- where the baby has time to adjust to living outside the womb
- where we get to know each other, and
- when we cocoon ourselves a little from the outside world to focus on developing the important attachments for us to become a family unit.
This is not only valuable for the first child in the family, but with the addition of every family member.
What is symbiosis?
I first heard about symbiotic relationships in biology class in high school. A quick biology lesson then. The word symbiosis means 'a life together'. A mutually beneficially symbiotic relationship is when two organisms depend on each other and both organisms benefit. For example; coral and algae have a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship - the coral provides algae with shelter, the algae gives coral reefs their colours and supplies both organisms with nutrients.
So how does this apply to bonding with your child at birth? In Montessori, we like to think of the first 6-8 weeks of the baby's life as a period of symbiosis. We welcome the baby into our home, into our lives. We adapt to the baby, and the baby to us.
Symbiotic life with a newborn
Mutually beneficial. After birth, the baby relies on the parents for food and care. The mother provides the perfect food for the baby and, in return, feeding helps to contract the mother's uterus. Holding the baby also helps the mother replace the feeling of the empty belly where the baby once was carried. The other parent is also seen as an important part of the symbiotic relationship, as protection of, and for the physical care of, the family unit.
Bonding. We touch and hold our baby and gaze into their eyes getting to know each other. During (breast)feeding this bonding with the mother develops further. The other parent can also bond with the child through touch, smell, auditory and visual ways - think of daily care activities, as well as singing, playing music and conversation.
Trust. The baby learns to trust in the outside world by having their needs met, being held close, and having warm physical contact. In addition, their parent's voices provide a point of reference which they recognize from in utero. Gentle handling when dressing, changing, bathing and caring for the child builds trust in the world and also helps them build a picture of their body schema.
Some tips for during the symbiotic period
Care for the parents during the symbiotic period is very important. This can be more difficult when we live in different cities from family or if we do not live in a close community. Ask friends, families from school, your own parents, or even neighbors to help with preparing meals, offering some help cleaning, or helping to care for older children.
I currently live in the Netherlands where each family has a kraamzorg visit their home every day for the first week after a baby is born. They help to support the parents including help with cleaning the house, caring for the baby and older children, and buying groceries. They can also help if needed with advice about breastfeeding and baby care.
It is not necessary to do many outings in these first weeks. The baby is still adjusting to the outside world and in the home we can adjust the environment to be sensitive to this - we adjust the temperature to be a little warmer in the first days and the lights a little dimmer.
We like to use a topponcino when handling the baby in these first weeks to prevent the baby from being over-stimulated. The topponcino is like a small quilt which can be placed under the baby and will absorb some of the stimulation the baby would otherwise receive when being passed around and which also absorbs the scent of the baby and the parents, becoming a point of reference for the new baby.
After the symbiotic period
At the end of the 6-8 weeks of symbiotic life, we often see the child is already very different - they begin to look around during feeding; they are becoming aware of sounds, other family members and 'the outside world'; and they have an increasing awareness of themselves.
They will begin to explore from this safe starting place into the wider world. The best possible foundation has been laid.
"Developing the right type of attachment during the symbiotic period paves the way for natural detachment and psychological birth happens." - Dr Montanaro, MD, Understanding the Human Being.
The wisdom of the symbiotic period allows us to keep things simple for these early weeks. To slow down. To connect. To get to know each other and our rhythms. To live in symbiosis. In a mutually beneficial relationship with baby and parent/s.
Thank you to Simone for sharing with us. You can read more from Simone at The Montessori Notebook.