Press Centre

Secret Life of Babies

  • Episode: 

    1 of 1

  • Transmission (TX): 

    Tue 03 Jun 2014
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    9.00pm - 10.00pm
  • Week: 

    Week 23 2014 : Sat 31 May - Fri 06 Jun
  • Channel: 

  • Status: 

The information contained herein is embargoed from press use, commercial and non-commercial reproduction and sharing into the public domain until Tuesday 27 May.
Secret Life of Babies shows how the first two years of our lives are the most critical; we grow more, learn more, move more and even fight more than at any other time in our life. We have more bones in our body at birth than an adult does; yet we don’t have kneecaps. We laugh 300 times a day as a baby, but in the first few months we can’t produce tears when we’re upset.
The programme, narrated by Martin Clunes, tells some truly powerful and awe inspiring personal stories; from the baby who survived being blown off a pier in his pushchair, trapping him underwater for six minutes, to the baby whose brain has rewired itself despite the fact that half his brain had to be surgically isolated from his body when he was just a few months old.
This heart-warming and often surprising documentary tells the story of what it’s like to be a baby from their perspective. From a baby’s preference for sweet foods and aversion to plants, to the fact that they will have crawled 70 miles by their second birthday, the programme offers fascinating insights into babies’ development.
There has been a revolution in the study of babies and it’s opened an astonishing door into their world. They have abilities that we lose as adults, can survive tremendous physical shocks, adapt to traumatic changes, and cope in extreme situations.
From a baby’s first breath, everything changes. Their blood stream re-routes from the placenta to the lungs, closing a hole in the heart - a change that would require open-heart surgery in adults. This is just one of the unseen miracles going on in a baby’s body, miracles that assure survival.
The documentary explores babies’ natural ability to swim, explaining the reflex that allows any water they take in through their mouth to go straight to their stomach rather than into their lungs.
This ability helped Kate Cooper’s six-month old son, Sam, survive accidentally falling into a harbour. Kate explains: “I was walking along the harbour wall. One of my dogs went to the loo, so I went to pick it up. I parked Sam against the wall, put the brake on and there was a freak gust of wind. I felt movement behind me, turned round and saw the buggy heading towards the harbour wall and just watched him fall into the water. The last thing I could see was his little arm flapping. I started screaming and screaming.”
Hearing Kate’s distress, harbour-master George responded quickly by leaping into the harbour. Strapped in the upside down buggy, Sam was submerged in the freezing water for so long that Kate had all but given up hope.
Kate says: “He was face-down the whole time. I think it was about 5 or 6 minutes, but to me it felt like forever. I was in bits by then, thinking ‘he’s been under too long, he’s dead, he’s not going to make it.’ (When Sam was finally pulled out) He looked dead, he was pale and floppy.”
A local nurse performed CPR on Sam until an air ambulance took them to hospital. Sam’s young body kept the water from his lungs, and the way babies react to the cold was crucial to his recovery.
Underwater without oxygen, brain cells die, but severe cold can slow this process down. Babies are particularly good at with coping with this.
The speed of Sam’s recovery was stunning, surviving an incident that could easily be fatal for an adult.
The programme also tells the story of Thomas Barnard who was just three months old when he was diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Thomas suffered up to a hundred seizures a day, meaning his parents Andy and Julianne had to monitor him around the clock.
Julianne recalls: “We couldn’t get out of the house really, because we spent all our time watching him seize.”
After a series of scans showed Thomas’ brain was swollen and misshapen on one side, the decision was made to operate – meaning Thomas lost the use of half of his brain. Remarkably, the impact on Thomas’ mental and physical capabilities has been minimal.
Mum Julianne explains: “When you first say that, you think ‘how can you function with just half a brain?’ But then when you look, the studies show that if there’s a good side that can do the work then it can work. That’s what is so amazing.”
The documentary also speaks to the parents of Georgie, who was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy after being born 11 weeks premature. Her mother Claire says: “Georgia’s condition means her legs are really stiff. You can see the frustration on her face that she wants to do something. It’s heart-breaking as a parent to see your child wanting something and needing something and can’t actually do it.”
Georgie’s physio advised her parents to harness her instinct to walk and combine it with a baby’s natural reaction to water, to see if Georgie could be able to walk.
Claire says: “Somehow in the water, she’s able to relax and her muscles loosen. She’s much freer, she really enjoys the water.”
Two months on, the moment Georgie’s parents were waiting for arrived. Claire says: “We’ve had a major breakthrough this week, where she stood up for the first time. We could have won the lottery and it wouldn’t have been as exciting and emotional as that moment.”
Scientists are discovering that even before babies can speak, they have a remarkably sophisticated understanding of the world.
Adults can only identify the 45 or so sounds that make up our mother tongue. Research shows that at six months babies can hear the difference between the 150 sounds that make up every language in the world. Babies are born prepared for any language, watching our mouths when learning new words.
Scientists also believe that baby babble may not be just random noises to them. Twins Ella and Finn Burton have just turned two, but they’ve been communicating for a remarkably long time.
Both of their parents are profoundly deaf, so naturally they learned to use sign language to communicate.
“It’s interesting because at the beginning when we were at home, it would just be the four of us and we would be signing all the time. When they were very young it felt at times as though you were talking to a brick wall, you didn’t get any response. And then a few months later they would tap me and start recalling what I had told them a few weeks or months before.”
Scientists have found that babies can understand three times more words than they can say, and the twins were proving it.
The first two years of our lives are the most important of all. We learn to think, feel, walk, talk and relate to the world around us. It’s remarkable that science is only just beginning to understand the secret life of babies.