Moms come to the job with a lifetime of expectations. They played with baby dolls, they babysat, had younger sibs or cousins and just assume the mothering instinct is strong and real and will fill in all knowledge gaps. Then, they come home from the hospital with this wriggling needy bundle and wonder what in the world they are going to do. But we soldier on and start blundering through, and most the time it works out pretty well. We learn as we go, and the mistakes are most often just funny family stories eventually.
But some Mamas have a blind spot when it comes to baby. They don't read baby's body language or pick up on the cues that they are distinctly unhappy with whatever we are doing.
Have you ever seen someone just swoop upon their happy baby and ruin baby's happy play time? Have you seen a mom just smother a baby who is trying to will himself into jello to escape Mom's grasp?
We all need to take a step back every now and then to see how the whole interaction looks from outside to see if we are helping or hindering baby with our "help" and affection. Sometimes we do way too much, and others among us may be more laid back and perhaps need to give a bit more.
I was guilty of this one myself! My first two birth kids had some really noticeable cradle cap and while they were nursing, it took all I had to restrain myself from picking at their red, flaking scalps. It clearly bugged them when I did it, as they scrunch up their faces and protest via quick wails and stopped nursing momentarily. Whenever those two detached from the breast, it was a sure sign that something was amiss. I would rub lotion into their scalp and grab a baby brush and gently brush, brush and brush more. No matter what, it seemed to stay or come back. I knew it wasn't necessary to continually go at the cradle cap, but it was a compulsion. It drove me and them crazy! Sorry kids! Mommy has a nervous picking habit!
Sometimes as parents we mean well and have the right idea, but our implementation is a bit off. Lots of parents are so worried about the baby getting a chill that we bundle them up to the point of discomfort. For newborns, it can be hazardous even, cited as a factor in SIDS deaths. We should follow a rule that new baby needs as much dressing as us, plus maybe one layer more. They have no working thermostat yet. Overbundling babies make for pissed off babies, as well. I have a classic pic of my first son, Kyle, all dressed in his polar bear looking snowsuit. The look on his face is one of absolute irritation and anger. Not a happy camper! He hated being so confined. He was also the diaper escape artist, who eventually I had to dress in pajamas backward so he couldn't unzip.
As a first-time parent, I was often guilty of this misery-making motherly habit. I tended to overstimulate my first adopted son, Kyle. I was just so thrilled to have him that I wouldn't leave him alone. I couldn't wait for his naps to end so that I could be with my little buddy. Sounds crazy right? First kids! Trust me, I never waited expectantly after kid #1 for a nap to end EVER! But with Kyle, I tended to just be doing too much and it made him crabby or sometimes he'd just plain shut down. Later I realized that he was a bit of a gifted little guy with not-surprising accompanying sensitivities. He was a musical prodigy and was very sensitive to too much sound or activity. I was horrible at reading him for a good while, and until I figured out that I was his problem, we were both pretty miserable often.
Another thing we moms sometimes do is neglect what we need to do. Experts tell us that babies have individual cries for individual needs and while there are some general guidelines, mothers who pay close attention will soon learn to differentiate an "I'm tired!" cry from an "I'm hungry!" cry. I will testify to it that eventually, moms do pick this up if they try at all. In fact, I can often tell to this day about what's wrong with the crying baby at the supermarket or the park, even though I've never so much as held the tot. If the baby is miserable, check the basics. Is he hungry? Could he need an extra feeding because of a growth spurt? Is she wet? Sometimes babies start getting more picky about getting changed right away and find it more uncomfortable and have learned to cry to get your attention more swiftly.
Kids, even babies, need room to roam. It's how they learn how the world works. Yes, it's neater and sometimes safer, possibly quieter, but not very healthy to keep Junior corralled in a playpen, swing or crib. And an enterprising, intelligent youngster will soon figure out how to escape if you don't heed the protests about the unfair imprisonment. Instead of relying on playpens for more than naps or temporary help, like if you run to the bathroom or grab the mail from the porch, let the baby have more ample space to explore. You can just section off rooms with gates or furniture. Let the baby have room to explore and baby will learn and grow, and be much happier. Babies must interact with his or her environment to learn about life.
One reason older babies and toddlers become miserable, crabby people is that their parents don't understand them or what they want, don't want or need. Their ability to communicate isn't quite keeping up with their need to communicate and that leads to miserable babies who meltdown, cry, shout or wail, or even shut down. I heard about teaching babies simple sign language when my youngest, Najilah was a newborn. I decided to give it a try, and she caught on so easily. She didn't have as many tantrums as her sibs, and it definitely didn't interfere with her language skills. Trust me, that little girl mastered talking quite early, and has not stopped yet! Just ask any of her brothers or sister. Simple signs for words like help, milk, drink, hungry or up are great to start with. You don't need any expensive lessons or books. Just head to the library or check out some websites to learn a few basic signs for baby.
My first child, Kyle, was a sensitive guy with an impressive pair of lungs. We lived in a hundred-year-old two-story house, and all the bedrooms were upstairs, so I relied often on a nursery monitor. Kyle could just about blow out the speakers if I didn't present myself promptly crib-side once he had begun fussing at the end of his naps. Soon, his cries would transform into yells that clearly sounded like, "HEYYYYYYYY!", even though he wasn't talking yet. I will admit I'm far too much a worrier and softie to do the whole "cry it out" method. I tried it with later infants but failed miserably. As a mom and grandmom now, I realize balance is key. Now I didn't need to sprint to Kyle's side every time I heard a whimper, but it's not a good idea to just ignore baby's cries on the regular, either. It teaches baby you either work for him, or he can't trust you. Neither is a good way to be.
This baby is so laid-back and obviously doesn't need any interaction at this moment. It's important for parents to know when their child needs a little space. After all, your kid doesn't need you to be right at their side 24/7 to entertain them. You are the mom. You are the dad. You are not a birthday clown or Disneyland-on-feet. Learn to read baby's nonverbal cues about when enough is enough. It's not only teens who need some space, you know. Babies sometimes do too, in order to spend time learning about their environment or to just wind down or learn to self-soothe. Give them the opportunity for some alone time and they will enjoy you later! No, it's not a punishment to be away from baby for a little bit.
When I adopted my preemie boys who had special needs, one of the special directions given to me was to limit how much movement I exposed them to at once. For instance, don't pat his back and rock simultaneously. It would overwhelm him and make him so uncomfortable he'd not be able to settle to sleep. Or don't rock him in my arms while rocking in a chair. Limit movement to ease baby's comfort. They had overwrought nervous systems and all this input was just too much for them to process. Preemies and drug-exposed infants are not the only babies who can be stressed out by too much movement. My son Kyle hated to be lifted up above my head, or anyone's for that matter and would hang on for dear life, sometimes hooking his feet on your crotch if you tried lifting him. He made it clear, "Nope, that's not gonna work for me!" Again, learn your babies cues. Does he turn away? Wail? Is he becoming frustrated? Then take stock of what is bothering him.
Many babies are fans of white noise, although they won't be able to tell you that exactly. Having some white noise on covers up the noises that are inconsistent or jarring to the baby. White noise machines have become popular nursery items, but just be certain not to have it too loud for baby. Other faves for babies may include hair dryers, vacuums, fans-ceiling or box, and apps made for this purpose. Baby may be miserable if Mommy doesn't provide this soothing sound concoction for baby. Too quiet or too random noises will often awaken baby This can lead to stressed out Mom and baby. Moms just have to learn baby and determine what she needs at the moment. Eventually, the process will be easier as you pay attention and figure out baby's signs of unhappiness.
Yes, it can be funny to see baby react to all kinds of things that we know pose no threat to them, but they don't know that. So much less funny to the baby. Too much emphasis on the "boo" part of peek-a-boo can create a seemingly neurotic baby. Again, Kyle probably got too much of this stimulus as well, at first from his clueless parents, and later by typically sadistic sibs. It's OK to play games, and babies will become startled by all kinds of things, but too much is when the baby is no longer having fun and cannot relax. You don't want a nail-biter by age 2, do you? Nope, then you must learn to have balance in this as well. It's fine to surprise baby, but to intentionally startle baby, repeatedly especially, is cruel. Baby doesn't understand it's all play, and the stress will make baby miserable.
It amazes me that some parents seem to think that if the baby is too young to remember an incident, it does no harm. That's ridiculous and untrue. If you fight with your spouse or partner in front of the baby, the baby may not cry but will be affected all the same. However, it's pretty likely that baby will cry, at least initially. If it's something baby is exposed to repeatedly, then the baby will probably stop crying but that doesn't mean "baby is used to it". Keep your drama away from the baby. If you have an argument, try to keep your voices at a reasonable level. If that's too hard, stay away from the baby and go to another room and shut the door. Of course, be sure baby is safe where she is. Baby will be miserable if put in this situation time and again. If you and your mate can't stop fighting, it's time to evaluate the options. Either get some help or call it quits. Staying together in misery is no favor to a child. Learn to co-parent if you can't be a couple.
Some people expect babies to fit into their lifestyles and make no real effort to change their pre-child lifestyle. That means waking when you want, keeping all kinds of hours, no meal times that are regular, no norms. Babies don't thrive in chaos, no matter how cool and unstructured we think it is. Let the baby have a regular time for sleeping and waking. Allow baby to have a routine for eating and bathing so that he can anticipate what is coming next. It will make him happy to know what to expect. Babies without routines will be disorganized and unhappy overall. Give baby the gift of a solid, set schedule that baby can count on. It doesn't have to be exacting or overly strict, but rather just dependable and comfortable to make baby happy.
Having too strict a schedule is as damaging to baby's happiness as not having one at all. What you want to do is have a fairly fixed schedule with some flexibility worked into it. That way, should Grandma come by, you don't have to shrug and say, "Sorry! You missed time with the grandbaby. She's got to stay in the crib until 2 pm. Bad luck, Granny!" Instead, you could get her up a little bit early and maybe put her down for the night a smidge early to make up for it. Try to keep the same order of events, even if you have to tweak the exact timing. If you have a big outing or event, to keep baby mostly meltdown-free, try to keep as many things as you can on schedule.
Wanna see a really stressed out kid and a totally freaked out Mom? Hide that baby's favorite pacifier, blankie or stuffed animal. The world will collapse before your eyes. Smart mommies have a back up for every special thing. It may not be the very fave, but it will at least be close and smell familiar. Do not under any circumstances believe that you can fool baby by buying one, even if it's identical. It doesn't have the exact texture or smell of the beloved thing, and while you think those are the grossest part of the loved thing, it's actually the thing that makes it special to the baby. Parents learn, often the hard way, that baby knows his most adored possessions and will not fall for your pathetic ploys to trick him. And for the love of all that's holy, never ever go away on a trip or stressful appointment without having these special things. Misery definitely will have company otherwise!