Last February I attended a conference in Arlington, Texas, on perinatal mood anxiety, the new name for post partum depression.
One of the lectures I attended was: “When do Babies Have Thoughts?” It was fascinating. The lecturers presented evidence that concluded babies do not have “thoughts” until they are around three and half to four months. They do start purposeful smiles around two months, which are wonderful. Smiles are not thoughts, they are a sign of recognition.
Instinct is what drives babies, especially in those first few months.
Their instinct is to survive. They have needs, which help them survive. They are simple: they need to be fed, held and be warm. These are needs not wants.
What does that have to do with Perinatal Mood Anxiety? So much. It is natural for parents to perceive their baby has thought processes, because we do as humans. That is one of the things that separates us from other mammals. As humans we tend to take simple thoughts and make them complicated. I hear all the time comments such as: my baby doesn’t like me, my baby is greedy, my baby is sad, my baby doesn’t like the taste of my milk.
I am now convinced the lecture concluding babies do not have “thoughts” until around four months is correct.
When you take away the perception of a baby thinking someone or something is good or bad in the early months, it frees up feelings of hopelessness and guilt.
Let’s discuss a baby’s brain. When a baby is born, their brain weighs about 13 ounces. The average adult brain weighs around three pounds. Our brains grow and develop connections over a life time.
As the brain grows, brain cells multiply, mature, migrate to different parts of the brain.
The cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls the coordination of muscles, doubles in volume by three months. The neurons in the cerebellum will be what the baby needs for motor control and movement. These are key skills for babies as they explore their world. Interestingly babies do not usually start rolling over from side to side until around three to four months.
We advise pregnant women when they are pregnant to not drink alcohol. This is because we know alcohol consumption affects the growth of the fetal brain. A lot happens to the brain during pregnancy. WIC, a government program to help women and children, has foods that promote growth from conception to age five. It has had an impact on the not only the physical bodies of millions of women and children, it has also helped their brains. What a women consumes during pregnancy has a direct impact on her baby’s brain, which then impacts the child’s entire life.
The brain is the command center of the human body.
As the neurons and brain cells make connections, the brain develops. These connections enable us to move, think, communicate and do just about everything. In early childhood at least one million new neural connections are made every second, more than at any other time in our life.
These connections or synapses, are what drive a baby to develop motor skills. When you take a baby for a well-baby check-up, your care provider is going to be as interested in what things your baby is doing as much as how much they weigh.
The development of motor skills is timed with the development of the brain. I love watching how determined babies are to learn to crawl, to stand up, to roll over, to sit up. I imagine the connections in their precious brain is what is driving them to achieve these skills.
Meeting those three basic needs of being fed, held and warm is what a baby needs. Some need to be held more than others. They are born individuals.
Becoming a parent is a process, not just an event. Allow yourself or someone you care about who has given birth, time to go through the process. Meeting the basic needs of a baby will go a long way to reducing perinatal mood anxiety.
Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Healthy Living in the Bradenton Herald. Contact her at [email protected]