Thomas Berry Brazelton Biography (1918-)


Well-loved and popular pediatrician, T. Berry Brazelton was born on May 10, 1918 in Waco, Texas, to Thomas Berry Brazelton and Pauline (Battle) Brazelton.His first experiences with babies and children were during his own childhood, when he was frequently put in charge of babysitting his many young cousinsat family parties and reunions. It was immediately clear that Brazelton had both a talent for and a love of being with children, including babies. Thanksto these early child care experiences, Brazelton was able to decide on a career in pediatrics as early as the sixth grade, abandoning his previously chosen career of veterinarian.

Brazelton left Waco to attend a prep school in Alexandria, Virginia, (Episcopal High School). He then attended New Jersey's Princeton University, following the pre-medical curriculum. Brazelton also enjoyed acting in a number of college theatre productions, and even considered accepting a role on Broadway.His parents, however, were tremendously unenthusiastic about this proposal, and recommended that, should he wish them to pay for medical school in the future, he concentrate on his pre-medical studies. Brazelton decided to heed their advice.

After receiving his A.B. from Princeton in 1940, Brazelton went on to earn his M.D. from the College of Physicians and surgeons at New York City's Columbia University. He did his internship year through Columbia University, at Roosevelt Hospital, and then served for a year in the United States Naval Reserve.

In 1945, Brazelton began a medical residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1947, he began his pediatrics training at Boston Children's Hospital. During this time, Brazelton began to recognize that the medical field's emphasis on the study of pathology and disease was of less interest to him than thestudy of normal development. Brazelton realized that he most wanted the opportunity study and understand human beings, rather than to study and understand disease. In response to these passions, Brazelton decided to enter a residency in child psychiatry, at Putnam Children's Center in Roxbury, MA. He pursued this at a time when child psychiatry had not yet gained respect in the medical field.

In 1950, after having completed his child psychiatry residency, Brazelton began a private practice in Cambridge, MA. In 1951, he was appointed as an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

Also in 1951, Brazelton began doing research with parents and babies. He published a variety of findings, all of which spoke to babies being much more involved with and discerning of their environment than had usually been believed. Brazelton established that, as early as four months into development, a fetus's nervous system was sophisticated enough that a loud noise would evoke astartle response. Other studies revealed that a newborn, only days old, can distinguish between a blank oval and a drawing of a human face. A baby only three weeks of age can distinguish between the voices of its mother and its father. Brazelton honed his powers of observation such that he could observe thebehaviors of premature babies and use them to predict recovery time from various illnesses of prematurity.

The Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale was published in 1973, with revisions made in 1984. Brazelton designed this scale to utilize information obtainedfrom providing newborns with visual, auditory, and tactile stimuli, in orderto study a newborn's response to the environment. This information allows practitioners to obtain very early information about potential developmental problems, as well as helping practitioners and parents characterize the baby'sbehavioral style as average, quiet, or unusually active. Another advantage ofthis scale over other evaluative tools is that it allows evaluation to beginduring the newborn stage, as opposed to other scales which can't be administered until a baby is several months old. Brazelton created the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale in the hopes that it would also prove helpful for people trying to adopt babies; if newborns could be reliably assessed, and potential adoptive parents could be reassured that the newborns were normal, then perhaps adoptions could be expedited.

Brazelton has also been a tremendously prolific writer, supplying parents with a variety of anecdotally-based books on child development. Brazelton describes his main goals as being to strengthen the parent-child bond by helping parents understand their children as individuals, and by providing reassuranceas to the vast range of baby's personalities and responses. Some of his verypopular books include Infants and Mothers: Individual Differences (1969, revised 1983); Toddlers and Parents (1974); Doctor and Child(1976); On Becoming a Family (1981); Working and Caring (1984); What Every Baby Knows (1987); The Earliest Relationship: Parents,Infants and the Dream of Early Attachment (1990, with Bertrand Cramer);Touchpoints: Your Child's Emotional and Behavioral Development (1993).

Through the 1990s, in his 70s and early 80s, Brazelton has maintained an extremely active schedule. He has continued a small pediatric practice, while continuing to teach medical students and residents, researching behavior, lecturing widely, appearing on numerous television programs, writing prolifically for periodicals and websites, and helping lobby the public to push for their parental rights in the form of what ultimately passed as the Family Leave Actof 1993. Brazelton still sees his most important mission as fostering a senseof competent, loving, joyful parenting.

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