GUEST POST: A Sensory World (pt2)
Joanna Grace is a Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, Author, Trainer, TEDx speaker and Founder of The Sensory Projects. She has a 5 year old son and at the time of writing was 6 months pregnant with her second child.
A baby’s world is a sensory one. They pop out (well not exactly pop, but let’s pretend things are so simple) into this world from the protective cocoon of your womb and immediately their tiny brains are inundated with sensory information.
Your communication with them will be sensory. You can use the senses to sooth them, to bond with them, and to engage and stimulate their developing brains.
In this series of three little blogs I am going to give you some starting out ideas for doing each of these things. If you get the sensory bug, as I did, then explore for more because there is a wonderful sensory world out there.
Your baby heard your voice when it was still inside of you. If your baby is deaf, or has a hearing impairment although they will not have heard your voice they will have felt its vibrations. What was it you sang during your pregnancy? Did you re-watch an old musical, did you have a favourite album playing? Don’t worry that it is not nursery rhymes – sing that, they will know it is you and enjoy it with you.
Peek-a-boo. Yes I am sure you are playing this already, it’s such a rewarding game to play with a small baby, not only does it involve you both looking into each others eyes and getting to know and recognise each other’s expressions it taps into a strange little quirk in our visual sense. We have a reflex in our vision for faces. Your baby will have been born with around a hundred reflexes, most of these will wear off over the first few months of their life, that reflex for clinging to your finger will most likely have faded by the time they are six months old, but the face reflex stays. Our eyes are reflexively drawn to faces around us. The wonderful thing about this reflex is your baby is born with it, meaning peek-a-boo is a game their brains are wired to play, they do not need to learn it, their body knows it already.
Top of my list for senses important in bonding would be smell. Our bodies produce two types of smells: 1) the stinky kind, those we think of as smells, this could be your perfume, your shampoo, or the smell of 3 day old BO as you haven’t yet worked out how to wash and rear a tiny human (don’t worry you will make it in the end, this is – as so many things are – normal for parenthood). 2) Pheromones. Your pheromones do not smell in the way other smells smell, we pick up on them using our olfactory sense but we do not ‘smell’ them in the way that we ordinarily use that word.
Pheromones are enormously important for bonding, your baby will for the first twelve weeks of its life produce a powerful pheromone from the top of their head, so sniff that as much as you can. It is nature’s marker for love. You also produce pheromones from your head, neck and armpits (as well as the other places you might expect). Smelling your pheromones is singularly the most reassuring smell a baby can access. And as smell is unique amongst the senses, being the only sense processed directly by the limbic brain (the emotional brain) it is exceptionally powerful when it comes to securing relationships.
Should you and your baby need to be parted, for nice or not so nice reasons (a friend has offered to babysit for a few hours, or your baby needs a stay in hospital) you can maintain their olfactory bonding in an improvised or planned way. The improvised option would be to send your slept on pillow case, or a worn t-shirt with the baby, these items, especially if made from natural fibres will have collected your pheromone scents upon them. A planned option is to have squares of a natural fibre fabric, or even a small cuddly toy made again out of natural fibres (so things like wool, cotton, silk and linen will pick up pheromone scents way better than polyester) that you preload with your pheromones. Now that might sound weird but it really is very simple to do, if it’s a piece of fabric you can just wear it against your skin for a few hours – tuck it into your bra or hook it under a bra strap. If it is a toy then you would sleep with it in your bed for a night. It helps to have a few so that one can be gathering scents whilst the other is being used to soothe your baby. Making these items can be a nice little project for the final weeks of pregnancy when you are so huge that getting out of the chair feels like mission impossible.
For more information about the sensory world take a look at Jo's book Sensory-being for Sensory Beings and visit www.TheSensoryProjects.co.uk