The Crying Game - Top tips to soothe your baby's sobs
Crying is your baby's language. At first, it is pretty much the only way an infant can communicate his needs and express feelings like discomfort, hunger, exhaustion and loneliness. It is also the only way he can release pent up stress. As your baby grows he will learn other ways to communicate—through facial expressions, body language and, eventually, by telling you how he feels and what he needs. For now, though, here are some tips to help you soothe the sobs:
Attachment parenting or 'AP' as it's often referred to by more devout proponents, is a label that can arouse strong emotions and create divisions among mothers. For some, it conjures up visions of latter day hippies with bare bottomed babies strapped to their bodies around the clock and seems too 'out there' to contemplate. For others, it can seem like an ideal that would be lovely but is just too hard to live up to in this space age world with so many demands on mothers and not enough loving arms to share the load.
Attachment parenting was given its name by US paediatrician William Sears who is renowned for his advocacy of responsive parenting and support of practices that encourage bonding and attachment such as natural birth, breastfeeding, baby wearing and co-sleeping. The essence of Attachment Parenting is about forming and nurturing strong connections between parents and their children through kindness, respect and dignity. Recommendations are based on the psychology of attachment theory and also recent brain research showing that early responsiveness to infant needs has positive lifelong effects on social and emotional development. And, although parents who practice the philosophy of attachment parenting may also embrace practices such as elimination communication (nappy free babies), cloth nappies and home schooling, these options are personal choices, rather than a prerequisite for bonding with your baby.
We often hear the saying, 'play is a child's work'. And while you may think this applies to littlies who can walk and talk and initiate their own games, play is critically important for babies to develop and learn and to form strong bonds with the important people in their lives.
The benefits of baby play
Babies are born with a natural urge to learn and you can enhance their development very simply – through touch, movement and play, along with optimum nutrition and an appropriately stimulating environment that includes music, colour, things to touch, and normal household activity and conversation – with minimal expense or stress to either of you.
Forgot the flashcard saying 'you are being born'?
Don't have a curriculum beyond cuddles for your 3 month old?
If you are worried your child may be 'slipping behind' his peers because you haven't been providing enough educational enrichment, relax! New research shows that the most critical factor in helping your baby's brain development is loving, responsive interactions between you and your baby.
The good news is that this doesn't require special equipment, buckets of money or a whole new set of expectations and pressures for busy parents. Although there is a plethora of baby classes and these can be wonderful 'together' time for you and your little one, offering lots of ideas for interaction and developing skills, you don't need to feel guilty that you are depriving your baby if you aren't filling her week with scheduled activities.
I have just returned from visiting another lovely, intelligent mother who is doing a wonderful job with her baby, but is convinced she must be doing 'everything wrong'. She feels guilty that she has messed up her baby's early days (she hasn't at all!); she feels inadequate because (she thinks) she can't read her baby's cues (she is making perfect eye-contact with her baby - their connection is like a lovers' gaze and as we talk, she intuitively comforts her baby or changes his position at the slightest grimace or squirm); she feels guilty that she has stressed her baby about feeding. The baby was refusing to breastfeed after some inappropriate advice and now the mum is beating up on herself for listening to the advice that made things more difficult. But really, what choice did she have? Her baby was unsettled (as newborns often are), so what desperate, sleep deprived mother wouldn't be ready to grasp at whatever straw was being offered if it sounded reasonable at the time – or was being offered by somebody who seemed more experienced about babies than a brand new mum?
I feel like a really bad mother," confided Sarah, mother of four month old Molly who, apart from an early bout of colic that was overcome with some simple changes to Sarah's own diet, has been an easy, happy baby who rarely cries. Sarah explained, "the other mothers at mums' group all talk about hungry cries, tired cries and angry cries and I am sure I wouldn't recognise one cry from another.
It seems there is nothing like infant crying to stir up confusion and strong feelings among mothers – and anyone else who wants to offer their 'two bobs worth'. How often do we hear, crying is good for the lungs (like bleeding is good for the veins?), or if you pick him up every time he cries, you'll make a rod for your own back (don't you like a cuddle if you feel teary?).
The first rule of the crying game is, 'don't blame yourself '. It is not your fault if your baby cries, even if she cries and cries! At first, crying is pretty much the only way your baby can express feelings like discomfort, hunger, exhaustion and loneliness but as she grows, she will be able to communicate through facial expressions and body language, then eventually by telling you exactly how she feels and what she needs.
Eye contact is an important element of parent child bonding and the development of trust between parent and child: your face is the most potent visual stimulus your baby encounters, and as you and your baby gaze into each other's eyes, endorphin levels rise in your baby's brain, producing feelings of joy. Your own endorphin levels will rise and, in turn, you and your baby become emotionally synchronised.Sadly, much current infant sleep advice includes telling parents to 'avoid eye contact' with their baby. Not only does this go against all natural instincts, but it can have unintended negative consequences for infant development.
"Have I ever done anything abusive to you?" I asked my daughter who had just affirmed that I had never smacked her (I didn't think I had, but needed to check just in case maternal amnesia was causing mummy smugness). After a bit of a pause, my self-image as gentle mummy was shattered. "Yes, you have," she said with absolute conviction. "When I was little, if we went out, and I had a dirty face, you would spit on your hanky and wipe it."
That's hardly a childhood trauma is it? Heck, I can remember my Nana, all dressed up in her hat and gloves, dabbing at my own face with a bit of spit on her lacy hanky. Mind you, I can also remember squirming at the time, and it got me thinking how easy it is to simply do things to small children and babies, without even considering how intrusive or disrespectful it might feel to them. Just for a moment, put yourself in your baby's bootees: What if somebody was shovelling food into your mouth, for instance, then if they wiped the left overs off your face with as much sensitivity as they would mop up the high chair tray? How must it feel to have your legs pulled up in the air and your pants peeled off without so much as a 'please' or 'thankyou'? Or, imagine being taken to visit a houseful of people you have never met before and being expected to smile as they hover over you with their beer breath and kisses or pass you around like a tiny parcel from one stranger to another.