‘It takes a village to raise a child’, as the old African proverb goes, illustrating how necessary it is to support parents in the often challenging experiences of a baby’s development.Having a support network including family and friends is essential in helping parents navigate and manage the developmental phases of their baby’s journey. Never truer than with weaning and crawling, where a baby develops its innate ability to become more separate and independent.
After living as one in a symbiotic relationship in-utero, birth marks the initial separation between mother and baby. The feeding relationship is the first relationship that we have with our primary carers, more often than not with mother. It’s a special and exclusive time for Mum and baby, providing comfort, closeness and security for both. Babies arrive into this world with distinct personalities and the feeding relationship is the foundation for all future relationships. Baby’s experience everything through physical sensation, as their brains are still developing post-birth and world is interpreted in the way in which they’re handled, soothed and comforted.
For a new-born, food equates to love. When babies experience discomfort and pain through hunger, it becomes important that they are fed in a calm and pleasurable way. In doing so, the baby has an early experience of mother’s capacity to transform discomfort and pain through the feeding relationship. Feeding is an opportunity for bonding and closeness, mimicking that symbiotic, two-as-one experience that was the norm for mother and baby during pregnancy.
By and large babies will signal to mums when the time comes for weaning and they want to begin feeding themselves. Mum being able to accept the messiness of this phase signals an important message to their little one: the physical messiness and feelings of internal messiness are all accepted in a loving way. How babies react to these changes are dependent on resilience, temperament and how secure he/she feels. This transitional phase also impacts mums and, depending on their circumstances, personality and support network (her partner, grandparents etc.), will dictate how these challenges are navigated.
Mothers may experience giving up this special feeding connection as a serious emotional wrench, with some experiencing this change as traumatic – which is completely understandable. However, this natural change needn’t be traumatic. This phase teaches the baby to accept limits to their needs and desires whilst encouraging internal independence. Weaning can be a growing experience for Mum and baby. Some babies even become more affectionate after weaning and for Mum the burden of feeding on-demand can now be shared by Dad, grandparents or others in Mum’s support network.
Crawling away from parents represents Baby’s exploration of the world, developing a crucial life skill in the capacity to be independent. Preparing baby for this stage is important as in some cases it can provoke separation anxiety. It’s vital that parents support their babies in accompanying their explorations, rather than inhibiting this natural, innate desire to learn about the world around them.
For example, parents returning to work; we can prepare Baby for this separation. Often, parents believe that slipping away is less drastic and dramatic for their child, however we would advise not to go down this road. Sudden absence may make babies feel bewildered and anxious. We would encourage parents to reassure your baby, communicate with them that, while you have to leave, you will return. Parents being consistent in this behaviour creates secure trust and reinforces the learning that absence is a part of everyday life.
Weaning and crawling are natural stages in a baby’s journey through life.
Though possibly anxiety provoking for parents, these developmental phases needn’t be full of anxiety.
Successful navigation of these developmental phases will help baby learn to be comfortable in new experiences and unexplored territory.
These are natural stages in development (both for baby and parents) and at Parental Pathways we encourage parents to embrace these changes by providing emotional support and advice, helping parents celebrate the joy of a child’s developing independence.