Importance of symbiotic period
Jul 08, 2023
Many of us would have read about the importance and the development of the baby in the womb for 3 trimesters. We therefore also appreciate the indelible bond that pregnancy and birth create between the mother and child. Dr. Maria Montessori further goes on to talk about the fourth trimester in detail, focusing on the importance of the bond between the mother and baby during this time. Dr Montanaro, a key contributor to the AMI Assistants to Infancy training programs, and a psychiatric doctor, calls the period between 0-8 weeks from birth- a period of symbiotic life.
Symbiosis refers to a mutual attachment between two beings who need each other to satisfy an integral part of their life; in fact their very survival could depend upon it. For the baby this is surely true- the mother’s smell, warmth, love, sounds of her heartbeat and voice and supply of milk are points of reference in an unfamiliar world and provide safety, warmth, love and nutrition. The baby is attached to the primary caregiver with utmost dependency for survival.
The mother on the other hand does depend on having the baby close to offer her reassurance that the baby is still very much a part of her- though not literally. She is not and should not be overly dependent or attached to the baby for life and for joy. However, being close to the newborn baby provides her with benefits like- better bonding with the baby, aids with the latching process for suckling, and compensates for the feeling of physical and emotional loss of the baby, who she has nurtured for the last 9 months- both physically and mentally, from her abdomen.
Note that while it is possible to provide love, nutrition, and security through other methods of parenting and feeding, we are talking about how we could ideally ease the transition of the newborn from the womb into the world and understand the needs of the caregivers as well.
The baby’s interactions with the mother during the symbiotic period are important for many reasons:
Emotional Bond: The first relationship that the baby forms with the primary caregivers is crucial. The baby must feel safe and secure in this new world and be reassured that her cries for help will be met with love and gentleness. This acts as a base for all further relationships as the baby grows up. The father too who is dealing with a new change in family dynamics and is trying to bond with the baby should have a lot of close contact with the baby to form a lasting bond and trust with each other. The same goes for siblings if any- getting used to being around the baby and the baby’s routines is a great stepping stone to forming a positive bond with the baby.
Trust: The baby develops trust in the caregiver and if the initial attachment is a positive one, the emotional and physical detachment will happen more naturally for the child as they grow.
Social & Cognitive Development: A baby’s eyes can see only high-contrast images till 3 months and their eyesight extends to a range of 20-30 cm. This means that holding your baby close and speaking to them, feeding them will help your baby work on their visual tracking skills as they look at your eyes! Babies are also likely to understand faces better and react with a smile even as young as 1-2 months. When they are held safely by the parents and close family members, they develop an understanding of the world around them, get used to the daily order of their routine and new voices. They feel safe and secure!
As parents or friends and family who are around new parents, let us remind ourselves to provide space and time for the primary caregivers to slow down, connect and worry less about other mundane tasks. Let us step in to help and not intrude in between this time of connection and symbiosis between the mother and child.