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The Neonatal Phase


Disciplines > Psychoanalysis > Concepts > The Neonatal Phase

Description | Discussion | See also



Lacan, as Freud, views all babies to be born prematurely. From birth to around six months, the baby lives in a highly connected state where there is no sense of individual identity as they live in a boundaryless, sensory, pre-linguistic state. This material existence is as close to Lacan’s ‘real’ as the person will ever get.

Although this phase has pleasures, there is also pain, hunger, discomfort and change. We are outside the warm and consistent womb and the differences of the real impinge upon the baby’s senses. Perhaps the rhythm of Kristeva’s (1998) ‘chora’ is felt in the differentiating significances of semiotic ordering.

Within this phase and before the Mirror phase, the baby starts to ‘territorialize’, sensing and separating out significant and distinctive parts of the world, both in its mother and itself. In the mother, lips, gaze, voice, breasts have separate emotional impact on the child. In itself, sensori-motor activity leads to early identification of such as limbs, sexual organs and parts of the face.


We only glimpse the sense of wholeness in life, that nirvana that whole religions seek, which Freud called the 'oceanic feeling'. It can come through love of another or religious experiences borne out of prayer or meditation or other unifying acts.

Early realisation of difference

At some early point, the child realizes that there is a physical difference between itself and its parents. In the neo-natal exploration of body parts, a penis is or is not discovered. In the identity separation of the imaginary order, physical differences can be seen between entities.

Feminist readings of Lacan (Rose, 1986) have identified that girls get a sense of their gender earlier than boys, in the neo-natal stage where they recognize themselves in their mothers in Kristeva’s (1998) chora.

The mother’s desire

In the neo-natal stage, the child is highly bonded with its mother, who is the source of warmth, protection and sustenance. The mother is of the as-yet unknown post-mirror symbolic world and is affected by desire: ‘le desire de la mere’ (which, in French, means both the desire of the mother and the desire for the mother).

In breast feeding the child, the mother may feel sexual stimulation, an intense emotion that the unbound senses of the baby can pick up. The baby also may reciprocate with primitive sexual instincts and an unconscious relationship, different for girls and boys, be formed that may be the seeds of later Oedipal change. The broader symbolic desires of the mother are also communicated to the child.


Winnicott, in the first of his first development stages, identified the undifferentiated unity with the mother and the need for a feeling of omnipotence, which the good-enough mother supports (later gently deflating this illusion).

See also

Lacan, Freud, Kristeva, Lacanian psychoanalysis, Ideology, Mirror phase, Winnicott's development stages

Kristeva, J. (1998). Revolution in poetic language. in Identity: a reader, Paul du Gay, Jessica Evans and Peter Redman (eds), 2000, London: Sage, pp 69-75

Rose, J. (1982). Feminine sexuality. in Identity: a reader, Paul du Gay, Jessica Evans and Peter Redman (eds), 2000, London: Sage, pp 51-68


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