Book pays tribute to pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton ’40

Pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton ’40, pictured in 2006.
Pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton ’40, pictured in 2006.
Used by permission Brazelton Touchpoints Center

Anyone who has had a baby in the last 40 years likely knows the name T. Berry Brazelton. With a broad smile and hint of a Texas drawl, Brazelton ’40 has been doling out advice to anxious parents about everything from temper tantrums to potty training, gently reassuring them that they and their children will figure it out in due time.  

Concerned that your young child isn’t getting proper nutrition? No worries. Kids need only four things each day, Brazelton has said: one pint of milk, two ounces of protein with iron, some fruit juice or fruit, and a multivitamin.  

What about veggies? The more you try to force them on a child, the more he’ll refuse, according to the doctor. Your almost-3-year-old is still in diapers? “The most important thing you can do,” he said, “is to back off and let him know that when he’s ready, he’ll manage just fine.”  

Sounds good.  

Author and host of the Emmy-winning cable program What Every Baby Knows from 1985 to 1998, the 92-year-old pediatrician has been described as a mix of Marcus Welby and Mister Rogers, and the successor to Dr. Benja­min Spock, America’s first widely read baby doctor. A new book, Nurturing Children and Families: Building on the Legacy of T. Berry Brazelton (Wiley-Blackwell), pays tribute to his work as a physician-scientist who has had key insights into newborn behavior and child development. The book brings together papers by contributors whose work in developmental psychology, pediatric health care, public health, education, and ­policy builds on Brazelton’s research.  

Contributors write about topics ranging from the care of preterm infants to changes Brazelton helped implement to make Children’s Hospital Boston more child- and parent-friendly. Co-editor Joshua Sparrow, a child psychiatrist and longtime colleague of Brazelton, hopes the volume reminds people that Brazelton is a man who “really changed the face of the science of infant development” and whose ideas continue to shape research, practice, and policy today. Among those ideas are the importance of observation in understanding and diagnosing infants and babies; the realization that from the moment of birth much is going on in babies’ brains; the need to include the parents in a team approach to pediatric care; and the identification of what Brazelton calls “touchpoints” — moments when a child’s behavior seems to regress, signaling an imminent spurt of development (such as learning to walk).  

“A lot of what he has done is to ­rehumanize medicine and to reintroduce reason and common sense in the face of technological excesses,” noted Sparrow, pointing to Brazelton’s influence in the shift from using general anesthesia to more natural childbirth. Brazelton taught his students to “look in new places for their observations — from the finest of infant finger movements to the inner experience of being with family and child,” writes Constance H. Keefer, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, who trained under him.  

A professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School, Brazelton no longer sees patients but remains active in intervention and research projects involving his neonatal assessment scale and his Touchpoints Center, a training center for educators and health-care and social-service providers at Children’s Hospital Boston. He’d like to see more emphasis on training doctors in early childhood development, specifically on observing a child’s behavior — “that’s his way of telling you what he needs and how he’s developing,” he told PAW.