I am passionate about preventing early developmental trauma (EDT). Though, at first, many people whom I work with are not aware of the cause of their difficulties, I have never met a client who has not been wounded in the early years of their life, and whose current difficulties largely descend from this period.

In therapy, we can work to understand and soothe our early traumas, however, for me it is also vital to help prevent them in the first place. As such, I work with parents to raise awareness about EDT and how to prevent it.

With this in mind, here are ten great ways to will create a solid foundation for you and your baby:

Note: I have used the word ‘he’ below to refer to a baby, and ‘mum/mother’ to refer to the primary parent. This is just for convenience while writing and I acknowledge different situations exist.

1. Look after yourself

Have you heard the instructions on an aeroplane emergency protocol? ‘Put your own oxygen mask on first before you attempt to help anyone else’. The same goes for your mental health. It is imperative that you take good care of yourself, to enable you to be able to adequately provide for your baby.

A large proportion of EDT is caused when depleted and depressed mothers simply cannot connect with their infants. Saying this is not to judge any mother. Whilst motherhood can be wonderfully rewarding, it can also be challenging. Balance is the key. Make sure that your child’s wants and needs are understood and provided for, but also prioritise making time and space for your wants and needs. Put simply, a burnt-out mum is less able to connect with her baby.

If you find this hard to do, start by making a list of three to ten things you would love and then find a way to do them! This could be asking your partner, or a friend to care for your infant while you take a relaxing bath with salts and soothing music. Or it could be something really practical like getting yourself a super comfy breastfeeding bra, or a nutritious meal. Remember, these aren’t what you ‘should’ do, but things you want or need.

2. Seek help when you need it

More than one in ten parents becomes depressed within a year of giving birth. Do not take this personally, nor see it as a sign of weakness or failure. Postpartum depression is very common and can be caused by a host of physical and emotional issues. Do not procrastinate, or try to ignore it. Maternal depression is one of the biggest causes of EDT, and babies of depressed mothers and much more likely to have psychological problems themselves. Moreover, depression can be crippling and extremely dangerous for the person experiencing it. Help is out there. Whatever is on your mind, whatever you are feeling, trust me, others have been there, and can help. Things really can improve.

3. Understand your own history

Research has uncovered that the number one factor determining whether a child will be securely attached to his parents is the parents understanding of their own upbringing. Parents with a consistent, coherent life narrative, that is, they can describe, in detail, their upbringing in a linear, and easy to understand way tend to be secure in themselves and form secure attachments to their children.

But don’t fret, if you do not fall into this category. There are now a plethora of tools, books and therapies to support people in this area, and again, latest research shows that we can now ‘earn’ a secure attachment, even of our early experiences were less than desirable.

4. Understand your emotions

It’s a fact of life, that history tends to repeat itself. Sadly, those of us who experience difficulties growing up, are more likely to have difficulties raising our children. Though a loving intention may be set in one direction, unresolved and often unconscious emotional wounds can cause unpredictable and contrary behaviour that can be hard to control.

Getting to know yourself, through meditation and therapy can really help. For example, many people say that they never get angry, or that they don’t ‘do’ anger. All human beings have the capacity for anger. However, sometimes encounters in our early life can make it unsafe to experience our own feelings, so we split them off, or repress them. A loving, yet tired and emotionally frazzled mother may then be horrified to find herself filled with a desire to slap her crying child. Due to her past, the mother may deny this desire. However, as what we deny inevitably controls us, in doing so she cuts herself off from the capacity to move beyond it, and to her own horror, may struggle not to act the desire out. Through understanding how we work, we can accept such urges for what they are, allowing us to experience them without acting them out, whilst finding alternative ways to respond.

5. Meditate

Ever tried stopping a moving train with your bare hands? That’s just how hard it can seem to stop an emotional reaction mid-flow. I’ve worked with so many people who can see what they are doing, but find themselves powerless to make the changes they want. The key here is consciousness. The more conscious something is to you, the more choice you have over it, and just about the most effective way to raise your consciousness is through meditation. You don’t need to sit for an hour in a perfect lotus position. A simple ten minute a day practice can really help develop conscious awareness, enabling you to see and feel your thoughts and feelings, with a much greater choice of how to respond to them.

6. Co-sleep

Yes, I said “co-sleep”! For millennia, our ancestors slept with their babies to keep them safe. However, in recent history it became fashionable and a sign of affluence to give a baby his own room. Whilst great in theory, this decision has had a significantly detrimental effect on children raised in this manner. Separating a young baby from his mother goes against every part of his nature, instincts, needs and wants, which have evolved over thousands of years to ensure his best chance of survival.

Luckily, current research has shown that the incidence of SIDS is reduced if you share your room with your baby for at least the first of his life. This can be in a cot or co-sleeping. Traditional cots separate mother and child in a manner that has the potential to be very traumatic to an infant. One excellent solution to this, are next-to-bed cribs, which are basically a cribs, where one side can drop to meet the parents bed, for example the
Chicco Next To Me.

Another solution is to share your bed with your child. There has been a lot of research on this traditional ‘co-sleeping’ in recent years, with the conclusion coming out that co-sleeping is perfectly safe, as long as certain safety guidelines are strictly followed, for example never co-sleeping if you smoke, or have consumed alcohol. For full details on these guidelines see the Lullaby Trust’s advice on co-sleeping.

As part of their ‘baby friendly initiative’ UNICEF also has some great articles.

7. Carry your baby

Proponents of attachment theory have been supporting the idea of baby carriers and slings for a while now, but again, humans have been carrying their babies for thousands of years, whilst prams, strollers etc, are only a modern invention.

For some people, for example, those with back conditions that prevent carrying, prams and alike are obviously a Godsend. However, for many others, baby carrying may be a simple way to support baby bonding, whilst preventing against early separation-related trauma.

If the world of baby carriers and slings is a daunting one to you, why not check out your local ‘sling library’? These amazing places are popping up all over the place and give you the opportunity to hire and test out several different slings with expert advice.

Having tried out many carriers and slings, I can personally recommend the
Ergobaby 360.

Which I found to be by far the most comfortable, but we are all different and I’d suggest seeing what feels right for you, before you part with any cash.

8. Breast is best

Once again nature really does know best. Shockingly, around the 1950s it was being suggested the breast milk was not the best thing for a baby and that formula would be better. Thankfully, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and others, like the NHS, now all agree that breast is best. With the WHO stating “exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is the optimal way of feeding infants. Thereafter infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond”. Of course, some mums can’t breast feed and have to use formula, but most mums can in fact do a great job at breast feeding given the right support. There are now also even ‘milk banks’ that can offer donated breast milk to those that need it.

Your milk is perfectly designed to give your baby the best start in life. Not only is it packed with all the nutrients he needs, but it will also protect him from infections and diseases, and provides a wonderful opportunity for bonding.

If you struggle with breastfeeding, make sure you see a breastfeeding consultant immediately. They are available in both hospitals and the community, and can work miracles!

9. Understand your child’s emotions

Understanding your own emotions is a pretty vital part of being an effective calm parent, but understanding your infant’s emotions is equally important. Only as far back as the 20th century babies were believed to be devoid of feeling and routinely operated upon without anaesthesia. We are in a very different time now, yet still I hear people say “sometimes babies just cry”. Babies cry for a reason, but sometimes that reason can be hard to understand, leading to frustration for both infant and parents.

If you struggle to understand your baby, see if you notice how you are feeling. Through a psychological process called transference you may be picking up what your infant is feeling. However, if you find this hard to do they are a few reasons why a baby will cry; hunger, tiredness, discomfort (e.g. too hot/cold, a dirty nappy, stomach problems etc), pain, being sick, needing to be held and close to mum/dad, or simply being over/under stimulated. If your baby is crying, do a few experiments and see what helps him settle.

If all else fails, it may be that your baby simply needs to cry to process an experience or emotion, for example trauma following a difficult birth. In this case he simply needs to be held in a calm, loving way, while he expresses himself the only way he can. If you find it hard to be with your baby in this way, it’s possible his cries are triggering your own unresolved early trauma. If you are able, try to be aware of and soothe your inner reaction. If you find your reaction is too strong, and you can’t stay with yourself or your baby, it may be useful to talk to someone and get some support.

10. Ditch the monitor and simply stay close

The core of EDT is caused by a lack of connection between a baby and his mother. So much in our modern world is designed to separate us from our babies. We put babies in a cot, in a separate room, and watch them on a monitor. We push them about in prams, sit them in high-chairs and play pens and distract them with so many toys. So much of this is about making money, not happy babies.

I’m not saying all this is ‘bad’, but too much separation will have an impact on your baby. Be creative, you can replace a high-chair with picnics on the floor and whilst your baby will love some toys, just remember that his favourite toy is you!

Imagine you were a baby again, what would you like? An array of plastic holding devices, or would you rather be close to mum, where you feel warm and safe. It may take a bit more effort to keep your baby close, but it will support him to develop a secure attachment to you, which will provide him with a strong and confident foundation for the rest of his life.