A father called to ask what he and his wife can do to help their new baby adapt to home-life. Baby Brodie had just arrived home—in an ambulance—from having lived in the hospital in the intensive care unit for the last 327 days, 8 hours and 16 minutes. Brodie and his twin sister, Audrey, were three and half months premature. Audrey died just 28 hours later. Brodie who weighted only one pound and three ounces at birth has only known the four walls of the hospital, an army of nurses and doctors who along with the parents fought to keep him alive.
Brodie, now eleven months old and seventeen pounds has feeding tubes, breathes aided by a respirator connected via a trache and several other life support accouterments attached to his fragile body, tethering him to life. Brodie will have to be on most of these life support devices for the next year of his life. His parents and Brodie’s older sister are having to learn how to help him explore and cope with this new world around him while they care for him around-the-clock.
These parents are loving, caring adults who want to do everything they can to enhance their at-risk and health-challenged child’s development. These are my suggested tips:
- Your attitudes of love and support and willingness to devote time and attention to Brodie are paramount in setting the stage for helping him grow and development.
- Repeat these activities consistently and at every opportunity.
1. EYE CONTACT – Look into his eyes as often as you are in his presence—and be sure to smile.
2. VOICE – Your voice is powerful. A father’s voice and a mother’s voice are very different. This gives your baby two ways to be stimulated and to get to know you. Talk and sing and chatter to him. Speak in a regular tone as you would to each other. But, don’t be afraid to talk “baby talk” because this is a mode of affection. It will soon give way to normal speech when the baby gets a little older. You will notice that mother’s voice often rises about an octave when talking to Brodie. Dad’s voice will remain about the same as his everyday tone.
3. TOUCH – One of the most powerful ways to stimulate your baby’s brain while making a very personal connection is gentle touch. When you are attending to him, stroke his forehead, his head and his cheeks. When you stroke his cheek, notice if he smiles. In the beginning, the smile is a natural reflex, but it soon becomes a genuine human connection. Touch his fingers, gently massaging each one—and then his feet and toes. Stroking the bottom of his feet with your finger will be stimulating, and watch for foot movements. When he is able to be held, cuddle and snuggle him as often as you want. He will let you know when he’s had enough.
When you combine these three types of interactions with your baby, you will be establishing a life-long relationship through bonding and attachment while stimulating his brain and body to respond as soon as he is developmentally ready. Of course, you will need to be patient as Brodie may require a longer time to respond than you would hope. Even though he may not be able to express himself—even with coos or babbling—he will assimilate, or take into his brain, your powerful messages.