15 Nov 2018

Baby's first year: advice from hospital play specialist Nicola Woollaston

From Nine To Noon, 11:27 am on 15 November 2018

Once your baby's on the move, the easiest way to identify potential hazards around the house is to do a video tour with your phone held at knee height, says Nicola Woollaston, author of the new book Nurturing Your Baby’s Potential.

"You get a very different perspective of what's actually accessible and available."

Nicola Woollaston is a mother of four, trained early childhood educator and the team leader of Starship Hospital's play specialists.

She tells Kathryn Ryan she meets many people who have had little contact with babies when they become parents themselves.

The image many people have of a baby is a three to six-month-old, Woollaston says – the age where babies are delightful, responsive and often free and easy with laughs and smiles.

However, a newborn is quite a different creature and parenting one can feel like a seemingly endless job of managing seemingly endless crying.

Extended family is often scattered around these days, so new parents often have less family support available than previous generations had, Woollaston says.

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New parents who are competent and confident in their work life can some sometimes struggle the most with not being able to "figure out" how to put an end to their baby's crying, she says.

"People get a bit concerned - 'if I leave my baby crying they're getting awash in stress chemicals and it's really going to damage their brain'."

While not responding to a baby's cries repeatedly over long periods can be harmful, some crying is normal and simply the baby's way of communicating, Woollaston says.

She recommends investigating the situation thoroughly before worry can set in.

"Are they overtired? Are they hungry? When was the last time they were fed? Are they wet? Are they uncomfortable? Too hot? Too cold?"

Playing with a baby will help them build trust in their environment, she says.

"Down the track, it gives them the confidence to move slightly away from you and do a bit of exploring on their own."

Reading to a baby – paying joint attention to a shared point of reference – will also help foster their communication skills.

However, it's also okay - and even healthy - for a baby to play independently sometimes, she says.

"Babies actually need time to be able to stretch and explore space, move around on the floor, wave their arms and have that opportunity just to be … because that's how they learn how their body works."

Her advice: do your best, but don't get caught up trying to be a perfect parent.

"If you do most of the things right most of the time and forgive yourself the rest then you'll have a brilliant time."

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