Dr. Frans Plooij is a leading expert in the field of infant mental development and the celebrated author of the worldwide bestselling infant development book – The Wonder Weeks. This book has helped many parents across the world understand what is really going on inside their baby’s head in the first two years of life.
For the past 35 years, his team has been studying the development of babies and the way mothers and other caregivers respond to their changes. Neurological studies have shown that there are times when major, dramatic changes take place in the brains of children younger than 20 months. There are TEN major leaps that every baby takes in the first 20 months of life!
We got a chance to interview Dr. Frans Plooij up close and personal, and here is what we learnt:
1. What exactly is the wonder weeks?
Dr. Frans: "At specific ages, all babies go through a difficult phase, characterised by the 3 C’s which is crying, being clingy and being cranky. It is when parents start doubting their parenting skills, but nothing is wrong, it's normal, it's the leaps."
"The reason behind this is, (based on independent research done in Scotland on pre and post-natal brain development), just before, or at the beginning of these difficult periods, there are major changes in the brain of the baby and through these changes, the perception of the baby of the world around him, and also the perception inside his body changes drastically."
"It is as if the baby has landed on a new planet, where everything is different. Just imagine yourself going to bed, and waking up to find everything is different. You would cling to your partner."
"The best thing to do is comfort your baby, because it can get frightening for your baby and you have to help him know this new world. And this happens 10 times in the first 20 months! So 10 times we say your baby is born again, because every time it's a new perceptual world."
2. Could you tell us a bit more about these leaps?
Dr. Frans: "A leap consists of 3 phases. The first phase is the brain change, new perception and difficult behaviour phase. In this phase, the baby is difficult and needs a lot of comforting."
"Then there is the sunshine phase, the baby starts trying new things but still wants you to be around. There is the last independence practice phase, when the baby is daring to go on its own, adapt to its new world, wants to explore and learn new skills on its own."
3. Should parents' behaviour be different in these 3 stages?
Dr. Frans: "Well, in the beginning, comforting is important. As baby starts to learn and try, we encourage parents to not 'over help' and do things for him, but to facilitate."
"For example, if something is out of reach, we can perhaps move it closer, but let him reach out for it himself and get it. That way we can give him a 'success' experience and not a 'failure' experience, which would make him angry and irritable."
4. What should you not do during the wonder weeks?
Dr. Frans: "Don’t panic, because it's normal. Most parents blame themselves, and run to doctors or lactation consultants, because mums may face problems while breastfeeding during this period. But it might just be a leap."
"Comfort your baby, don’t say "I don't want to spoil him, so I'll let him cry it out. Comfort ur baby, because your baby really can't help it."
Should we stick to our routines during a leap or be more flexible for feeding schedules/nap times?
Dr. Frans: "In general you can expect, and should be ready for more demand feeding."
5. Are there signs to show that the baby is going through a leap?
Dr. Frans: "The Wonder Weeks book lists out in detail, the signs that babies are going through their leaps. In general, small babies cry, are cranky and get clingy."
When they get older, their brain is more complex. So, they might be unusually sweet to you because that may be a way to get close to mummy, and what they want is your attention and closeness and your physical contact."
What if a baby is not having a wonder week right now, but is still fussy and irritable?
Dr. Frans: "There may of course be other factors like illness, holiday (which can be stressful for babies), extended family coming in..."
6. Should we use the EDT or Birth Date to calculate a leap?
Dr. Frans: "We must use the EDT (Estimated Delivery Date or Due Date), because development starts at conception, not at birth. Birth date is irrelevant."
What about for preemies?
Dr. Frans: "Again, take into account the due date."
Does the child not go through the leap spurts after the 10th leap?
Dr. Frans: "They do, but this is the period we know about, and what we have extensively studied so far. Research is now going on for higher age groups…"
7. Whats the best way to ensure that my baby grows to her maximum potential?
Dr. Frans: "Once you know that your baby can't help it, and you have to comfort and help her through the difficult periods, and you are sensitive to your baby's choices in what skills they want to develop first, and facilitate those skills, and give an environment to the baby where he or she can have as many 'successful experiences' in learning skills as possible, that will make a huge difference in her intellectual, social and health development."
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