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Baby’s First Work

September 12, 2020

Another Way Column for week of September 11, 2020

(Editor’s note: Third in a seven-part series on the nature of work.)

At the beginning of life, an infant’s job is basically four-fold: sucking on mother’s breast or a bottle (both take work, even if you don’t remember); letting parents know when something isn’t going well (wah wah wah); filling your pants; and exploring the new world you’ve landed in.

We’ve been recently blessed with a number of new babies (great nieces and nephews) in our extended family and it’s fun to watch the new parents taking on the responsibilities of molding and guiding the tiny ones as the kiddos learn about life outside the womb.

At first a baby’s eyes do much of the work: looking around at the lights and faces that come into view. I always think: what are they seeing? Even more, what are their earliest rudiments of thinking? They learn to recognize mommy’s face, daddy’s face and voices—and remember them, and then a grandma or grandpa join the parade, plus aunts and uncles.

Their newfound environment may be suddenly chilly, or too hot, or too bright and it’s the infant’s job to express disgruntlement or joy over their new situation. They move limbs and soon begin exploring their fists or feet and sucking on them when they can’t find anything else. That’s work!

Baby Sawyer at one week with Daddy and cousin Liam.

Baby Sawyer at three months has now begun talking. No, not words of course, but he coos and babbles, trying to move his mouth and tongue. He jerks his head back and forth, like he’s worried he’ll miss seeing something in his new world. He moves his legs around like he’s working on developing the muscles to crawl. I’m holding him thinking he’s really active and all of a sudden he communicates big time: wah wah wah! Does he have a tummy ache? Turns out he’s just tired, and his grandma snuggles and gently rocks him to sleep in her lap. That’s what he wanted: rest!

Whew. It’s hard working being a baby. Right? He even has to get his parents up at night—out of their desperately needed sleep—to tell them what to do next.

When you think of all the milestones a baby accomplishes within months and the first year, it is nothing short of amazing. Sadie, at one is a little girl who’s taking her first steps, eating real food, saying real words or at least things that sound like words, drinking out of a cup, being jealous when someone else is getting attention. Not long ago she was the adorable but clueless infant.

Sadie at her first birthday. Photo used by permission.

Her cousin Sawyer is holding his head up off the floor, so soon he’ll be rolling over, sitting up. He’ll explore his fingers, toes, belly button, kitty’s tail, the little tiny rattle shaped like a workout weight his Daddy loves handing him. His eyes and ears will follow along as his parents or others read or sing to him.

But experts tell us there’s a lot going on inside the brain that we as parents and grandparents don’t really see: the brain doubles in size in the first year, with lots of amazing growth in the part of the brain controlling motor skills and physical development. This is basically inner work that the child is unaware of—and we are too. But we know from sad stories of lack of development in deprived situations—old-time orphanages where children languished without much care or attention—advanced much more slowly in their developmental stages. So it is important to give children all of the love and stimulation and attention you can give. Just sitting down to read books together from the earliest days kindles their brains in ways they can absorb.

The Psalmist may have been watching a newborn when he marveled: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. … My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together” (Psalms 139: parts of verses 13-16).

This guy’s almost two now. Getting acquainted with the world of bright lights.


What have you marveled about a very little one?

What amazed or surprised you?

How was one infant different from another, in your experience?

For a free booklet, “Work Therapy,” write to me at or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. Beverly Silver permalink

    Thank you, Melodie – It is truly an amazing miracle and process. I won’t go on,,, but mention one thing. When I was teaching Embryology, always with the first test, I would include at the top of the page, the quote from Psalm 139 ” Thou hast knit me together in my mother’s womb ” and its source. I got a few comments from the test takes over many years. Thanks, Beverly

    • And thank you, Beverly, for adding your thoughts from “Embryology” scholarship! I’m wondering now if the commenters (from the test) were positive, or unhappy that you included the verse from Psalms. Just curious. But guessing they were positive. You are a wonderful grandmother, mother and perhaps great grandmother some day!

  2. A reading specialist once told me, ” Babies can verbalize at 6 months all of the sounds they will use in their native language. I’m not certain that is true, but it sounds plausible. They are certainly paying attention!

    Sweet photos, lovely post, Melodie.

    • I’ve heard that too, or maybe they used the word “vocalize.” Can’t remember. We are having fun watching Edward (the baby in my arms above) pick up vocabulary. He works so hard to catch up with his older brothers! Thanks for checking in!

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