone and sud­den­ly realise that they aren’t actu­al­ly ‘looking’ at you or ‘lis­ten­ing’ to you? They don’t even ‘see’ you in those moments! It is crit­i­cal to remem­ber such things when you might be sim­i­lar­ly pre­oc­cu­pied when you are with your baby.

Have you ever cra­dled your baby and looked down into his eyes? (I hope so!) Remem­ber to take off your hat, glass­es or sun­glass­es! — all chil­dren retain a men­tal pic­ture of you and every­time you change your hair colour, wear sun­glass­es or a hat you have changed in your child’s mind. Assum­ing he is calm, dry and fed, as you ‘sweet talk’ him he starts to bur­ble and smile – that’s the begin­ning of com­mu­ni­ca­tion! It’s remark­able and excit­ing to see, and at the same time dis­turb­ing to know how many par­ents don’t under­stand this con­cept and how ear­ly it all starts.

This com­mu­ni­ca­tion is some­thing you have to fos­ter day in and day out – it can’t be neglect­ed. Your child needs to be/wants to be/should be face to face with one lov­ing adult for most of their wak­ing hours.

Your biggest chal­lenge, if you are a work­ing moth­er, is to find safe, depend­able, con­ve­nient and hope­ful­ly lov­ing, care for your child. It’s the risk you have to weigh when you have a baby and it is often a risk that’s only thought about a cou­ple of weeks before you return to work – maybe only weeks after your baby is born! The risk increas­es at that time because you are under a dead­line and from expe­ri­ence I know that once you have had your baby your judg­ment is impaired in the ear­li­est months.

If you leave your baby in the care of anoth­er per­son or in a group cen­tre you must have a way of know­ing whether or not some­one, prefer­ably the same per­son each day, is respond­ing to your child each day in a lov­ing and car­ing man­ner, even if it’s sim­ply your sixth sense. Hav­ing a cam­era in the care set­ting does­n’t guar­an­tee your baby is well cared for.

A lot of day­care cen­tres are ‘just OK’, no mat­ter the cost. Most par­ents tru­ly know that the facil­i­ty their baby is in is ‘just OK’. Those par­ents will often praise the cen­tre’s qual­i­ties most con­ve­nient to the par­ents, not the qual­i­ties that are the most impor­tant fac­tors when it comes to their baby’s development! 

Your baby will sur­vive, just as many chil­dren from impov­er­ished care sur­vive, but they will fre­quent­ly not rise to their opti­mum lev­el at each stage of devel­op­ment. It doesn’t make those cen­tres bad, they just aren’t able to give your child the type of care he tru­ly needs, and is enti­tled to, in order to have neu­rotyp­i­cal development. 

Such lack of the nec­es­sary ‘mothering’ style care can even hap­pen if you choose to be an ‘at home’ moth­er. You are prob­a­bly an oth­er­wise high­ly qual­i­fied indi­vid­ual, much respect­ed in your field, but when it comes to your own baby you just haven’t got that ‘it’ qual­i­ty that makes your baby respond and be devel­op­men­tal­ly the best he can be. Your baby will always know that your work is your pri­or­i­ty in life.

In such cas­es, as a work­ing moth­er, you even­tu­al­ly have to come to terms with your own lim­i­ta­tions — your baby will spend 50 hours a week, up to 10 hours a day in a cen­tre — which may quite pos­si­bly lead to your child need­ing some type of devel­op­men­tal or behav­ioral ther­a­py in years to come.

It has always been known, and is fre­quent­ly writ­ten about, that the opti­mum care for a baby is a lov­ing moth­er who is hap­py to spend time teach­ing and play­ing with her infant. 

Sec­ond best is for the baby to be in a fam­i­ly envi­ron­ment in some­one else’s home, liv­ing and doing every­thing dai­ly that a real fam­i­ly does – they end up feel­ing that they actu­al­ly belong some­where and are special. 

Third best is for the baby to be in their own home with a care­giv­er. That care­giv­er may often be lim­it­ed in the pro­vi­sions they can make. Lim­it­ed either to the inside of the house or to walk­ing the child to one neigh­bor­hood park and not being free to take the child to muse­ums, the library or even a dif­fer­ent park for a change. Not for­get­ting that, if price is crit­i­cal in your choice of care­giv­er, they may be lack­ing ade­quate knowl­edge of your baby’s pri­ma­ry lan­guage and cul­tur­al mores, or even a gen­uine inter­est in car­ing for your child. 

The last resorts should be ‘facilities’, even with groups of chil­dren in someone’s home, where they are fre­quent­ly cared for in a more mechan­i­cal man­ner. Attach­ments often aren’t, can’t be, devel­oped in such sit­u­a­tions. Who can your baby trust? 

Babies may be left lying in a cot (crib) for long peri­ods of the day (espe­cial­ly the ‘good’ and ‘easy’ babies!) end­ing up with flat head syn­drome — pla­gio­cephaly — or jel­ly legs, where there is no mus­cle tone in the low­er limbs, which most often hap­pens when babies have been left in jig­gling baby seats all day or on very soft sur­faces where they can’t roll or squirm. 

Some may sim­ply be left lying on their backs flap­ping their hands, their tongue hang­ing out of the cor­ner of their mouth, mes­mer­ized by the fan spin­ning above them — espe­cial­ly if they don’t cry! 

Igno­rant par­ent­ing, untrained car­ers and inad­e­quate staff to child ratios allow such care to con­tin­ue for months at a time — until, if you’re lucky, a pedi­a­tri­cian, friend or rel­a­tive observes the con­di­tion and brings it to your atten­tion. Even then experts rarely attribute the con­di­tion to the care sit­u­a­tion and you may place your sec­ond baby in the same facility! 

Ten­der hold­ing and han­dling plus form­ing an attach­ment to the care­giv­er is crit­i­cal for nor­mal and healthy growth in any young child. Free­dom to be on a firm floor is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant for the growth of children’s organs like their lungs (I now believe spend­ing hours a day in jig­gling baby seats con­tributes to RSV, a breath­ing dis­or­der preva­lent in infants), their limbs and their core mus­cle strength. Active infants with free­dom of move­ment (no con­tain­ers — no swings, no activ­i­ty cen­tres, no bop­py seats, not being propped up) tend to be the health­i­est, phys­i­cal­ly and mentally.

Some par­ents may resent the attach­ments that their chil­dren form for their care­givers, but this is a healthy and nat­u­ral­ly need­ed attach­ment, it’s what makes us human (even mon­keys need to be attached to thrive!!) and it sim­ply comes about because the care­giv­er spends much more awake time with the child than the parent. 

Lov­ing care­givers can also become very influ­en­tial in a child’s life. A good care­giv­er should sup­ple­ment and com­ple­ment a parent’s care, assum­ing that for both of them the child’s healthy devel­op­ment is the pri­ma­ry focus, and the care­giv­er pro­vides the child with the sta­bil­i­ty that par­ents might oth­er­wise give.

If your baby seems more attached to care­givers than his moth­er (you!) you should real­ly begin to exam­ine your own care­giv­ing skills.

Appro­pri­ate ear­ly care, parental or oth­er­wise, is crit­i­cal to the full and well-round­ed devel­op­ment of any child. With­out it obvi­ous prob­lems and delays will seem to sur­face between the ages of 2 and 3 years. 

An instinc­tive and expe­ri­enced observ­er of babies and young chil­dren can often pick out poten­tial prob­lems before a child is 1 year old. Will­ing and recep­tive par­ents then have a chance to either change their own care­giv­ing styles or change caregivers.

Some changes will be sim­ple – stop tak­ing your baby out in the jog­ging stroller as soon as you get home from work — sit on the floor and real­ly spend qual­i­ty time recon­nect­ing with him each day. 

Alter­na­tive­ly: find a stroller that faces YOU instead of the traf­fic and take a brisk walk togeth­er with you talk­ing and singing while (of course?) look­ing at and engag­ing your baby. Maybe you won’t get the ‘high’ that you get when jog­ging, but your baby will get a ‘high’ by actu­al­ly see­ing and inter­act­ing with you! 

For the child’s sake the soon­er you make changes the better.

By the way, if you think that ‘lov­ing books’ and ‘being read to’ are sub­sti­tutes for face to face time, you are a vic­tim of pro­pa­gan­da. Your child will not be a com­pe­tent read­er and writer if you haven’t pro­vid­ed them oppor­tu­ni­ties for learn­ing their spo­ken lan­guage first and fill­ing their lives with inter­est­ing words to use on a dai­ly basis.

For infor­ma­tion on how you can improve your child’s ear­ly lan­guage acqui­si­tion go to one of the British Nation­al Lit­er­a­cy sites:

Or for a point of view on any child care issue please email me.