By Lauren McClain
How babies experience their gestation and infancy carries through their whole lives. The energy that parents bring to their child’s Primary Period helps build the foundation and blueprint for the rest of the baby’s life. That’s the underlying motivation for the 12 Guiding Principles, a guiding tool created by a group of therapists and academics who specialize in prenatal and perinatal psychology and health, designed to enhance our understanding and caring for babies.
Here are the 12 Principles laid out plainly and how to use them. Read more about this topic in the Summer issue of Pathways (issue #58).
1. The most formative years are from pre-conception to 12 months (the Primary Period).
Knowing the truth that vital aspects of a baby’s life are built from the foundation of a mother’s (and father’s) first thoughts before conception and during pregnancy creates a powerful effect on your attitude and how you care for yourself and your children. If you know that your baby can listen and feel what you’re feeling, you can decide to talk and communicate with her and build a loving relationship before you ever even lay eyes on her little body.
2. During this period, we form the Core Blueprint for our lives.
The way we experience the Primary Period forms the blueprint for how we experience the rest of our lives. We learn from our earliest days what it means to be a person, what others think of our existence, what the world is like, and our place in it.
As parents, we can honor this period by taking an honest look at our own perceptions as soon as possible after deciding to have a child. Our baby’s view of herself and her world will be shaped by your own views. What is your blueprint for being and interacting with the world around you? If there are places that often trip you up or make you feel toxic, be cognizant of those, knowing that you can consciously communicate more wholesome patterns to your child.
3. Children continue to develop, building on whatever foundation is formed.
We are always growing and building, and patterns are being reinforced and re-established all the time.
The foundations of brain development, emotional intelligence, resiliency, and self-regulation are largely gained in the first year. Special attention to this time, whether it’s past or not, can help us understand ourselves and build upon what we already have.
Particularly, our ability to form secure attachments to others depends on how well we were able to attach to our parents and caregivers during pregnancy and the first year. Spending the extra time and heart energy as parents during the Primary Period will serve our children and the world.
4. Your baby is more capable and has more advanced capacities than you know.
Babies are people. Teeny, tiny ones with limited means of communication and interaction, but fully human, sentient, loving people nonetheless. They want to connect, learn, and grow just like we do.
This means that your baby wants to have a relationship with you. Not just be cared for, but to be understood and loved, to play with you and be seen as a separate but intimately connected being. When we spend time listening to our babies, watching and loving them, feeling what they’re telling us and learning about their personhood, we teach them about respect, about their value, and the wonder of human connection, and we are given a chance to re-learn these things, too.
Gaze and wonder at the fact that your baby has abilities beyond comprehension. And the greatest human need is to feel understood and loved for who we are.
5. Relationships are the places where development occurs.
All human development occurs within relationships, and it starts at conception. The more stable and loving the relationship the baby experiences, the stronger his foundations will be for relationships throughout his life.
How is your relationship with your partner? How is your relationship with your own parents? What will your own feelings and experiences teach your baby implicitly about relationships in general?
6. The infant has innate needs beyond the physical.
Even unborn people need to feel safe, wanted, valued, and belonging to a loving relationship.
If your pregnancy is or was unwanted, talk openly to your baby about that. Talk honestly about how you want her but are struggling with overwhelm or fear and how you are working on it. Do not pretend there’s a curtain between you and your baby. Just be honest.
7. Communication happens in many ways and is key to relationships and development.
Babies want to connect with you, and they can communicate, just not in the quick and easy ways we are used to.
Spending time learning your baby’s ways of communicating—the heart feelings and tiny love messages—will help you and baby connect and grow.
8. Mother and Baby are Interconnected, not entirely separate people.
The Swahili language uses the term “Mamatoto” to refer to the mother-baby dyad and the community speaks to the mother and baby as if they were one person in the beginning.
Certainly through the Primary Period, in pregnancy and during breastfeeding, the mother and baby’s health and wholeness are intricately linked. Baby and mother share a special connection so that to take care of the baby is to take care of the mother and to take care of the mother is to take care of the baby.
Partners, if you want to care for the baby, take care of the mother.
9. Bonding in pregnancy, in the golden hour after birth, and throughout infancy is nature’s blueprint for a healthy relationship.
The birth, and the bonding that occurs immediately after, form core patterns for our lives. It’s important for baby and mother to be undisturbed to best facilitate this bonding.
Birth wherein the mother feels strong and supported with minimum intervention allows the natural hormonal and spiritual bonding process to unfold. Constant physical contact is best. If baby can’t be with mom, use skin-to-skin contact with another parent or family member. Talk to your baby; he’s a person. It’s rude and awkward to have someone hold you and coo over you without saying hi or asking how your big day is going.
10. Resolving & Healing past wounds and unmet needs.
If you (and we all do) have unresolved issues from your own Primary Period or if you have current struggles and chronic stress, it’s best to heal those before making another person. If you’re already pregnant or parenting, you can work on them now.
Do some thoughtful journaling or talk therapy concerning your own hang ups, fears and relational difficulties. What patterns keep repeating themselves in your life? That which stresses you the most tends to exist on a very basic level. It’s not the eternal housecleaning or your high-pressure job, it’s something deeper about those things—a fear or buried memory. See if you can find it and bring it to the light. This will help you live and parent more lovingly.
11. Underlying Patterns and unresolved issues can lead to physical and emotional difficulties.
When we don’t resolve or heal the more insidious issues they can lead to health issues, stress behaviors, problems with relationships, and learning and growing inhibitions.
Your children can exhibit these, too. Talk to your kids about any regrets you may have had about the way you handled their conception, pregnancy, birth, or first year. If you experienced a difficult birth together, you can talk and cry about it—even with a 2 month old or a toddler. If you were really stressed and distant during her infancy or pregnancy, explain why that was and that it wasn’t about how much you loved her or wanted to be with her. It may change you and your child’s experience.
12. Professional Support is available to help people of all ages work through issues from their Primary Period.
There are therapists who specialize in working with people of all ages of life, helping diminish patterns acquired during the Primary Period.
You and your children can benefit from working with a perinatal or prenatal psychologist who can help you identify the troubling structures built below the level of consciousness.
Lauren is a childbirth educator (Birth Boot Camp) and the author of the Breech Baby Handbook. She owns Better Birth Graphics, a shop full of practical, intuitive birth media for professionals. Her work has been published in Mothering, Holistic Parenting Magazine, Birth Issues, True Birth, Mama Birth, and elsewhere. She lives in Maryland with her family of five.