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The family way
7:00am Saturday 16th June 2012 in NewsXtra
Baby expert Vivien Sabel explains how her new book The Blossom Method gives parents the skills to understand the language of the newborn, and how to talk back so baby feels understood.
By Lisa Salmon.
If parents could talk and understand baby language, looking after a baby would be so much easier.
In the past, such communication was simply in a parent's dreams.
But now, a baby expert has set down in black and white how to understand what a baby says, and how parents can 'talk' back to them.
Such communication has been named The Blossom Method by the woman who discovered it, Vivien Sabel, who has written a book of the same name to describe in detail how it works.
Essentially, the method teaches parents how to recognise and understand their baby's non-verbal communication, which is expressed through unique movements, facial expressions, sounds, and mouth, lip and tongue shapes (tongue-talking), many of which usually go unnoticed.
Sabel, who named the method after her own daughter, Blossom, insists: "It is possible to hear a baby's 'words', but only if you are 'listening'."
In addition, Sabel's new book explains how parents can 'talk' back to their baby, by mirroring expressions and tongue and mouth shapes.
She explains: "Newborns stick out their tongues all the time, in different ways to indicate different things.
"They stick it out in a flaccid, central position when they're looking for food, and they slide their tongue from east to west on their bottom lip when they're searching for something."
Sabel encourages parents to mirror such tongue movements if they're made by their baby, so the child feels their parent knows what they're trying to say.
"They've 'spoken', and you indicating the same message back shows you can hear them. Then they'll do it back to you etc, and a little dance of achievement is going on."
Sabel developed the method through having similar 'conversations' with her own daughter, explaining that she would try her on her breast, or perhaps see if she wanted her nappy changing, and would eventually be able to identify what each signal given by the baby meant.
In a nutshell, the method uses a three-step approach: :: Observing - noticing tongue, lip and mouth movements, facial expressions and body language, and recognising any special needs associated with these movements.
:: Mirroring - Showing baby you've heard what he/she has said by copying their expression/movement.
:: Responding - acting on the message baby is giving, and thus reassuring him/her that you've understood.
As well as identifying when a baby is hungry, thirsty, bored, has wind, is in discomfort, excited etc, the method can also help recognise early signs of illness, says Sabel.
This is particularly obvious, she says, when the smell of a baby's breath changes and may become 'glue-like'.
Changes in skin tone may also appear, but Sabel stresses that using a thermometer is important to check a baby's temperature.
She studied many babies when putting The Blossom Method together, and stresses that all speak a similar language - with slight differences, just as there is in verbal communication.
A very pointed tongue is a 'poo tongue', for example, but Sabel points out that if a baby exhibits such a tongue and doesn't fill his/her nappy, it doesn't mean the translation is wrong - the baby could have constipation, for instance.
Redness underneath the eyebrows, which Sabel says she's seen in all the babies she's worked with, means tiredness or frustration, or both. The baby's fists may also come up when they're tired or frustrated.
If a baby's constipated, their tummy may be taut and their knees may rise up to their chest.
"It's about wholly taking in the experience of your baby," she says.
Using the method means baby's needs are met, she explains, and therefore their need to cry is less.
"Their needs are met before they reach the crying stage."
She says her own daughter rarely cried, which was a "massive indicator" that the method met her needs, and she started speaking at five months of age. Blossom is now seven.
Sabel points out that another benefit of using the method is bonding, and explains that because the baby has a firm foundation and feels understood right from birth, and has his/her needs met, they feel confident and secure.
She recommends that parents become familiar with the method during pregnancy, although even when babies are a few months old it can still be learned successfully, she says.
Many parents will wonder how Sabel could identify this extensive non-verbal world of communication when they themselves, and indeed baby experts throughout the centuries, have failed to spot it.
The answer could lie in Sabel's own childhood - her mother was deaf and didn't use sign language.
"I've come from a non-verbal background and I've been brought up with body language. It was always a movement or a glance or a flicker of my mum's eyelids that gave me a message - I was highly attuned to it."
Sabel, a psychotherapist, went on to train as a sign language interpreter, and her book includes a chapter on baby signing. She says this is a useful way of non-verbal communication for slightly older babies which is easier to learn if The Blossom Method has been used first.
She adds: "When I had my daughter, I instinctively thought, 'What is she going to be telling me?'
"Other people wouldn't necessarily be looking for a baby's non-verbal communication. It's been around forever, it's just that nobody had noticed."
:: The Blossom Method: The Revolutionary Way To Communicate With Your Baby From Birth is published by Vermilion, priced £7.99. Available now.
Ask the expert Q: "I'm very overweight and three months pregnant, but am worried that dieting now will harm my baby. Is it sensible to eat for two now and diet after the birth?"
A: Dr Shakila Thangaratinam, a consultant obstetrician from Queen Mary, University of London, led a study which investigated the effects of diet and exercise on weight gain during pregnancy.
She says: "Pregnancy offers an ideal time to take care of yourself and your unborn baby to make sure that both of you have the best health outcomes in pregnancy and in the long-run.
"Studies have shown that mothers who are overweight and obese and those who pile on excess weight in pregnancy are at increased risk of complications such as pre-eclampsia, raised blood pressure in pregnancy, diabetes and giving birth to small or large babies.
"It's crucial that you don't gain a lot of weight in pregnancy to avoid the complications to you and the baby. Furthermore, it may also make it difficult to lose the excess weight gained after pregnancy.
"There is clear evidence that a balanced diet, on the advice of your GP, midwife, nutritionist or health trainer, will help to prevent excess weight gain.
"It's safe for both you and the baby if you follow a sensible diet instead of eating for two. This doesn't increase the risk of having a small baby.
"Furthermore, there is the possibility that it may reduce the risk of pregnancy complications, and pre-term delivery.
"Your midwife or doctor will be able to provide further information on suitable diets in pregnancy."
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