Talk for Australian Breastfeeding Association

[Back to Resources Page]

  • Current research has shown how critical early social interaction is for a child’s developing brain.
  • In the hurly-burly of parenthood, it can be difficult to recognise your baby’s earliest communication.

By focusing on the first three months of life, this talk aims to help parents and their babies to get to know each other. Based on the work of Lynne Murray (book) and Beulah Warren (video).

  • It’s about recognising infant communication and their social interaction.
  • By increasing your understanding of your baby’s communication, it will enrich the experience for both you and your child, and help your babies brain develop.

Lynne Murray and Liz Andrews have written a book called “Your Social Baby,” which is about understanding your baby’s communication from birth. It shows us the baby’s sensitivities, their responses and experiences are captured on a series of fascinating picture sequences from video footage, which show that right from the start babies live complex social and psychological lives. By watching you own baby and learning to read the signs, you can understand that behaviour is not random in babies. It can tell you something important about how your baby is experiencing the world, so you can be guided to give appropriate care and make the most of these precious moments with your baby.

Throughout history we have both cherished and neglected the babies in our community. Murray’s work exposes us to the baby’s subtle and powerful means of communication. It seems hard to understand that a baby- so much loved and wanted, so engaging and vulnerable, can be so unknown to us, and has only recently been studied.

We should never underestimate the power of the greater understanding of our babies. If new parents can be more confident of the meaning of their infant’s vocalisations, expressions and movements, they can be much more confident of their own contribution to their baby’s healthy development.

If parents can creatively enjoy their baby from the first moments, this may avoid the evolution of painful and distressing processes. As our society changes and the family becomes smaller rather than extended, Murray’s book hopefully provides a bridge from what can be a lonely existence for parent and baby, to a shared joy in a person’s beginning.

Most parents, when the first baby arrives, aren’t really at all well-prepared for the impact of this new baby. During the first weeks and months, a lot of parents can experience many unexpected emotional and physical challenges that prompt them to ask a lot of questions, which often go unanswered, as only mothercraft skills seem to be taught by some of the midwives rather than the emotional needs of the baby, and how parents can address these. Often there’s many and conflicting answers that new parents are given.

Supporting parents in helping them to understand and communicate with their baby from birth can only have a positive effect on the relationship between the parents and the developing child. In the long-term, any reduction of conflict between parent and child can only have a beneficial effect on that child and ultimately our society.

Lynne Murray and Liz Andrews, as part of the Children’s Project (UK), over three years videotaped parents and their newborns. These videos were then broken up frame by frame, and it started a whole new world of infant research, where we can see that babies respond, but slower than we normally do. Got to give a baby time to respond.

Donald Winnicott coined the phrase the “good enough parent.” Nobody sets out to be anything less than the best parent they can be, and I hope that this talk will support and encourage everyone with babies, (not just parents), to enjoy and understand the uniqueness of each baby. This is also the purpose of the Social Baby Book.

Dr Donald Winnicott’s broadcast talks (BBC UK) on childrearing in the 1940s gave a whole generation of women the freedom to follow their instincts in the care of their infants, with the so-called “experts” relegating and advising only on medical matters.

Lynne Murray has used all the new knowledge about babies that has accumulated in the past half century and to which she has been a distinguished contributor. One would hope that parents preparing for a new entrant to their family, especially their first child, will find a book like “The Social Baby” exactly what they’re looking for in the way of a guide to the pleasures and responsibilities of parenthood in the first weeks and months after birth. It comes from a view and recognition that a newborn child is from the start a person, albeit an immature one, rather than a bundle of physiological needs and reactions.

  • 100 years ago, the eminent psychologist William James considered the mental life of the baby to be a “booming, buzzing confusion,” but in recent times our knowledge about babies’ experience has grown enormously. Research has shown that right from the start, babies have complex psychological lives. What might seem on the surface random and confused behaviour is in fact highly organised.

Most dramatic among the baby’s abilities, even in the first weeks of life, are her social responses. This ability is of course highly adaptive, since babies are totally dependent on others to care for them, and it is essential for their survival that they have relationships that are reliable and sensitive to their needs.

The fact that babies are so responsive to other people and so expressive in their facial movements & gestures, even in the first few weeks of life, helps parents to give them the sensitive care that they need. By watching the subtle changing pattern of a baby’s expressions and movements, and by appreciating the significance of these cues, parents can become aware of the richness of the baby’s experience, and can be guided to help their baby.


Babies are individuals. As anyone who has had more than one baby will know, and even those with identical twins, there are strong individual differences in the way babies behave right from the start. These arise for a whole host of reasons. For example, being born prematurely or being relatively small will have an effect on the baby’s behaviour, but even babies who are born full-term and who are of normal birthweight are very different from one another. Each baby has a unique set of genes, and even the environment in the womb is very variable. Differences such as the baby being particularly sensitive to changes in her environment early on, or being able to sleep through a party going on in the same room, can have a profound impact on the people who are caring for her.

Yet much of the information and advice available to new parents ignores this variability, giving only a general description of a “normal baby,” particularly in the areas of sleeping and crying. These are common areas of concern to parents, and it can be distressing when your baby just doesn’t seem to behave in the manner described in the books and pamphlets. Statements such as “babies usually begin to sleep through the night by so many weeks/months,” although true in general, can feel undermining if your baby doesn’t behave as suggested.

The casual questions of well-meaning professionals or relatives, as they also assume a “normal” baby – can also be felt as a challenge: “is he smiling yet?” can be interpreted as “he should be smiling by now, and if he’s not then something is wrong.”

By watching your own baby and understanding that your baby’s behaviour is not random but can tell you something important about how the baby is experiencing the world, you can be guided to give the care that is most appropriate for your baby.

General descriptions of the development of babies should only be there for the purpose to help parents appreciate the baby’s early capabilities, rather than to set out what ought to happen at any given time. It is important for parents to realise that babies will vary a great deal, and how these capabilities are shown and develop.

If the birth has been straightforward and the baby has not received much maternal medication, immediately after the birth the baby is often wide awake, settled and calm, and interested in her surroundings for some hours before settling into a sleepy state. This alert period gives the baby and her parents a good opportunity to connect with each other.

Within minutes of birth, the baby can show her preference for contact with people rather than objects; for example, the baby will turn her head to the sound of someone’s voice, when another sound, even if of the same pitch and intensity, will not attract attention. The baby has already heard voices before she was born, so this response is partly based on her previous experience.

But the baby is also attracted faces, something she has certainly not come across before. Given a choice between looking at a face-shaped pattern and one with the arrangement of eyes, nose and mouth scrambled up, a newborn baby will spend longer looking at the face. One of the most dramatic abilities of the newborn that shows she is ready for social contact with other people is her ability to imitate another person’s facial expression. A baby just a few minutes old, if content and alert, will gaze intently at the face of another person, watching them seriously. If the adult clearly and slowly moves her own face, for example, opening her mouth wide or protruding her tongue, the baby will watch intently and then imitate the adult expression. It is as if the baby can already sense that she and the other person are in some way the same.

Of course, small babies have not had enough experience of the world to feel complex, self-conscious emotions like shame, guilt or embarrassment. However, apart from these emotions, the baby can show us that she is fully human from the start through her wide range of facial expressions, including disgust, sadness, joy, fear and interest.


Smell – breastmilk within 6 hours recognition of mother

Even a newborn has many social interactions a day. These are short, and often around a feed, and only for a few seconds.

Babies use all their senses to get to know their family and their environment. Vision, touch, hearing…you can help your baby with this early development by:


    • Observe your baby;


    • Talk to your baby;
    • Observe what state they are in;


    • Wait for your baby’s response;


    • Touch your baby from birth;


  • Gazing and face-to-face interactions are very important.

All of these things help you develop a closer attachment, which makes your baby feel much more secure with you and their environment.


Getting to Know You: Recognising Infant Communication and Social InteractionNorthern Beaches Child and Family Health Service and The New South Wales Institute of Psychiatry (Video)

Lynne Murray and Liz Andrews (2000). Your Social Baby: Understanding babies’ communication from birth. ACER Press: Camberwell.

William and Martha Sears (2001). The Attachment Parenting Book. Little, Brown and Company: New York.

Sue Gerhardt, Why love Matters – How affection shapes a babies brain


For Crying out Loud – understanding and helping crying babies by margaret hope (available from Children’s Health education Service, sydney children’s HOspital 02 9382 1688 $5.00 or through my work)

Sleep for baby and family by Norma Tracey, Beulah Warren and Lorraine Rose (available for $15 at my work) all about sleeping

Learning to Love’ by Lorraine Rose ACER press (also available at my work) about the first 12 months


The Attachment Parenting Books:

  1. A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby – Martha Sears
  2. Nighttime Parenting: How to Get Your Baby and Child to Sleep – William Sears

There is a whole Library you can purchase here – we have links to this on our webpage (

Tavistock Child Development Series: ACER Press


Understanding Your Baby by Lisa Miller, Contact ACER 03 9277 5656

The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds

by John Bowlby, Tavistock Publications, London, 1979

Through the Night

by Dilys Daws, London Free Association Books, 1989

The Diary of a Baby

Daniel Stern, New York Basic Books, 1990

The Child

D.W. Winnicott, Penguin Books, 1964

Websites: great webpage with lots of goo advise. is also a good general info site for any little tips – a new website (still in test phase) with information on raising children which looks quite good to me as to their philosophy