I think if new parents haven’t been around a lot of babies, they can be fairly shocked when they have a little one of their own!
I was one of those parents. I had worked in a neonatal intensive care unit for my job, and the babies were exhausted after feeding. So they ate, and then they slept right through until the next feeding time. Full-term babies were fussier, but usually close to being discharged, and hey, there was an entire staff to entertain them and carry them around or play with them!
I thought I would be doing things in between nursing my baby, like cleaning the house and exercising, and that there would be a lot of baby sleeping.
But it was wonderful all the same. However, I would love to share five truths with you about babies from my experience as a long-time breastfeeding counselor, lactation consultant, pediatric and neonatal physical therapist, and mom of three…..
- It takes time for babies to develop a rhythm to sleeping and waking patterns. Some babies can be good sleepers, but it actually is neuroprotective for babies to not sleep too deeply due to risk of SIDS (highest at ages 2-5 months), and their sleep cycles are different than adult sleep cycles. This is a great article about infant sleep from Dr. Sears that I think every new parent should read. Bottle feeding parents are sometimes recommended by other parent to put rice cereal in a bottle to help babies sleep longer but this is is a myth; there are studies back to 1989 showing this makes no difference and in fact can be HARMFUL – here are recent studies from 2015 cited in an easy to read article from Kelly Mom.
- Babies need a lot of physical touch. It changes DNA for the better, as found in this recent study from 2017! You can also use a babywearing to help you. There are many on the market, including meshy slings you can use in the shower if you don’t have a helper to leave your baby outside the shower door. Babywearing International has closed as an organization, but they still have many good article up on their site about choosing a baby carrier. Here is a rare picture on this blog of our third child wrapped up in a sling several weeks after his birth.
- Babies also need time to be free on the floor, both on their back and on their stomach. They need time to look at black, white, and red objects; they need time to have one arm exposed out of swaddling to move, opportunities to extend and stretch and to move their head and limbs. This develops the muscles needed for sitting, crawling, and standing.
- Babies experience times of symmetry and asymmetry, but overall should be moving all limbs equally and shouldn’t have a preference to looking or moving to only one side. There are some months, like two months of age, that are considered a stronger time of asymmetry developmentally due to such reflexes such as an Asymetric Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) and four months is typically a very symmetric time. Constant asymmetric movement patterns can be caused by challenges with development. Keep in touch with your baby’s health care team about your baby’s physical development. Here is a gross motor checklist from the Aussie Childcare Network
- Babies experience stress too! There are stress signs that are a call to be held and soothed. Babies do not self-soothe. They do not have a sense of self. They have a sense of smell, they have a sense of taste and touch, they don’t see very well except breast/chest level to a parent’s face, and they need help in self-regulation. Breastfeeding meets these biological goals. However, no baby should be left to just “cry it out.” Here is an editorial with medical references that talk about letting your baby cry. The reality is that your baby may cry even if you are holding them, especially in cases of babies with reflux and other things going on, but don’t leave them to cry alone. Get help so YOU feel supported as a parent, and then you can support your baby. A parent and a baby together are a team.
There are many back posts about babies on this blog – here are a few of my favorites:
40 Days After Birth and Beyond
Transforming Post-Partum Stress Into Joy
When Babies Cry and What We Can All Learn from the High-Needs Baby
Discipline for 0-1 year old babies (hint: it involves being connected and attached to your infant!) The main rule of guiding children, that starts at birth, is being responsive!
Blessings and love,