Resources for Infant Educarers® (RIE®) is a way of parenting that remained on the periphery of my own parenting until my first child was almost two. During his infancy, I was unsure how to practice RIE alongside attachment parenting (AP), but as he grew increasingly mobile, I was looking for a structured way to discipline, that would be respectful of him as an individual and allow him his own thoughts and ideas.
I began to read blogs and joined a RIE Facebook group for parents with toddlers. Then I discovered a book called, 1, 2, 3 … The Toddler Years: A Practical Guide for Parents & Caregivers, and it completely changed my perspective on my role as a parent. I learned to give my son space to figure things out on his own, and I saw him begin to trust in himself and his own abilities.
A year later when I was pregnant with my daughter and seeking resources on how best to use RIE from birth, I discovered Deborah Carlisle Solomon’s book, Baby Knows Best. What I was taught in Baby Knows Best enabled me to feel confident in practicing RIE with my new baby. It was especially helpful after the delivery, when I didn’t have the energy to adhere as closely to the tenants of attachment parenting.
Baby Knows Best educates about RIE from birth to 2 years old. It walks us through caring for our newborn, managing infant sleep, and even how to support developmental milestones naturally through freedom of movement.
Deborah is a leader in the field of child development and I’m overjoyed to share her wisdom on the topic of RIE and the newborn.
Resources for Infant Educarers® (RIE®)
For families unfamiliar with RIE, how would you summarize the philosophy succinctly?
RIE® is a way of being with and caring for a baby that supports the baby to feel more peaceful and secure. When a baby feels peaceful and secure, he is easier to care for and this creates greater harmony for the whole family.
Magda Gerber co-founded RIE in 1978 with pediatric neurologist Dr. Tom Forrest. Her Educaring® Approach is comprehensive and addresses all aspects of a baby’s development and daily life. It includes gross motor, fine motor and socio-emotional development of the baby; respectful, attuned caregiving practices; sensitive observation of the baby to understand his needs; the importance of play and appropriate play environments; and consistency and clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline, among other topics.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about RIE?
One of the most troubling misconceptions is that we let a baby cry. This is patently untrue. If a baby is crying, we would recommend that a mother move slowly toward her baby because just by moving slowly she can introduce a sense of calm and peacefulness. Instead of approaching her baby thinking his cry is something she needs to “fix,” she can come to him with a sense of wonder and speak to him in a soothing tone. She might say aloud, “I wonder why you’re crying” and talk aloud about his basic needs. “You just woke up and I’ve fed you. I thought you were content in your bassinet but you’re upset. I wonder why you’re crying.” Doing this will help the mother to slow down, giving her time to observe and try to understand why her baby is crying; increasing the possibility that she will respond to her baby more accurately. It takes a lot more sensitivity – and sometimes considerable self-restraint – to approach a baby slowly like this than it does to quickly pick him up and feed him to quiet his cry.
The golden hour after birth is – as we all know – a special time for newborns, how can parents integrate RIE into these moments?
Right after birth, parents can begin the important practice of moving slowly with their baby. As slowly as they can and then, even more slowly. They can also pay attention to their hands and their touch. So much of a baby’s sense of well-being comes through her body so we want to pay attention to how we touch, hold and carry a baby. From the baby’s point of view, “Does it feel good to be touched, held, picked up and carried or are the hands that touch and hold me rough, hurried or insecure? Am I touched with gentleness – even reverence – or as if I’m little more than an object?”
I frequently work with newborns, both breastfed and bottle-fed, who have feeding challenges. Often this means a newborn will have to be woken for a feeding, or may show signs of wanting to disengage when learning how to latch, or use a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS). In these moments, how can parents respect what is being communicated to them by their baby?
When there are feeding challenges, it’s not only difficult for the baby; it’s difficult for the mother as well. It can be helpful for the mother to talk to her baby about what she’s feeling rather than holding her emotions inside. Doing this may help to release some of the mother’s anxiety. We know that if the mother is more relaxed, feeding will be easier for the baby.
Parents can also begin practicing sensitive observation of their baby from the beginning of life. A mother may notice that her baby wants to disengage when the baby is first learning how to latch or use an SNS. What I would be looking for in this situation would be what can the baby comfortably handle as he is first learning and when does it become stressful for the baby? A stressed baby will not feed successfully.
The topic of sleep is understandably a priority for new parents. How does RIE help parents establish good sleep habits for their baby early on?
A newborn baby’s sleep pattern is topsy-turvy, with the baby sleeping more hours during the day than at night. As I wrote in “Baby Knows Best,” in order to help a “baby establish her sleep rhythm, expose her to natural light and sound during the day, and as the day winds down, try your best to create an atmosphere that is darker and quieter. She will begin to understand cues for sleep and waking from her environment and attune to her body’s signals of tiredness. Protecting your baby’s sleep schedule will strengthen her circadian rhythm, support healthy sleep habits, and ensure that she gets quality, restorative sleep when she needs it.”
The more that a parent trusts in her baby’s ability to learn how to go to sleep on her own, the earlier the baby will learn. When parents have anxiety about their baby’s sleep, they may, with the very best of intentions, resort to interventions like pacing with their baby in arms or holding their baby as they bounce on an exercise ball, lulling their baby to sleep. These kinds of interventions may work well in the short term but they quickly become habits that the baby relies on. Eventually, the baby must learn to find her way to sleep on her own so refraining from an intervention will avoid the discomfort of changing a habit later on.
Overall, a simple, unhurried, predictable daily life will make it easier for a baby to establish good sleep habits early on.
Baby Knows Best
I read your book, Baby Knows Best, and its one of my favorite baby books. While you were writing the book, what were you hoping would be the most important takeaway for parents?
My hope is that “Baby Knows Best” provides parents with ways of being and interacting with their babies that they can easily practice and that once internalized, will make life with their babies a lot easier and a lot more fun. I have intentionally used the word “practice” because RIE is a practice that creates healthy habits and happy families.