Obituaries

T Berry Brazelton: caused “Copernican revolution” in the study of child development

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k1899 (Published 08 May 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k1899
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. Hamburg, Germany
  1. ns{at}europefn.de

As a child growing up in Waco, Texas, T Berry Brazelton possessed an uncanny ability to connect with babies. “Berry, you’re so good with babies,” his grandmother would tell him. So good was he, that at family events young Berry—still a child himself—was assigned childcare duties for his younger cousins.

“I became adept at handling many small children at once,” Brazelton wrote in his 2013 memoir, Learning to Listen: A Life Caring for Children. “I could keep them amused and safe and keep them from crying for up to two hours at a time. A miraculous feat, I realise today.”

By the age of 9, Brazelton had decided that children would be the focus of his life. “I knew I wanted to be a paediatrician,” he recalled years later. He fulfilled his childhood ambition and went on to become the pre-eminent paediatrician in the final decades of the 20th century, focusing on newborn babies as they developed to the age of 3.

“Baby Whisperer”

His extraordinary ability to mentally connect and communicate with babies earned him the nickname “the Baby Whisperer.” He once said: “I can look at a child, a newborn, and tell you just what he is trying to say without words.”1 That ability, combined with his keen observational skills, provided Brazelton with an illuminating insight into the mind of the baby, which led to development of the neonatal behavioural assessment scale (NBAS), considered by many to be his most important contribution.2

The scale, published in 1973 and revised in the mid-1980s and again in the mid-1990s, is now used by physicians and researchers around the world to evaluate physical and neurological responses of newborn babies and their emotional wellbeing and differences. The scale helped transform paediatrics, child development, and parenting.

Barry M Lester, director of the …

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