What Babies Need


By Betsy Stalcup, founder and executive director of Healing Center International

Babies need parents who delight in them, understand the stages of child development, and are fully mature. Let me unpack this a bit.

When we are glad to be with our children, when we delight in them the way God delights in us, it builds joy. A baby‘s brain grows primarily during the first two years of life in response to joyful and peaceful interactions with his or her mother, or primary caregiver. Research has shown that a female caregiver is best because when women bond with babies they become more sensitive and empathic nurturers whereas when men bond with babies they become more playful. Babies need a lot of nurture when they are very young. (They need dad, too, and their need for dad will increase as they get older.)

Research is now showing that the first two years of life is absolutely critical. Pediatricians have dubbed this “The first 1000 days” because they start the countdown at conception. This is the period of time when a baby‘s brain is growing and when attachment styles are determined.

Babies need nurturing, consistent care to develop secure attachments. Babies need a caregiver who will bond with them, who will attune to their needs, and who is consistently delighting in them.

Understanding child development is also crucial, for example, for the first six weeks a baby bonds primarily through smell, taste and temperature regulation. It’s important that mom and dad not wear any artificial scents during this time so the baby can learn how his or her parents smell.

Babies are designed to be breast-fed. Taste is important to a tiny infant. Skin to skin contact is also ideal for bonding because it helps with temperature regulation and smell. Baby wearing is a good idea because it keeps baby warm and close to their caregiver. Later, eye contact and voice tones will become primary for bonding.

A wise parent learns about the stages of development. Brain growth happens in spurts in response to social interactions with parents and if a growth spurt is missed it can be hard to recover.

Small babies have no ability to regulate their emotions and depend on their parents to help them quiet and return to joy. I’ve seen adults accuse babies of being manipulative but that is simply impossible, it is way beyond their capabilities at this stage of life

Lastly, babies need parents who are mature. Hopefully parents start at adult maturity and raising a child brings them to parent maturity.

Dr. Jim Wilder writes in Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You, "You know that you are at the parent stage, when you can sacrificially care for your children without resenting the sacrifice or expecting to receive anything for your efforts."

Sadly, most American adults have not reached parent or even adult maturity. I understand. I was very easily triggered as a mother. I needed help from people in my life who were more mature. Help learning to regulate my emotions. Prayer ministry where I was stuck in anger or shame. The good news is that God can redeem anything! He uses the things we suffered to mold and shape us and he is always with us in our suffering—feeling what we are experiencing and caring deeply for us. He wants to comfort us.

I dream of a world where vibrant communities and spiritual families lead the way in raising healthy children. Will you join me in that dream?

For more, check out Jim Wilder, Ed Khouri, Erica Komisar, and Allan Schore. I learned what is in this blog post from them.