Rockabye baby on the tree top
what do you want when your crying won’t stop?
Oh, that newborn stage. The stage when you don’t really know this little person you’re responsible for.
Right after my first son was born, I was shocked to discover a fear I’d never considered having. I was terrified to be alone with my baby. What do I do if he wakes up? Am I supposed to entertain him? How?
It didn’t take long to realize that he wasn’t interested in being entertained. But I still didn’t understand what he needed. After all, nothing made sense. I mean, I felt like he slept allll the time, while I was sleep deprived.
Why is it that the mother of a newborn – the one who’s supposed to have superhuman instinct and just know what to do with him – is insecure and confused? Why don’t we trust our instincts to tell us what newborns want?
Part of the problem is simply that you don’t know this child yet. Superhuman instinct develops over time. It certainly isn’t birthed right along with your baby. And the baby doesn’t know you yet either, although your voice is very familiar and comforting.
Another part of the problem is that you’re probably not used to being on call around-the-clock for someone who doesn’t speak your language.
Tears are understandable. Oh, and it’s normal for the baby to cry too!
It’s not easy to understand what newborns want.
1. Sleep is what newborns want
First and foremost, babies need that beauty rest. Because newborns are strange looking, and they need to get baby-commercial cute. Okay, that’s not the real reason. (But I still say they need beauty rest!)
The infant body and brain is growing so amazingly fast, and they have to get sleep to facilitate and support this growth. They will sleep (and grow) almost constantly in the first few weeks.
The cool thing about newborns is that they have no sleep associations, no opinions about napping, and it’s incredibly easy to get them to sleep. This is the time to decide if you want to nurse your baby to sleep or not. Start the journey in the way you want to finish it.
The reason you feel sleep deprived while they sleep allll the time is that they don’t sleep for long stretches, so the sleep you get is very broken. You’ll need to take naps while you’re getting such broken sleep. The hard part is following the advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” because that’s when you’ll want to do frivolous things like take a shower, make food, and pay your bills. Nap when you can. Trust me on this.
2. Milk! It’s what newborns want.
This one’s obvious, right? I mean, a baby’s gotta eat! A LOT. To the tune of about 10 to 12 times in a 24-hour span.
Because his tummy is very very tiny at first, he won’t eat much at a time, but he’ll make up for it by eating frequently.
If your baby is crying, start with milk. But be on the lookout for his hunger cues next time. Crying is late-stage hunger signals. Earlier hunger signals you want to catch include rooting around with his nose and mouth, chewing his fist, and sometimes smacking his lips.
3. Safety: what newborns want
There are a few things that go under the safety category. Don’t drop him comes right to mind. Oh come on, you were thinking it too!
Keep him home for the first few weeks. Definitely stay away from crowds.
Make sure everyone near him is healthy and washes their hands before they touch him.
Keep his diapers changed. (Because well, you try having a diaper rash. It’s not fun!)
Right now the most important thing to your baby is knowing that when he cries, you’ll be there. The newborn phase is not the time to try any cry-it-out methods. He’s not spoiled at this point, and not yet capable of becoming spoiled.
If he cries, it’s because he has a legitimate need – physical or emotional – and he doesn’t have the words to tell you about it. So be there, and meet his needs.
4. Love – what newborns want most
Babies thrive on love. Literally. There was a controversial study done by Rene Spitz in the 1940’s that was seeking to answer the question of why babies in orphanages had such high mortality rates – some countries reported as high as 75%!! One idea was that is was just the fact that they were in an institution surrounded by so many other people. So in the study, Spitz followed the welfare of two groups of institutionalized infants. The babies in the first group were orphans whose physical needs were met, but they weren’t given affection and attention. The babies in the second group were born to imprisoned women and allowed to spend time with their mothers. Over the course of two years, not a single prison baby died, but many of the orphan babies died for no apparent physical reason. Spitz concluded that it was a lack of affection that killed these babies.
(For the purpose of the article, I wanted to read Spitz’s full report. I’m sure it is archived, but I couldn’t find it. I found several articles and journals that referenced Spitz’s study and talked and/or debated his methods, but I was unable to find the study itself. I’m sorry I can’t provide a reference for it at this time. If you know its location, please comment below and share it!)
There are so many ways of showing love to your baby. Many of them will just happen without anyone needing to tell you. Hold your baby, talk and sing to him, hug and kiss him. While you’re nursing him, let him gaze in your eyes. This will help him bond to you and strengthen his focus.
My favorite way of showing love is through skin-to-skin contact! There are so many emotional, psychological, and physical benefits with skin-to-skin contact. And those benefits? They’re for the parent AND the baby. So rip off those shirts and get close! (Even if it is a super-cute nursing shirt like this one!) Your baby will feel secure and loved in no time flat.
And if my baby is STILL crying?
If your baby is still crying, I have a few other friendly suggestions
- Try baby-wearing, such as using a Boba wrap. Just talk and sing while you do your thing and see if baby calms down.
- You can also try the faithful old standby: a car ride. It puts babies to sleep like magic!
- Don’t be too proud to see if someone else can do anything with him. Sometimes grandparents have the magic touch. And there’s something about the deep bass of daddy’s voice that calms a lot of babies when nothing mom does can help.
- There’s a calming way of holding a baby that’s completely genius. It looks weird, but totally works! One of my babies was very…um, let’s call it high strung…and cried All. The. Time. This hold was a Godsend! Here’s a video of the physician who perfected the technique:
If nothing seems to work and you suspect your baby is in pain, call your pediatrician. Your baby may have a problem that needs to be addressed.
And now you know
Every newborn needs sleep, milk, safety, and love. Not necessarily in that order. If your baby is crying, start with milk then check for comfort and offer snuggles in a quiet atmosphere where they sleep.
The needs of a newborn aren’t difficult, just difficult to interpret at times. Now that you know understand what newborns want and how to meet those needs (plus a few bonus shush-the-baby techniques), you will make this parenting thing look like a snap!
Do you have any brilliant shush-the-baby tricks? Please comment below and share the brilliance!
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