Thursday, October 01, 2009

Don't talk to your baby! Blackberry instead.

She's just a little monkey at this point anyway.

The guilt trips that new mothers give themselves for not talking or playing enough with their infants is ridiculous — an unwarranted. Take for instance a mother of a 2 month old I know who put a sign up over her TV reminding her to talk to her daughter instead of watching TV while she breastfeeds her. Today I was reminded of this while reading a New York Times opinion piece, 'From Birth, Engage Your Child With Talk,' on my iPhone while sitting next to my baby, who was alas, not asleep. While I could have spent the entire time talking to her while I was in the car waiting for Mr. Field Notes to return with a new supply of bulk nuts from the grocery store, I instead chose to read news on my NYT's iPhone app. I admit, I felt a twinge of guilt, but it quickly dissipated.

A 2-month-old is developmentally incapable of attaching meaning to what you say; it's far more important to just interact, which you can certainly do when your baby is in the mood. Babies don't always want to interact with their parents, and they definitely let you know when they are interested. The first sign is that they return or hold eye contact. Sometimes they just want to observe stimuli around them and sad to say it, but your face isn't always the most interesting thing in the room and certainly isn't when you're breastfeeding — then it is 99% about the boob.

When not eating, Baby Field Notes finds the overhead fan appealing. The dark blades stand out in stark contrast to the white ceiling. Ditto for the shelves on the wall. She will look at them, relaxed and attentive, after she's eaten, that is if she's still awake. I rarely talk to her while I feed her. She can't respond back anyways. Bonding over a meal while talking is something reserved for a later developmental stage. There's time enough to talk during other activities (like during diaper changes), so I say, go ahead and Blackberry or iPhone or text or do whatever you do while breastfeeding baby and don't feel guilty about it.

I don't spend much time 'talking' to Baby Field Notes and when do, I often make the sounds an ape would make to her infant — soft oooohs and aaaahs, some high pitched squeals and staccato giggle grunts too — because those are the sounds she responds to. I don't think that's an accident. At this stage, she really is more simian than human. I do speak to her, but I don't always enunciate, e.g. "I wub you," and I don't always use perfect grammer, e.g. "Oh, you so cute, cute, cute, so cute you!" As long as they are exposed to language during the critical period from birth to age 7 or so, children can speak and can acquire perfect grammar and syntax — the hallmarks of language. In fact, studies have shown that this "motherese" language pattern of using short, simplified sentences, repeating words often, and using high pitched intonation is a human universal, probably because it helps in language acquisition.

For some evidence that infants are more simian than human at this early stage of development, one need only look at the shape of their vocal tracts. Apes and adult humans have a noticeably different layout of the larynx (voice box), pharynx (throat) and tongue, as you can see in the diagram that I colored so you can more easily make them out. Compared to other apes, humans have an elongated pharynx (red) and a lower larynx (purple) that is situated below rather than behind the tongue (pink). The image to the right shows the layout of a human infant's vocal tract. You can see that it more closely resembles the nonhuman ape anatomy. As an infant matures, these parts shift toward their final, adult human form — and with it, the ability to make the full range of human sounds. Similar structural changes occur in the infant's developing brain. As the infant's tongue develops more coordination and control, so too do parts of the infant's brain related to speech.

At the tender age of 2 months and for several months more, babies can't understand speech, let alone what the heck you're carrying on about when you name all the random stuff in your field of view (as the woman in the NYT article did). Babies can only judge whether or not you respond in a timely and appropriate fashion to their calls for help — so go ahead and take care of that email, get caught up on those TV shows you enjoy, read that magazine article — and tend to that crying baby by feeding her when she's hungry, changing her diaper when it's wet and saying silly things to make her smile when she's bored. There will be plenty of time later for conversations.


Becky said...

For the record, my sign said "Go PLAY with your daughter," not "Go TALK to your daughter." :)

I really enjoyed reading this, actually. It's interesting to hear what other moms think about something that I've waffled about recently.

Little Miss loves her changing table, and we do a lot of conversing during and after a diaper change. Especially in the morning when she's most rested and in her best mood. I also try to do tummy time by getting down on the floor with her occasionally, and that sometimes keeps her interested for longer periods of time.

So your thoughts on not bothering to talk to your baby while you feed are indeed well-founded. I don't talk to her during that time, either. It's the only time I have to myself, and it's not even really to myself. Right now she's napping (a rare thing during the day) and I'm using this "me time" to catch up on blogs, post on FaceBook and attempt to post to my own blog, as well.

Other than rare times such as this, really the only time I get to do what I want to do is while I'm breastfeeding Little Miss, which is when I turn on the TV and grab my Blackberry.

Really what that sign was for was to get me to make sure the TV was off when I WASN'T feeding her. No need to expose her to unnecessary loud noises, flashing lights, and foul language more than I already do while she's eating. So instead of turning on the TV that one day, I read to her while she ate instead.

I'm sure you're right, that she has no clue what I'm saying and can attach no meaning to my words. (Or even recognize that they are words.) But the fact remains that no matter how you look at it, it's far more beneficial for me to spend time with my daughter than it is for me to watch the rest of a show that won't change my life for the better no matter how you look at it.

And yes, this is all a personal preference. But I am extremely interested in how other parents have decided to do things, so your blog was very intriguing. We learn from each other, right? We get ideas from what other people do or say. Thanks for the post!

Field Notes said...

Thanks Becky! I completely agree that it is interesting and very useful to learn what other parents do, especially when it's different.

There is a lot to learn from each other. I am so glad for blogs allowing us to do that — and facebook too. While breastfeeding, they are my mainstay!

Every so often when I switch sides for Baby FN to eat, I position her so she can see what I am doing at the computer. She definitely is interested in the screen and when new pages load.

And I know what you mean about breastfeeding me time. It is 'me' time, but it's also not. I am running out of things that are fun to do while my butt's plastered to a chair.

What are we going to do when they are crawling around??!