The first three months after the child is born can be considered as the fourth trimester as it helps the baby transition slowly to the outside world with the help of the mother/caregiver. The Montessori approach right from the birth makes this transition smooth for both the parents and the newborn.
The Montessori way is all about treating the child with love, kindness and respect, while giving the needs and requirements of a child at most importance irrespective of how old the child is.
Many things change really quick for a newborn, at birth. The mother is the first source of contact the newborn has to the world. Her warmth and body sounds are the first experiences of a child. Therefore immediate skin-to-skin is very important. This has a lot of benefits and reassures the baby of the mother’s presence.
The child needs a calm and relaxing environment which resembles the womb; it should not be loud or over stimulating.
The Symbiotic Period
“It follows that at the beginning of his life the individual can accomplish wonders – without effort and quite unconsciously.” – Dr. Maria Montessori
The first few weeks of a newborn’s life are referred to as The Symbiotic Period. Their primary need in this phase is adjusting to life outside the womb. Therefore it is necessary to provide rich stimulation at this time (remember not to over stimulate). Every newborn will take his/her time to understand the environment and process the different sensory stimulation.
The newborn in this period is not ready for an independent life and only with the help of the mother is the child able to explore the new environment. As much the mother is eager to see, touch and hold the child, the child equally wants to be accepted, held and cuddled by the mother.
The newborn is now able to directly feel the presence of the person he/she has known for so long. The place is different but the person is the same. Therefore it is really important to respect the newborn’s requirement to extend the environment as much as possible.
This period of constant contact between the mother and child, gives the newborn a sense of security. The child enjoys the smell of the mother, the contact of her skin, the warmth of her body and the sound of her heart beat. These experiences are imprinted in their minds establishing a wonderful bond between the two. We all love the smell of newborns, don’t we? Those tiny fingers, little toes, the feel of the soft skin, the little coos, it makes me miss them already.
Here are some important factors to remember, which helps in making this transition smooth.
Breastfeeding– Newborns generally nurse round the clock. And it is not just out of hunger; it’s also because they want to be held, cuddled and their need to feel secure. One can never spoil a baby by holding them too much!
The newborns have a wonderful self-regulating mechanism which works perfectly. Therefore, once the child has reached his/her birth weight, they need to feed when hungry and sleep when needed. Timing feeds can disturb the child. It is often said “Watch the child, not the clock”.
Communication- Though we may feel that all that the newborn does is eat and sleep, there are a few wakeful periods where the newborn is attentive and observing.
Looking into the baby’s eyes and talking to your baby helps you bond with baby. We can also notice how attentively the child listens to human voices and any other sounds in the environment.
Line of vision- The newborn is very attentive and is capable of concentration and hence it is very important to provide sufficient space for unhindered movement and line of vision. The newborn needs to be able to focus on objects without being interrupted.
Thus, it is necessary to keep stimulating their vision by talking to them, smiling at them and playing with them, well, within their field of vision, which is around 8-12 inches. The child will focus on your face for a few seconds as you smile, this is the perfect time to stay close and bond with your baby.
Freedom of movement– In the womb the child is always active and able to move freely. The newborn is also capable of movement although slow. Therefore it is very important not to restrict the movements in any way.
Provide opportunities for your baby to move arms and legs freely.
Swaddling– Swaddling restricts the freedom of movement. Swaddling too tight can lead to hip dysplasia.
Swaddling can also lead to baby sleeping for longer periods missing the hunger cues. Therefore it is often best to avoid swaddling or at least keep the swaddle loose.
We did swaddle our son but with our daughter, we completely skipped it.
Co-sleeping –There are multiple theories for and against co-sleeping but personally I feel as long as the mother is not a very sound sleeper or under the influence of alcohol or some prescribed medication it is completely safe. It is important to keep away any pillows or loose blankets from the child.
In fact this way, both the mother and the baby get more sleep and the baby has unlimited access to the breast. We have co-slept right from the day we got back from the hospital. We never used a cradle/crib for my daughter.
Clothing- We need to dress the newborn appropriately so that it doesn’t impede his/her motor ability.
Clothing should be light and something that can be easily put on and taken off, a soft cotton shirt with front open buttons is a good choice. We also avoided using socks and mittens. The child explores the surrounding by his/her touch, which aids in their development.
Sense of order- Every baby needs a sense of order. It is actually very surprising how babies are able to relate to things.
We had a feeding chair and during the day this is where I generally fed my daughter. Eventually, I could observe that the moment I would sit on the chair, she would stop fussing, as she could anticipate what was going to happen next.
Thus, by respecting the needs of the child and offering a prepared environment suiting his/her needs, we can help the child transition into the outer environment with a more secure feeling and allowing him/her to explore the world around them at their own pace.