Montessori from birth- The symbiotic period

Parents often ask me how one can start montessori right from birth. I wish we had more resources in India about incorporating montessori principles during pregnancy and right from birth. Well, you know what they say, if you can’t find something you want, create it. Still navigating the postpartum fog from my second’s birth, this is precisely what I intend to do, the coming year.

What is the symbiotic period?

Biologically, symbiosis is a close, mutually beneficial, and mostly long-term relationship between 2 different organisms.The symbiotic period is the glorious 6-8 weeks after birth, also described as external pregnancy, where the parent and newborn retreat into a cocoon to understand and adjust to life together.

We must come to the conclusion that the first two years of life are a psychic creation rather than a growth … The acquisition of the first two years are miracles, but they depend on the child’s environment. These first two years are like a nebula which forms a star that will be obedient to its orbit forever! 

Maria Montessori, External pregnancy in mammals and human beings

So what are the family’s needs during this period?

The parents

Even as she learns to love her newborn, the biological mother feels a huge loss– of the foetus in her uterus, and her past self. Close and uninterrupted time with the newborn allows her to heal emotionally, reassures her that all is not lost, and helps with postpartum blues. Physically, being close to the infant, and suckling, helps the mother stabilise her milk supply as well as causes the uterus to shrink back to its original size.

For the father as well, who does not have the benefit of happy hormones and oxytocin to help bond with the baby, this is a great time to understand the newborn’s cues and respond. He also forms a protective barrier between the mother-child and the outside world.

But more importantly, the caregivers learn to understand the needs, cues and personality of the baby.

Siblings, if any

For us, the symbiotic period is even more pronounced this time around, because of V. The elder sibling needs time to get used to the new normal- having a new person around, sharing attention and time, and lifestyle changes if any. The older child needs reassurance of her value and empowerment to step into her elder sibling duties. This is a great time for the siblings to bond, to involve the elder in care duties and to reinforce their importance.

The baby

Newborn brains are said to be the most powerful learning machines in the universe. They are the most vulnerable, after having moved from one environment to another, and with minimal points of reference to their prenatal life. This is when maximum support must be provided to nurture them.

The baby had certain important points of reference in her life in the womb- the sound of mother’s heartbeat, voice of the mother and close family, and the rich amniotic fluid giving her sensory stimuli. It is imperative then, that the newborn gets plenty of skin to skin contact, hears enough of her family’s sounds, and is able to breastfeed without interruption.

The baby needs to understand consistency in people and order around her. She needs to be allowed to explore her environment with all her senses. She also needs space for unobstructed vision and movement.

But most importantly, her cries are answered, her needs respected and care is given lovingly. Thus, she overcomes the experience of birth, and learns that the environment she has come into, although different from life in the womb, is a safe place. She learns that she can always trust her caregiver and welcomes independence.

This is probably part of the reason, a family that has just welcomed a baby is to take the first 6-8 weeks slow. Traditionally as well, the Indian confinement period or the Zuo yue zi in China have scientific reasons. Visitors aren’t encouraged and a relative is entrusted with other house chores. The mother also feels empathy too deeply and can get stressed easily. Hence she is not allowed books, screen or too many people and is given time to heal and bond with the baby.

The points above elicit the need and importance of the symbiotic period, logically. To me, this period after birth is all about love and stillness. Learning to accept, respect and love all the new roles we find ourselves in. Learning to respect and love the members of the family. Retreating into ourselves, and parenting instinctively. Pausing and feeling. Being still and finding ourselves.

P.S. I do realize that this post majorly caters to the families who have the privilege of biologically birthing a baby, and taking time to pause. Feel free to modify and take what is applicable.

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