Last time, I wrote about some of the things that have helped me to enjoy my babies during their infancy. One of the things I mentioned was how ill-prepared I was for caring for my first child. When my first was born, I knew nothing about babies. I thought they were like puppies and that life with my new baby would be filled with cozy cuddle sessions in the rocking chair, relaxing walks in the stroller, and sweet coo’s and giggles during playtime. It’s not that I never thought my baby would cry. I knew that all babies cried when they needed something. I just didn’t expect her to need so much!!!
For instance, I had no idea that babies cry when they’re tired. It would seem to me that a baby who is tired would, well, sleep. Five children later, I’m still amazed by the fact that babies will rarely enter into sleep without a good cry beforehand. I also had no idea that there was a right way to breastfeed. I assumed that if it looked like she was eating, then she was, well, eating! Little did I know that there is, indeed, a right way to breastfeed, and that you actually can overfeed a baby.
The result of all this was the most frustrating and overwhelming six months of mine and my husbands life. Sure, there were moments of pure euphoria as I would look down at this baby, my baby, in awe and wonder. But more often were the moments when I or my husband was awake at 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning, pacing the living room with a baby who would not stop crying. Thankfully, I learned a lot through all of this and that is what I would like to pass along today. Hopefully, I can help other first time mothers not to make the same mistakes that I made! So here are some of the most valuable things that I learned as a new mother, and have continued to learn as a mother of five:
1.) Babies need a routine.
I don’t mean that they need to eat only at certain times, or that bedtime MUST be at 6:00 every night, but it has been good for me to have a rough routine established for my babies. As I’ve stated before, when my first was a baby I thought that every time she cried it was because she was hungry. I eventually learned that babies cry for any number of reasons, only one of which is hunger. Keeping my babies on a loose schedule helps me enormously when it comes to determining why my they might be crying. Did Baby just finish eating ten minutes ago? Then she’s probably not hungry. Has it been an hour since she slept last? Chances are, she’s sleepy. To the best of my ability, I try to follow a loose routine with my babies which starts with nursing, followed by activity, and ending in naptime. So when Baby first wakes up, I will feed her until she is completely full (more on that later). Then we will have play time, followed by nap time. As I said before, I follow this “schedule” very loosely… sometimes babies aren’t hungry when they first wake up. Sometimes they need to eat just before they fall asleep (this is especially important as they get older, since they won’t be sleeping nearly as much as they did as newborns and they’ll almost certainly get hungry before their next nap time.) But following a schedule helps me to determine what the problem might be when Baby starts to cry, along with looking for visual clues to signify what is going on. On that note, I’ll take a few moments to describe exactly what each of the steps in my routine looks like, and what kinds of “visual clues” I look for…
I’m no expert on nursing by any stretch of the imagination. With every one of my children, I still look up at the midwife during that first feeding to ask “am I doing this right?” But I can tell you some things that have made it easier for me.
First, I try to feed my babies before they start to cry. This isn’t always possible, but I try to pay attention to clues like thumb sucking (or an attempt at thumb sucking), “rooting” (where baby opens his mouth and cranes his neck around, searching for the breast), and lip smacking or licking. These are all clues to let me know that it’s time to start feeding my baby.
When it comes to feeding, I have breast fed all of my children, and found that in the beginning the football hold was MUCH easier for me than holding the baby across my chest. If you’re unfamiliar with the different ways to nurse, this site is a good place to gather information.
It’s also vital for me to keep Baby awake when he’s eating. If your baby is bottle fed, this isn’t quite as important as you can see how much he’s eating, but for those who are breastfeeding, this is crucial. My babies take FOR. EV. ER. to nurse (about 40 minutes), but this certainly isn’t the case for every baby. A good (loose) rule to follow is to make sure your baby nurses consistently for at least ten minutes. If, after that, she pops off or starts fussing, burp her and try again. If she still isn’t interested, try the other side. Still no interest? She’s all done. When they’re newborns, keeping them awake to eat for even ten minutes can be tough! But if I let my babies fall asleep while they’re eating, chances are they’re going to wake up hungry again in just a little while. This becomes a vicious cycle because the more Baby keeps waking up to eat, the more tired she becomes and the more fussy she’s ultimately going to be. This means I do whatever it takes to keep Baby awake for the entire period of nursing… I tickle, I undress, I blow gently in their faces… I do whatever I can to keep them awake until I’m sure they’ve eaten enough. It’s no fun trying to keep a sleepy baby awake at 2:00 in the morning, but it really is worth it.
I also let Baby finish nursing from each breast completely before I switch over. People often say that you should only keep the baby on each side for 10 minutes, or 15 minutes, etc, but if the baby is still eating on one side after 15 minutes, why would I move him? Of course, if he keeps popping off of the side he’s on after 5 minutes, and refuses to continue nursing, he’s probably done with that side. Doing it this way ensures that Baby gets both the foremilk and the hind milk from each breast. If you switch your baby from one side to the other without allowing him to finish the side he’s on, he will usually need to eat more frequently. If he finishes on one side and he refuses the second side, I just start with the second side next time he eats.
As for how often to feed, every baby is different and what applies to one mother and baby will not apply to everyone. Mrs. Parunak has written an excellent post on this subject that I highly recommend every nursing mother read. You can find it Here.
3.) Play Time
Newborns aren’t going to stay awake for very long after you feed them, so during “play time” I usually just give Baby something to look at, or play quiet games with her. As Baby gets older, of course, the time they stay awake increases gradually. There are entire books devoted to the kinds of games you can play with babies, so I won’t go into that here, but the important thing about play time in my house is paying attention to Baby’s signals. When Baby begins to show signs of boredom (fussing, pushing toys away, looking around for new toys), I find something else to do with her. Conversely, when Baby begins to turn away from activity, kick her feet, scratch at her face, or yawn, I know it’s time to begin our nap time routine. I try to be sure never to draw play time out for too long, or I’ll end up with an overtired baby… and overtired babies are extremely difficult to soothe.
4.) Nap Time
I always try to start my sleep routine as soon as my babies start to fuss, because the more sleepy they get, the more difficult it is to get them to sleep. As I mentioned previously, babies don’t just “fall” asleep (or at least none of mine have!) They have to be put to sleep. And they may cry and cry, before they finally fall asleep. During this time I try to work the five “S’s.” They are:
Swaying (I.e. rocking)
Sushing (“Shhh, Shhh, Shhh” quietly in baby’s ear)
Sucking (either a pacifier or Mommy’s clean finger.)
Stomach/Side (laying him across my arms on his belly while I support his head)
If one thing isn’t working, I’ll move to something else. Or do several at a time. Swaddling is definitely a “must” with my babies, as it has always helped to calm them down more quickly, as well as helping them to stay asleep (babies get startled easily, and the “startle reflex” causes their arms to jerk upward, which usually wakes my babies up.) Another thing that has been helpful to me is establishing a sleep routine. There have been numerous studies on this subject, showing that from a very early age, babies can predict what is going to happen based on what is happening now. So during nap time, I try to have an activity set up that happens only when it’s nap time. When my first child was a baby, we had an entire routine we followed just before each nap. It was also the only time I ever rocked her in a rocking chair. You can make a nap time CD that will only be played when it’s time for baby to sleep, or song you sing just for bedtime, or any number of things. But I do suggest setting up some type of soothing routine that Baby can look forward to when it’s nap time. The key word here, of course, is soothing. I generally don’t use mobiles during nap time because they are too stimulating. Likewise, I take Baby away from other activities to the best of my ability and bring him to a quiet room where there isn’t much to stimulate him. This has obviously gotten more difficult for me as we’ve had more children, but I do still try to keep the room more quiet then normal when I have an infant trying to fall asleep.
I don’t do any type of “sleep training” or worry about “spoiling” them at this point. If I rock baby to sleep and his eyes pop right back open as soon as I lay him down, I’ll pick him back up and start over. Or, I’ll let him spend nap time in my arms or in a carrier. There’s really no such thing as spoiling a newborn!
And if the baby won’t stop crying after 30 minutes or so, I will usually try nursing him to sleep, even if he’s not hungry. It’s more of a soothing gesture than anything, and I don’t worry about how long he’s eating, or on which side.
On a side note, I’ve always had to be sure I’m paying attention to the clock when it comes to nap time, to be sure that Baby is eating often enough. Generally, newborns should not go more than four hours without eating. So if Baby ate at 12:00, fell asleep at 1:00 and is still asleep by 4:00, I’ll go ahead and wake him up and start our routine over again. This has been especially important when my babies have fallen asleep in their carriers – it seems that they always tend to sleep longer this way.
5.) Crying Time
I think that the most important thing for any knew mom to know is that it’s OKAY to let the baby cry. Not being able to calm a distraught baby is one of the most heartbreaking, frustrating things a Mom can go through, but sometimes we just can’t do anything to stop the crying. After having five children and going through periods of inconsolable crying with each of them, I finally found that if I absolutely can’t get a baby to stop crying, then the best thing I can do is put on some soothing music and hold my baby while she cries. I’ve heard “experts” say that the best thing to do is leave the baby in another room if your getting overwhelmed with inconsolable crying but, personally, I just don’t feel right about that. So instead I make peace with the fact that I can’t stop the crying, and allow Baby to cry herself out while I’m holding her in my arms. This gives her the benefit of my presence, and enables me to comfort her without pulling my hair out in an effort to keep her from crying. (Obviously, if you tried this and only became MORE frustrated, then I would agree with those who would tell you to put your baby down and leave the room. Go take a few deep breaths, pray, call someone if you need to, and don’t go back to your baby until you’re able to cope with the situation. Leaving your baby to cry does not mean you’re failing your baby and it’s not going to emotionally scar your baby.) So…. When I’ve done everything I can do to soothe my babies, and nothing is working, I simply give them permission to cry along with the benefits of my presence. I take them for a walk in the carrier, or read a book with them in my arms. I’ll do whatever I need to do to allow them the comfort of my presence in the midst of their tears.
6.) Hush, Little Baby
Lastly, here are a few other things that have helped my babies to stop crying:
– Loud, repetitive “white” noises, such as a fan or a vacuum cleaner. You can get creative and try to find different noises that will help Baby to stop crying for a few seconds and listen – sometimes that’s long enough to get Baby to calm down enough so that you can do something else that will help him sleep. For whatever reason, my second child would immediately stop crying whenever she heard a blender. Sometimes I’d run the blender until she fell asleep in her swing and then sneak into the kitchen and turn it off. :o)
– Changes in temperature. Sometimes when my first baby (who was born during the winter) would cry and nothing was helping, I would take her outside for a few seconds. The cold air would hit her face and startle her and that would calm her down just long enough so that I was then able to go back inside and rock her sleep.
– Addition or removal of noise. Sometimes, if things are too quiet, my babies have calmed down when I’ve turned on some music really loud. On the other hand, if things are loud it has sometimes helped to leave the room and go somewhere very quiet.
– A Baby Swing. Although I’d much rather give my baby physical contact when he’s crying, there are times when the swing simply soothes him in ways that I can’t. We purchased a very simple swing with our second child and it was a lifesaver.
What about you? Have there been things you’ve learned from having children that would be beneficial to other mothers? If so, I’d love to hear them!
Bonding With Babies – How to really ENJOY your baby!