The first year of emotions through your baby’s eyes

Emotions are crucial building blocks in the development of your baby
Emotions are the little chemical reactions in the body that propel you forward. The chemical reactions of emotions also work like glue, creating a bond between people – if there is no emotion, there is no relationship and without relationship no one can develop to his or her full potential.

What about your baby and emotions?
From the moment of conception baby starts to impact on his environment and mom ‘responds’ by feeling nauseous, has heartburn or she might simply glow. Mom’s response to the pregnancy creates a chemical environment that impacts on baby, forming the base pattern for all further development.

Let us imagine the first year of life through the mind and heart of a baby...

During pregnancy
During a normal pregnancy baby feels safe, warm, rocked and protected with an online food supply. Baby belongs. She is surrounded by mom’s rhythmic heartbeat and the soothing sounds of moms breathing and digestion. Baby feels one with her surroundings and confident about her place in it! In the absence of others, baby has no one to compare or compete with so she does not feel analysed, evaluated, labelled or judged. Baby simply sighs contently, smiles and plays in her personalised condo – the uterus where all his/her needs are met.

The big day arrives and all existence as baby knows it ceases to exist. Mom’s water breaks and there goes his security blankie! The next moment pressure builds around him and he gets pushed and forced into a tiny space. Gone is his sense of safety and security. Gone is the world as he/she knew it. He is frightened, insecure, and doesn’t know what is going on, he feels like he/she needs to do something but he has no idea what. Mom’s breathing, heartbeat and stress levels have changed; not even the sounds surrounding him/her are familiar and soothing anymore. He is simply terrified! Even feeling terrified is a new sensation for him/her and that makes him/her feel overwhelmed.

The pressure stops and all of a sudden the baby's safe, dark, warm, and moist environment is replaced by a piercing light. OUCH! The soothing and muted sounds are replaced by the sound of loud voices and sharp sounds like metal on metal. OUCH! No blankie - no warmth only a rush of cold air. OUCH! What happened?

What has baby done to deserve this? This must be the end!
The baby is confused, frightened out of his mind, and he has absolutely no social skills to cope with this scene. The baby cannot talk – he/she doesn’t even know that words exist, never mind having the right word for the right moment! Although babies hear language in uterus, they only hear the ebb and flow of speech- a stream of sound. Baby wonders -what now? His world has been shattered.

Can you imagine the ‘trauma’ of birth and the tremendous impact it has on the baby?
For the first time in his life he is stretched out to full length (a length he didn’t know he had) and the weirdest thing happens in his chest…he starts to breathe! Forcing his lips apart, his breathing and something else combines to produce his first cry - an experience that frightens the living daylights out of him. The stress! How does he cope with it?

He does what he/she knows best- he/she scrunches his/her eyes to hide in the darkness, and pulls himself into a little ball to feel protected in the vast space all around him. Luckily he is placed on a warm surface that enfolds and protects him like a harbor – at last, mom’s warm body and embracing arms! Baby feels warmer, safer, and can hear mommy’s heartbeat again. Instinctively the baby's mouth starts to grope around, searching to be one with mom. He/she finds her nipple and finds peace. He/she has found the first anchor in life - mom! She is the source of food, the source of comfort and the source of all knowledge. She selects what he may experience and learn. She is the creator of the baby's universe. Slowly warmth starts spreading in baby and they bond. 

This bond is the foundation of all further emotional development. It is the template for all future relationships. It is the template the baby will use to build relationships with others. It is a bond that says: You are important. You are loved and accepted. You belong. You are one of us.

First months
The chemical reactions that we call emotions (as a result of this first intense emotional experience between mom and baby) spur the brain on to do something to survive – and the only way to survive, is to learn. She needs to learn to sense her environment and respond to it positively.

Luckily the brain rises to the challenge and comes to the rescue when the intense need to sense the environment, tickles the senses (the nose, taste buds, the eyes, the ears and especially the skin) to wake up. This wake-up call results in her wailing when she smells a stranger, hears a sudden loud noise or sees a bright light. She wails and flags her arms to chase the threat away. All she wants is her anchor: mom.

The tickling of the senses excites her and makes her curious to want to see, hear, touch and to explore more. She is born to learn with enthusiasm and she is pre-programmed to do just that. All the baby needs is something to tickle his/her senses, which make the brain jump to attention and into action. When baby uses all his/her senses to smell mom, see her bopping face, hear her soothing voice, touch her soft skin, a strong picture of mom is formed. This picture creates an intense emotional reaction resulting in a feeling of safety and security. The more often this intense experience with mom is repeated, the stronger the bond between mom and baby and the firmer baby’s emotional foundation for later relationships.

Mom is baby’s universe, but slowly she becomes aware that there is more - dad. His smell is different, he looks different, his touch and voice is different and initially baby is a little afraid of him and...he/she wails and dad goes away! But luckily dad is wise enough to persist and mom realises dad and baby need more time together. Slowly baby starts to recognise dad. Dad expands her universe and with that comes that familiar warm feeling of safety and security. Dad is so big and he is so strong. His hands are a little rougher and baby’s senses tell the baby that this is something new to learn. After some time with dad her brain says: ''Yes, I know him. I want to be with him'' and a second successful relationship gives the baby a feeling of safety. To part from mom and dad is not easy, but when they put her down, it is easier for him/her when they talk to him/her a bit, then he/she can hear their voices which tell him/her – they are still there.

Mom and dad’s wisdom stimulate the baby's  senses and keep things simple and familiar in the beginning by repeating the same routine over and over, and create a strong sense of security. Now he/she is ready to take on the world and even a new caregiver if mom needs to go back to work! He/she feels confident and secure and ready to explore the world and his/her place in it. He/she is also becoming more curious about others and is well on his/her way to become emotionally intelligent.

De Jager, M. 2008. BabyGym. Welgemoed: Metz Press.

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