A Book Review by Jacqueline Storm Godwin
When I became unexpectedly pregnant in 2009, I read every book I could on pregnancy, labor, and raising a child because I felt unprepared and was terrified my ineptitude would scar my child for life. What I found was that many of the books I read on childrearing repeated information, gave advice that seemed obvious (even to me), or didn’t seem to fit with my lifestyle. I found plenty of books on how to get my child to sleep and how to make my own baby food, but what I really wanted to know was “How do I give my son the best possible start?” My goal was not to raise the next Einstein; I just wanted him to feel secure, enjoy learning, and above all, be healthy and happy.
When my mom gave me Superbaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years by Dr. Jenn Berman, I snatched it out of her hands and devoured it in days. The book gave me the tips I was looking for to give Henry the best start. Berman organizes the book in 12 chapters focusing on ways to enhance your child’s development. Not only does she provide her own experience as a mom and therapist to provide advice, but also she supports her tips with research and evidence from experts in the field. The chapters include tips on respectful communication, responding to cues, creating security and predictability, the importance of touch, promoting language development, sign language, foreign language, reading, the importance of play, TV time, reducing exposure to toxic chemicals, and eating and nutrition. In addition, there is advice and information on childcare, preschool, baby routines, and reducing the risk of SIDS in separate appendixes.
Each chapter is informative and contains useful information, but one of the chapters I found most helpful is the chapter “Let Your Fingers Do the Walking”. This chapter stresses the importance of touch and its benefits to babies claiming that touch helps infants become smarter children, have healthier digestion, sleep better, improve their weight gain, develop better sensory awareness, enhance muscle tone and coordination, and better handle stress. Berman also points out the emotional advantages of touch claiming that physical contact creates self-esteem, helps infants bond with caretakers, teaches self-soothing, helps your baby learn to trust, and makes for better mothering.
While all touch is beneficial to children, Dr. Berman considers two forms of touch to be “super-touch” in that the benefits are huge to the child. The first form is kangaroo care. She begins the chapter citing Catherine Real, who, as a newborn, was having respiratory distress and was close to death. After a nurse encouraged Catherine’s parents to hold Catherine skin-to-skin, she was able to make a full recovery. Dr. Berman attests to the power of Kangaroo Care with her own twin daughters who weighed less than five pounds at birth, but she also acknowledges the benefits aren’t just for sick babies. Healthy babies and their mothers gain from kangaroo care, or K-care also. Babies whose parents practiced kangaroo care were reported as experiencing earlier bonding, having less colic, interacting with their parents more, improving and increasing their sleep, and having significantly shorter crying spells, to name a few benefits. The mothers had an easier time breastfeeding, felt more bonded with their babies, and were more affectionate with their babies.
The other form of “super-touch” that Dr. Berman cites is infant massage. Massage, according to Dr. Berman, has medical benefits in addition to all the benefits basic touch has. Massage can ease constipation, colic, eczema, asthma, congestion, gas, cradle cap, teething, and dry skin. Most important, though, she writes, “the real purpose of massage is to help you tune into your child and get to know him better” (84). While she does not delve into too much depth into specific strokes or technique, she does offer a list of tips to help parents get started, urging them to use soothing music, pay attention to Baby’s cues, and use a non-nut or petroleum based oil. She advises to start small since it may take babies time to develop a tolerance and offers a list of cues to look for in case Baby becomes over-stimulated.
Dr. Berman’s book is a resource every new mother should have on her bookshelf. Even though not all of her advice can be put into practice right away, Dr. Berman acknowledges that progress rather than perfection is the goal. Her chapter on chemicals was extremely alarming to me, but I appreciate her advice on slowly incorporating more earth-friendly products into my home rather than needing to completely ransack my house of all toxins. Likewise, her chapter on nutrition was helpful, and though I am not in a position to buy only organic food, I am able to avoid ‘the dirty dozen’ types of produce that contain the most pesticides and buy their organic alternatives instead.
I know that no book can replace experience when it comes to being a parent, but with every word my son speaks, every sign he flashes at me (usually more) and every compliment I receive from strangers at how happy Henry seems, I feel like Superbaby has given me answers I would have otherwise still been searching for. Little did my mom know that when she gave me Superbaby, she would be making it possible for me to give my son the gifts of health, happiness, confidence, security, and a love of learning. I now give Superbaby by Dr. Jenn Berman at every baby shower I attend because those gifts are the ones that really count.