Neonatal Behaviour  

Until a couple of decades ago, the newborn baby was considered to only be a passive recipient of stimuli from his environment and from his caregiver.  Fortunately studies have proven that it is not the case and that the newborn has a wonderful capacity to control these levels of stimuli.  By means of changing his state (crying, drowsy, alert), the baby shows his ability to handle or shut out unwanted stimuli.  Not only does he handle and shut out stimuli, but is also able to utilize it to organize himself around it.  Each newborn has an individual threshold and if he can utilize it to organize his neurological system, it sets the basis for future learning.  An infant, who is overloaded, will defend himself when stimuli exceed his threshold and no learning will take place.

Preemies and babies from a long term NICU environment are especially vulnerable because of their immature neurological systems and the repeated exposure to abnormal external stimuli (pain, handling, noise, light).  This can result in sleeping difficulties, difficulty with self regulation and erratic state changes.  Colour changes, hiccupping, yawning, sneezing and spitting up are but a few signs of stress that can be observed in the baby who has difficulty handling certain stimuli.

For the parents of newborns, their most important job is to try and understand the complexity of the babyís needs and to figure out the why, what, when and how over a 24 hour period.  The fact that we can observe the infantís states of consciousness and the way he uses the changing thereof to control his environment, respond to it appropriately, gives caregivers and parents new insight into the babyís mind.  Early parent-infant relationships are encouraged as they now develop respect for the baby as an individual and understand babyís own cues on how to handle him/her.

At baby@Therapy we follow the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale created by Professor of Paediatrics T. Berry Brazelton from Harvard Medical School, Boston.  It is the most comprehensive examination of neonatal behaviour available and is used in both clinical and research settings around the world.  It can also be used to study the effects of intrauterine deprivation, maternal substance use, preterm birth to name but a few.  The scale is designed to examine babies from as early as 37 weeks to 8 weeks post term.  It is an enriching experience as it also helps to promote early parent-child relationships.

By: Marna Nel    011-869 3137
Reg Physiotherapist             



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