Understanding Your Infant w/ Ellynne Skove

Ellynne Skove, Founder of Bright Start Babies, GoGo Babies® and Nest Space, has been helping parents truly understand their infants for decades while offering emotional and physical support to mothers, fathers and caregivers in Brooklyn. We are excited to share with you the many, MANY resources Ellynne’s years of pre and peri natal experience hold.

Tell us a little about how and why you entered the pre and peri natal world in Brooklyn specifically. 

Back in the 1980’s, I began teaching prenatal and postpartum fitness classes.  Hardly anyone in Brooklyn was doing this.  There was no prenatal yoga offered whatsoever then!  I was simultaneously studying a dance technique with my mentor, the late Nancy Topf, who created an amazing alignment and anatomy based technique based from infant developmental movement patterns.  I was also studying Body/Mind Centering® with Dr. Susan Milani.  Both of these movement forms affected me profoundly. 

When I gave birth to my first child, in 1986, I delighted in observing how she moved through these patterns and took endless photos.  I then put the technique into practice as a dance/movement therapist working in therapeutic schools with children with speech and language delays as well as other learning challenges.  When I began practicing yoga in earnest and entered into a yoga teacher training, the correlation between developmental movement and yoga jumped out to my attention.  I had amazing results with my dance/movement therapy students and private clients using yoga and developmental movement. 

Then, in 2006, I decided it was time to take the work back to babies and new parents.  This began at Cobble Hill’s Families First organization.  IT grew rapidly and my curiosity about babies became insatiable, so I went back to graduate school to study pre and perinatal psychology and add that as my specialty area to my already long time Creative Arts Therapy practice.  Babies have so much to tell us and we are so caught up in our fast paced work world in New York City, that we often overlook the much needed connection to our little ones in utero and in the first year.  I am passionate about supporting families in this endeavor.

Your passion truly shines through in everything you do. I would describe your businesses as pre and peri natal hubs for all things in early parenthood. Baby wearing clinics, breastfeeding support, tummy time classes, baby yoga, infant CPR, first foods classes, baby massage and 4th trimester understanding are among the few types of resources that you have offered through the works of Bright Start Babies, LLC.

For the past several years, you have housed many of these offerings in your Carroll Gardens location, Nest Space. When you dreamed this environment up, what did you hope to bring to the community, how has it changed (if at all) since initial conception, and what can a first time parent visiting you expect to find?

Nest Space grew out of my need to find a reliable and sustainable space for my own work in pre and perinatal psychology and health, as well as the desire to have a space to host other birth and baby professionals to offer their services.  Additionally, Nest Space is utilized  by a variety of Brooklyn’s most notable energy workers, bodyworkers, private yoga instructors, and others in healing arts that help all people as well as expectant or post partum individuals.  The space is small and intimate so groups can really develop a sense of community with one another.  It goes without saying, that since the Corona virus pandemic swept NYC, Nest Space has not been able to offer in person groups which is a travesty, but once we have the “all clear” from to return to group work, Nest Space will endeavor to continue with this while adhering to necessary safety protocols.

To share in your own words, Bright Start Babies “offers a variety of classes for expectant mothers & fathers, as well as adoptive families, & families using assisted conception. “We work with babies and children, and adults pre-conception onward.” From the first time we met, one of the reasons I’ve been so drawn to you Ellynne, is that your love, care and knowledge in this arena is equally heartfelt as it is vast. And the love for the women and men you are helping guide was made even clearer when I learned that you also assist with couples or individuals pre-conception. It is not as common to hear of services offered before a little one is on the way. Why is this type of support important to you?  

Having been in practice for over 30 years as a licensed creative arts therapist and then focusing on pre and perinatal psychology and health exclusively for the past 14 years, what has truly amazed me is the communication people have with their unborn children.  I have never met a pregnant person who does not talk to the baby within. This includes surrogate mothers, parents using assisted conception practices, adoptive parents, and those who conceived naturally.  Because babies are sentient and aware even as fetuses, it becomes very important to set foundational experiences in utero  that create the architecture for the growing fetal brain and nervous system.  I happen to have a very Buddhist orientation to my beliefs, which includes reincarnation.  So I feel life is “out there” and then when we are embodying it as a zygote, embryo, fetus, or baby it is truly profound time in one’s life.  Tibetans are known to take this so seriously that before conceiving, a couple goes through a physical, emotional, and spiritual cleansing period to prepare their bodies and entire Beings for conceiving a child that will bring joy and goodness to their family.  This resonates with me personally on a deep level.  I also feel that pre conception work can help heal ones’ own unresolved traumas or wounds thus creating a more welcoming environment for a new life.  Some instances of this that many could relate to would be healing grief from a past abortion or miscarriage.  Or healing from sexual violation. 

In Chinese medicine, the womb is referred to as the “little heart.”  So pre conception work helps to ensure there is a little heart that is ready to be a vibrant garden to support the growth of person as opposed to a “broken heart.”  Pre Conception work can also help individuals struggling to conceive to see if they have any inner beliefs blocking their ability to conceive.  I worked with a man once who was truly afraid of becoming a father. He so desperately wanted to change this that he made a documentary film about this based on his own story.  He overcame huge foundational challenges from his own fetal and newborn experiences and is now an amazing father to a wonderful young child.

What do those pre-conception classes look like and who or when would you recommend someone contact you if they are trying for a baby or considering beginning the path toward conception?  

I do not offer classes for this but private practice work with either one person at a time or couples.  I would suggest someone do this work if they have been trying to conceive naturally and not succeeded after a year.  I would also suggest that a couple really address their nutrition, stress levels, and overall health first.  Acupuncture for fertility is a great way to address this but for BOTH  partners.  If that does not help then seeing someone with my kind of background could be helpful to uncover the beliefs that may be blocking the path to parenthood.

One of the stories you have shared with me is the power of prenatal bonding and how the familiarity of sound developed inside the womb can directly impact how the baby perceives patterns when outside the womb. One specific example I recall involved music and the mother of the unborn child’s experience in a band. Would you mind sharing a little about the importance of prenatal parenting and the long-lasting effects this type of bonding can have? 

Prenatal Parenting is going on all during gestation. The experiences of the fetus create architecture for the developing brain and nervous system.  So any sound, movement, or touch from the external environment or prenatal womb space is like a “ClassWomb!”  Many studies and experiments have been done about teaching babies in the womb.  The  example you remember about the baby growing inside the mother who was performing  very lively music on big world stages during the entire pregnancy is a great example.  The baby preferred lively loud music to soft lullabies!  I have seen very active amazing movement come from babies whose parents were dancing or doing intense physical exercise during pregnancy as well.  These are called PreNatal imprints

Bonding can also occur prenatally.  Bonding is an aspect of parenting.  It is important to define bonding as it is often confused with attachment.  Bonding is the connection from a parent to a baby. Attachment is the connection from the baby/child to parent or caregivers.  Bonding can start to occur even in pre concepton for some people.  In  pregnancy we see bonding behavior with parents talking to the growing fetus, rubbing the pregnant belly, and playing games with the fetus when it might kick and the parent talks back or taps the pregnant belly back in a form of communication.  Many expecting parents give a name to the fetus based on its behavior as well. 

Then there is the bonding people think of more commonly which is post partum bonding. The skin to skin experience after birth, the rooming in with the baby in hospital, feeding the baby, gazing into the baby’s eyes,talking to the baby and listening to the baby.  A prenatal bond, however, is really important for the baby to feel WELCOMED and CONNECTED

As social beings, humans need connection on a biophysical level for survival.  We thrive when connected, welcomed, and acknowledged. We go into growth mode on a cellular level!  For anyone experiencing a bonding disruption there is help for this that is simple and highly effective.  I offer such therapy sessions and can even do them virtually!  IT usually takes just one session!  When a bonding disruption occurs we often see behaviors such as colic, fuss,y sensitive babies, acting out behaviors in children, dislike of touch, developmental movement delays, feeding issues, and more.  Such behaviors are very stressful for parents as well as babies and other family members.  Common events that might influence a bonding disruption prenatally include:e  loss of home, job, death of a loved one, stressful conception, illness in pregnancy, surgery in pregnancy, traumatic or stressful labor and delivery, premature birth, unresolved past traumas, and prenatal or postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. 

In conclusion, the fetal time is absolutely foundational so having a good connection during this time is a way to have a good start. The baby’s cells will be in growth mode! It is undue stress that introduces the fight/flight/freeze response in developing cells. Life does not  have to be “picture perfect,” as the world is not like that. Stress to some degree encourages much needed resiliency!  The bonding connection helps with resiliency and growth and creates a sense of Belonging. All humans strive for this basic need..

A “ClassWomb!” – I love that! Life (especially now) can bring so many emotions and challenges that indirectly effect new life. Your thoughts and ideas on refocusing back to our basic needs like bonding and belonging are a point that will resonate with many, myself included.

Switching gears back to development, I think it’s fair to say that you are sort of known as THE tummy time expert in the community. I know that when I think of tummy time and early newborn development, I think of you! I encourage all new parents to join a class if able – they are fun for mom and baby…even when your baby cries for 90% of it 😉 (i.e. my Parker) – but for those who haven’t yet, what is the first piece of advice you would give to begin introducing tummy time into you and baby’s daily routine?   

Tummy Time is so misconstrued and this is unfortunate. Even pediatricians rarely understand it anatomically.  So many parents tell me “my baby hates tummy time” and then I discover that essentially they have been placing the baby in a position that is Olympic level tummy time when the baby really needs to start at the beginning…like playing “Little League” before moving on to the “Minor and Major Leagues!”  My You Tube on Tummy Time explains it all, as do I in my classes. 

Most people seem to think tummy time is about head and neck control, but it is not. Those come as byproducts.  Really what is going on in tummy time is that a baby is working on changing the shape of its fetal spine, which is a “C” curve, to the shape of a spine that can hold the body in the vertical positions of sitting and standing!  Here is an image that shows this.  Note how big the baby’s head is and imagine how hard it must be to learn to hold that head up!

The key aspect of tummy time is that the baby’s chest and tummy have something firm to push against. In this pushing the spine can lengthen out of the “C” curve  work to develop the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and tailbone curves seen in the adult spine.  So carrying your baby chest to chest,  in a carrier, or in the “football hold” are beginner positions that make in easier for the baby to succeed in starting to lengthen the spine and lift the head.  The lift of the head will come form sensory curiosity, a reach from the eyes, ears, or nose to see, hear, or smell something they are curious about. 

photos by Emily McKenzie

When we consider all these beginner ways to engage in tummy time, suddenly a parent realizes they are giving their baby a lot more practice than they knew!  Intermediate, or ‘Minor League” tummy time would be more formalized using a prop to help raise up the floor so as not to cause to much stress lifting the big head, as well as to offer a way for the feet to find the floor and engage.  Without such a prop,the feet would float.

photo by Emily McKenzie

Since Nest Space had to cease group classes due to the pandemic I have been offering both Zoom classes and private sessions.  Those can be really helpful as well as these two videos.  Honestly I cannot wait for groups to begin again!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cc6f3xhZp4s  TUMMY TIME video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq81tPRF-FI TUMMY TIME & BEYOND video

We cannot wait either! Thank you for sharing your videos and online classes with us in the meantime.

The 4th Trimester is being talked about more and more, however, it is still oftentimes a period where the mother’s personal care is overshadowed by the need and spirited desire to give every piece of herself to her newborn. For moms reading who are dancing the fine line of giving and getting support during these critical first months post birth, what ways would you recommend to help find that balance in the daily new “normal” that we define as motherhood?  

Well in an ideal world, we would have a village to take care of us, which actually happens in more so called “primitive cultures!”  Ironically this is not primitive in the least.  We truly need support.  I encourage the other parent or family and friends who might be around during the 4th Trimester period, to always make sure there is water and snacks wherever the new mother might sit down to feed the baby.  These people can always check the kitchen for what food or drink might be needed to be re-stocked, to give the new mother a daily chance for a good long shower or bath so she can just BE with all that is changing and feel like she can hear her own thoughts without the competition of everyone else in the family.  These small things can really add up. 

I also encourage the non birthing or non breastfeeding parent (if that is the case in a family) to learn how to soothe and settle the baby. Learn the Dunstant Baby Language and identify the cries.  I have a video on soothing and settling practices.  It gives me enormous pleasure when I teach the squat technique to fathers trying to soothe their screaming babies and see the look on their face when after just 3 squats the baby settles!  IT’s like a magic  trick and they KNOW they can do it! 

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgzW2PK-_qE GAS & CONSTIPATION video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-mMutg6jlg  SOOTHING & SETaTLING a

Speaking of finding ways to make things a little easier. Who knew that we could actually interpret and understand what our baby’s cries are telling us?! Your “Understanding the Newborn in the Fourth Trimester” workshop tells us just that as you demonstrate the five  most common baby cries and what they mean.  This is so fascinating and unbelievably useful – thank you for sharing these time and time again. How did you discover this form of baby-language and in your experience, is there a cry that you’ve found to be most helpful, or shall I say, most heard?  

I discovered the Dunstan Baby language at a Birth Psychology and Health Congress many years ago.  I fell in love with it and began to learn it then teach it.  It is important to remember that these are need based cries, hunger, upper gas, lower gas, tiredness, and general discomfort (cold/hot, wet/soiled nappy, etc) and that babies have a lot of other things they might need to convey through crying as well.  Just like adults, babies have a lot to say!  To me the most important cry a parent or caregiver can learn is the burp cry.  So many new parents who are tired and adjusting to this huge new responsibility put the crying baby to the breast or bottle right away. But if the baby needs to burp, feeding on top of uppers gas will just cause either massive spit ups or push the upper gas down to the abdomen causing more lower gas later in the day and disrupted night sleep.  So learning the burp cry can alleviate sleep issues and lower gas which is very painful as well as help to bring immediate relief to the discomfort!  There is a Baby EARS app now that is great as well as a good intro to it on You Tube on the OPRAH show.  Just search “Oprah and Baby Cries!”

These are such great tips. I can vouch that being able to distinguish cries early on, really set the stage for success when it comes to communication.

As a long-term New Yorker, you have seen lots of ups and downs throughout the years in our beautiful city.  I think it’s safe to say we are experiencing a “down” time – one unlike any before. The recent Covid19 Pandemic has been particularly scary for expectant and new parents. What advice or thoughts can you leave us with as those in unfamiliar waters try to tread through with equal parts caution and excitement for the period ahead? 

I was just watching Dr. Bruce Lipton, esteemed epidemiologist, biochemist, and researcher, in a video about how Beliefs affect our cells and DNA.  As with much of Dr. Lipton’s work, he goes through the hard science and ends up with how LOVE and feeling WELCOMED can dramatically heal and change our cellular structure.  I feel that in these very challenging times it is most helpful for expectant families and those with newborns, to keep talking with their little ones, even in utero.  To play nice music for them. To pause and rest with them, to tell them what’s going on in simplistic terms to get the essence of experience across but to remind the little one regularly that they are welcomed and loved. 

I also find that now, more than ever, finding daily “wonder moments” is very helpful to our nervous system and overall perspective.  A “ wonder moment” is something that occurs in your day that is so consuming all the other “monkey mind” brain chatter stops and one can just BE in the moment.  For a new mother, this could actually be having the chance to use the bathroom by herself for a few moments, and certainly things like a baby’s smile or laugh offer wonder moments.

At the start of the pandemic, one of my colleagues who trained with me in Czechia, and now brings me there to do more training of professionals, began a” Wonder Moments” Facebook page to help people connect and share.  It was profoundly moving and resourcing to see images people posted and to read about their wonders as well as share my own.  What happens is that the endorphins and oxytocin (love hormone) increase with naming these wonders and the feelings become amplified. So it serves as an antidote to all of the more difficult feelings we have been experiencing while in lock down, quarantine,  shock, etc.  It is important to find WONDER every day!

Ellynne Skove is a licensed Creative Arts Therapist, developmental movement/tummy time specialist, bodyworker, and somatic trauma resolution practioner focusing in Pre and Perinatal Psychology and Health. She has lived and worked in Carroll Gardens Brooklyn as well as internationally for over 30 years.  Ellynne created the popular GoGo Babies® Baby Yoga and Tummy Time program whicih is part of her overall practice Bright Start Babies.  Ellynne loves to work with groups as well as individuals guiding and supporting toward optimal comfort and joy in parenting and in one’s self.  She uses a variety of modalities.  Ellynne also teached professionals such as doulas, psyocotherapists, bodyworkers, educators and others who work with babies and families.  She founded Nest Space: Haven for Babies & Families at 518 Court Street in 2016. 

photo by Angela Jiminez

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