Book Review by Ruth Patel
Understanding Babies: How engaging with your baby’s movement development helps build a loving relationship by Ania Witkowska is available from Pinter and Martin for £9.99
I am a mum to three very different kids, who had three very different birth experiences and grew up with their own varying temperaments and needs. Therefore I was interested to come to this book and to see through what lens the author gazed upon the early days. The book was published in 2021, sadly after the death of its author, Ania. The term ‘mother’ is used throughout this book to refer to the birthing parent.
What is woven within the pages of this book is a tender narrative of baby’s attachment, development, observations, play, links to you and their surroundings, what you can do as a parent to nurture and encourage their sense of self and how you as a parent can feel confident and equipped to navigate the early days.
Ania Witkowska is a movement specialist whose work has looked at what a baby needs in order to thrive, as well as how parents you can tune into their baby’s needs and development so they can ‘feel more joy and less anxiety.’
The book covers five key areas including emotional regulation, love, movement, play and day to day. Throughout each chapter, she details how you and your baby may feel and your needs in this particular area.
Each chapter has an accompanying mp3 guided session which can be downloaded at www.pinterandmartin.com/understanding-babies. These are somatic awareness exercises and movements to help you notice what is going on in your body and thoughts. Going through these guided sessions made me feel supported, created a restorative space in my busy day and gave me permission to feel and notice what was going in on in my body.
I feel she touches on almost every part of the first few months and how you might feel postpartum as a mother. Beginning with “before she can fully engage with the world, your baby has to feel safe and happy simply being in it”, touching on their movements as they pass through their developmental milestones, and ending in when things are a little more difficult. The author gives the reader permission to feel all the feelings that a new mother can experience.
I particularly enjoyed the part on how your baby notices their surroundings and the permission it gives to parents to let their babe be mindful of simple experiences such as looking around, the attention on a certain object, the tight squeezing of a finger. Ania asserts that all these things develop their brain, development and attachment to the caregiver. My own babies used to fixate on certain objects in a room, picture frames, wall lights, the wind outside, and I would always think “I wonder what they’re thinking?”
This book began by looking at baby’s emotional regulation and ends with emotional regulation of the mother. I love that. In order to regulate our babies, we need to regulate ourselves. Understanding oneself and our emotions and how to regulate our emotions, is a huge life skill that is invaluable.
The emotional resource checklist that Ania includes asks such important questions about emotional regulation. A far cry from the form the midwife gives you asking questions such as “have you felt overwhelmed…depressed… unable to cope” and then leaves you in that place saying oh your score is ok, I’ll leave you to it. How about asking some of these questions, “what usually helps you feel better when you feel stressed or overwhelmed?” “Do you know what specific help to ask for when you’re feeling X” (rather than just a general ‘I need help’). One reads Ania’s book and feels supported and gently encouraged; validated as a mother with all the feelings that come with the role.
Throughout Ania’s book her aim is to guide you and give you confidence through the early days of parenting, helping you trust your instincts and connect with them. If you would like to be gently reassured about parenting, then this book is for you. My only criticism is that the chapters are rather long, but well worth making some time to go through! Remember, as Ania says:
“The journey is as much about us as it is about our babies”
Ruth Patel is a doula based in Shropshire and was trained by Nurturing Birth. She has a special interest in maternal wellbeing and alongside her doula work, runs a post natal support group locally. She can be found @yourbirthmaid and www.yourbirthmaid.co.uk