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America's pediatrician

Renowned baby doctor T. Berry Brazelton heads out

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Attention new parents: This is one stranger you should - let pick up your child.
  • Attention new parents: This is one stranger you should let pick up your child.

Calling all dads, moms and grandparents, teachers, nurses and everyone else who once was a kid, plans to have a kid or works and plays with kids: If you feel lost, America's leading pediatrician, T. Berry Brazelton, is here to help.

Brazelton is probably best known for his Emmy Award-winning Lifetime television series, "What Every Baby Knows." But the 88-year-old pediatrician has authored more than 30 books that have been translated into 18 languages, including his 1969 classic, Infants and Mothers.

Much of his most recent work has focused on "touchpoints," which represent opportunities for clinicians and educators to help parents and children through difficult, but predictable, phases of development.

The Independent's John Weiss caught up with his former pediatrician a week before Brazelton's upcoming visit to Colorado Springs.

Indy: How do infants relate differently to their mothers and fathers?

Brazelton: Even 6-week-old babies react very differently to each parent. When approached by their mother, they seek to be nurtured with clear body language of pleading and [need]. While around their fathers, almost all babies sit up straighter and seek to be played with and amused. Recent research documents that when fathers perform traditionally motherly roles, such as changing diapers, their male hormone [testosterone] goes down while their female hormone [estrogen] goes up. So the child-father interactions physically impact dads. That is kind of cool.

Indy: Colorado Springs is already a big military town. In the near future, it is expected that 12,000 more soldiers, and 18,000 additional dependents, will move to our region. How should we prepare?

Brazelton: We have just completed some research for the Department of Defense. The impact of military service, especially in times of war, can be traumatic for children. There are issues of loss and mourning even before a soldier is deployed, then the time overseas can cause great stress on the family members back home.

And even if deployed soldiers return physically and psychologically unharmed which is not always the case there can be significant re-entry issues.

Another concern is that often, the caregivers remaining back home are often living far from other family members, so they lack the support systems that can be so helpful. One sobering fact: The rate of child abuse is twice as high among military families as compared to the general population.

Indy: You have studied cross-cultural differences in parenting behavior between how Americans tend to raise infants compared to their counterparts in Asia, Africa and Latin America. What have you learned?

Brazelton: Let me give you just one interesting difference. In much of rural Asia, Africa and Latin America, mothers carry their babies around with them all day long. As a result, whenever young infants have to go, their mothers can feel [the] need, and take them outside to squirt or dump. Because the feedback is so instantaneous, the child quickly realizes his or her own need-to-go signs. As a result, these infants tend to toilet-train themselves by the time they walk, usually when they are between 12 and 18 months old.

In America, where the expectations of our society do not allow mothers to hold infants so much, neither the child nor mother learns how to notice the subtle clues when there is a need to go. As a result, American children take longer to become toilet-trained.

capsule

An Evening with Dr. T. Berry Brazelton

Sheraton Hotel, 2886 S. Circle Drive

Monday, Oct. 2, 7-8:30 p.m.

Tickets: $10 per individual, $15 per family; for more, contact Project Bloom at 719/884-3400.

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