October 26, 2021

Trauma-informed care for babies

Written by Matt Nathaniel, NightCare Regional Director

Our past blog will have given you a fair overview of trauma in babies and toddlers, including the causes, signs, and effects of early childhood trauma. If you haven’t read the blog “Understanding Trauma in Babies,” we recommend you do so to better understand the topics below. You can find the post here.

Note: Some of the writings below can be triggering. Continue only if you can handle the possible triggers within a conversation about providing trauma-informed care to babies.

A Universal Experience

We all might have faced (or may still be facing) traumatic experiences at some stage in life. These experiences greatly influence our formation and our brain, especially when trauma occurs in very early childhood. Traumatic experiences frequently have negative impacts on us that can last well into our later years.

In the last post, we looked at the causes, symptoms, and adverse effects of trauma in babies. In this post, we will be looking at one approach used in our NightCare Program to help traumatized babies get adequate support.

Whether we are parents or indirectly influencing little ones through our work, family, or community engagements, it’s vital to know about trauma care. This knowledge is essential in the context of babies and their still-developing brains.

a toddler looks through the window of one of the Saving Moses NightCare centers
Attachment Bond, the Carrier of Development

The existence of a healthy attachment bond to a caregiver is vital to the development of babies and toddlers. The attachment bond between a mother and her child first forms in the womb. In the womb, fetuses develop preferential responses to maternal scents and sounds that persist after birth. However, attachment bonds or relationships are not limited to mother and child. Anyone who has a considerable opportunity to influence a child by meeting their needs regularly (physical, emotional, or social) can become an attachment figure. A caregiver, a nanny at an orphanage, a pre-school teacher, or a close relative, can all be examples of an attachment figure. 

A child may have several attachment bonds right from day one. These attachment bonds contribute to the development of the baby. However, an attachment bond doesn’t necessarily mean a healthy or secure bond. In fact, in many cases, research shows that babies don’t get secure attachment relationships.

Positive Effects of an Attachment Relationship

Relationships are the heart of our humanity. We (and babies) are neurobiologically designed to be in relationships, to be able to read and respond to other people and to reach out and seek relationships from others. When we can have those opportunities, we are healthy. If we don’t, we are neurobiologically at risk.

If the parent or caregiver is sensitive to the child’s inner state, that can lead to a child whose brain is integrated and is coherent. What the body and brain want for the best development are relationships. Most neurons in the brain optimally develop through loving relationships.

Early childhood trauma negatively changes the biology of the brain, but early childhood support impacts the biology of the brain, too, in a much more positive and healing way.

One Secure Attachment Relationship is All it Takes

The most pivotal experience in a child’s early life is that a mother or caregiver and the child have a falling-in-love experience. This experience develops the capacity to love, care, and empathize with other human beings and have a moral conscience. This experience forms the basis of the secure attachment. In other words, the basis of the secure attachment relationship is genuine love. It’s not a set of rules or protocols to follow; instead, it’s establishing a safe, loving relationship with the baby.

Just one secure attachment with a caregiver can make a big difference. Babies require somebody they can trust to keep them safe and reliably meet their physical and emotional needs. This need is where the role of caregivers and nannies in our context comes into play. At NightCare, we become the source of a secure attachment relationship for the babies and toddlers we work with. It is crucial to have a secure attachment bond where the baby feels another individual knows them, understands them, and feels what’s going inside of them. Connection to other human beings – who are present, patient, kind, and sensitive can be incredibly therapeutic and healing.

Breaking the Cycle of Trauma Through NightCare

Providing a secure attachment relationship to a baby helps restore their sense of safety. The nannies and caregivers of our NightCare program provide little ones with a safe connection to give the traumatized babies and toddlers we care for a sense of security again.

Another critical aspect of the trauma-informed care NightCare provides has to do with non-verbal communication. Many of the little ones in our NightCare centers are not yet speaking, but communicating with babies who are non-verbal is essential to restoring their well-being and sense of safety. Non-verbal cues include eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, posture, gestures, and timing and intensity of response. We train our NightCare nannies and caregivers on appropriate non-verbal communication for babies and toddlers who have been through trauma.

To give additional support, we increase the babies’ surroundings with things of sensory comfort. Beyond the caregivers, we provide areas, music, the touch of a blanket, and toys that the babies feel safe with. 

Loving, consistent care, stable attachment bonds, a comforting environment, and intentional non-verbal interaction; all these things come together to provide trauma-informed care that positively impacts the developing brains and bodies of precious little ones.

Some Questions to Ponder:

Can you think of someone (a baby) in your life who may need a secure attachment relationship?

Are you able to provide a safe attachment relationship to that baby?

If you think you can provide a secure attachment relationship, will you do it consistently?

What are the ways you can share this knowledge with others?

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