Symbiotic Period is the first 6-8 weeks in a newborns life that have a significant impact on their overall development depending on the level of care provided by the mother/primary caregiver. The mother-child relationship is established through the following three forms of contact:
- Holding- The body language from the primary caregiver as she holds it provides the newborn information about their caregiver’s attitude and feelings towards the baby. When a newborn is held with loving kindness it provides them a reassurance that they are accepted and loved.
“Much research has shown that the extent and quality of care the mother provides the child are strongly conditioned by the amount of time they spent together during the first days after birth.”- Dr. Montanaro.
- Handling- A caregiver’s positive involvement while changing, dressing and bathing the newborn becomes another vital tool for the baby’s smooth transition into their new environment. By involving a newborn in his/her care routine by slowing down and letting them know what is going to happen to them next helps the baby feel secure and respected.
- Feeding- Breast milk is recommended as the most optimum food for an infant. Apart from it being the most appropriate biological food, it also gives the infant and mother a sense of unity which helps in building secure attachment. If, you need to bottle fed, it is recommended that the primary caregiver feeds the infant during this period.
If all these experiences have been positive during the Symbiotic Period then the necessary integration between the child’s mind and body has happened and this becomes the moment of their psychological birth. The profound meaning of what happens in this period will have an effect throughout life.
Here are some Montessori guidelines that ease the transition during the Symbiotic Period:
Observing, Responding and Following the child– It is important to pay attention and be intuitive about our babies. A fantastic aid in the beginning few weeks while we got to know and understand each other was the Dunston baby language. All babies have a similar voice/ cry for the same reason. Once we understood the reason for the crying, we responded immediately.
“This basic trust produces optimistic individuals who will perceive the world as a beautiful place and who believe, no matter how difficult circumstances become, that external help can be found.”- Dr. Montanaro.
Freedom of movement is crucial from birth. So minimal or if possible don’t use of mittens, pacifier, swaddle, containers (swings, bouncers). Instead baby uses the floor bed and movement mat on the floor to have a complete view of their environment and freedom to move their body. It is also crucial that their “points of reference”, which is their memory during their time in the womb, are always available for a smooth transition during this period. These are mother’s voice, her heartbeat and freedom to touch their own body.
Importance of concentration– A newborn has an immense capacity to concentrate for long periods of time and Montessori mobiles are a great aid to concentration. The role of an adult is to not disturb the baby once they start concentrating. The scientific sequence to Montessori mobiles is developmentally appropriate to a child’s growing visual sense. Here is the sequence we followed:
Birth to 3 weeks- the child absorbs the environment, while placed on a movement mat .
4th week- introduced Munari mobile (black and white)
“It is our capacity to become altered by sustained attention to our surroundings that is the most spiritual quality of human beings.”-Montessori from the Start
Respect the child- Respect is a crucial part of the Montessori philosophy. Some ways to respect a newborn are:
-Follow the child: It is developmentally not possible to spoil a baby! So when a baby wants to cluster feed or be held for long periods, follow the child because that’s what they need to feel secure in this new world.
– Communicate and involve them during personal cares: Letting them know what is about to happen to them before actually doing it lets them know what to expect and lays the foundation for their self-esteem and respect in relationships.
– Respect their need for personal space: It is recommended to keep visitors at a minimum in these first few weeks. Bonding as a family and keeping this personal space is crucial and eases their transition in the new environment. Close family and friends use a topponcino (security pillow) to carry the newborn so the child is handled securely.
Adjust the environment- Adjusting the home environment to be a little warmer, lights little dimmer and less noise will provide the child a smooth transition from their life in the womb.
“The family is certainly a prime determinant for the positive development of the child. The parents should therefore understand that they hold the key to the development of a happy, integrated, strong human being.” –Dr. Montanaro
The first few weeks are crucial and challenging period not just for the baby but also for the new mother/primary caregiver, who has a great responsibility of settling the baby while still recovering from birth. This article is only a guideline because every child and family works differently and have diverse circumstances. Along with a primary caregiver’s intuition and Montessori principles of following the child, respecting the child, observing and responding appropriately and freedom of movement a newborn settles in their new environment with ease.