5 truths about the development of babies

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.

Nope! Surprise!

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…..

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. 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

Postpartum Depression

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,

Carrie

Transforming Post-Partum Stress Into Joy

I wrote a post  a long time ago based upon my experience as a physical therapist in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that consistently is one of the top posts ever on this blog.  It really was meant for those parents with premature infants or infants who were neurologically immature to be able to look for stress signs and help their infant with soothing and calming techniques.  However, that post ended up turning into something more than that….and I think this there is a reason.

What I have noticed in leading breastfeeding support meetings over the last 11 and a half years is that mothers today are almost like these infants –  they are not only new,  but super vulnerable, and feeling so stressed about trying to mother.  They are so afraid of making a mistake, and seem almost paralyzed by normal infant behaviors.

Mothers, have confidence in yourself.  YOU are the expert on your baby. Yes, it is probably harder than you thought it was going to be.  It might now be as intuitive as we thought, because many of us use more analysis and fact.   I think there are several reasons for this stressful, anxious ridden beginning that many parents today seem to be experiencing –

  1.  Many times we are afraid to ask for help, so we don’t and just try to tough it out.  If we do decide to ask for help, we turn to the Internet.  We don’t necessarily want to do things the way our parents or grandparents did so we don’t ask them, but when we turn to the Internet, we often get  100 different answers/choices/experiences on any given topic, which is confusing.
  2. This leads to decision-making fatigue.  How do we know which one of the answers/choices/experiences is the RIGHT answer?  We might be messing these poor babies up FOREVER.
  3. The stakes seem to be too high to make a mistake.
  4. We are exhausted.  No one told us it would be like this.  We don’t have a lot of support,  we have too many decisions to make,  and we can’t decide what the answers to these topics or infant behaviors are, and it seems too mystical.

It is so hard.  Parenting is often about trying things and learning to let go, making the wrong choice and having to make it right, or discovering that the things that worry us so were just not that big an issue after all.  And I fear sometimes that as a society we are wearing ourselves out on these small things, and we therefore have less energy for the really big things that  matter and happen as children grow and go through developmental stages.

I think finding people in real-life who can help you – whether that person is the grandma down the street in your neighborhood, a caring health care professional, a support group,  or friends you really trust – can  be helpful.  Staying off the Internet can also be helpful – it will give you a lot less decision fatigue.  See if you can figure out what is going on, what YOU think,  before you turn to the Internet and look it up.  Find some trusted resources.  I think when we had our first child, we wore the pages of Dr. Sears’ “The Baby Book” right out.  It was my reassurance because even though I worked with a lot of infants and very sick infants, this baby who was not on a monitor and did full-term baby things was challenging!  And that brings me to my last point: before you have children, it would great to spend some actual time with babies and toddlers.  If you didn’t grow up in a large family or babysitting frequently, you may not really know the normal things that babies and toddlers do.  Pregnant mothers are welcome at many support meetings and that can be a good place to start!

Let’s stop the epidemic of anxious stress that pervades our parenting beginnings.  Let’s take it back down to enjoying the beginning of the newest life in the family.

Much love,
Carrie

The Babymoon

 

Elizabeth Foss is enjoying her first grandbaby, and I enjoyed her post regarding the days after birth here:  http://www.elizabethfoss.com/reallearning/2014/05/in-praise-of-the-babymoon.html

I find it interesting if one looks on the Internet regarding “planning” a babymoon, most of the top posts have to do with planning some special time with a spouse prior to the arrival of a baby!  This is baffling to me. Most attached parents, and parents who hold childbirth and the parenting of children in the most sacred terms, do not think of babymoon as a honeymoon getaway, but as a sacred time after a baby is born when life as a family with children begin.

Having a first baby, having multiples babies, all changes things.  Nothing is or should be the same as it was, but perhaps not in the “inconvenienced” way general society assumes.   I wrote some time ago about the joy of the first forty days after birth, and encouraged readers to slow down for an extended time after birth.  Here is that original post:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/07/17/40-days-after-birth-and-beyond/.

There are many beautiful ways to prepare for the first forty days: Continue reading

Life As A Means

 

In the tradition of  Rudolf Steiner’s  inner work according to the rhythm of each day of the week, today (Wednesday) is the day of “Right Standpoint”.  It is this idea of ordering our lives with harmony.  Put our lives in harmony with our values.  Put our lives in harmony with nature.  Put our lives in harmony, I would say, with God and the purpose God has set you here on earth for.  (As a Christian, I see definite purposes for my life as laid out in the Bible and by the Early Church fathers).    Life is one of the means, a  tool, to our own inner development as a human being.

 

If this is important for us as adults to work on, how much more important is this for our children who are still developing?  And, because our children are developing, it is up to us to help order their lives in these ways.

 

We can say no to media and screens because it is “entertainment” that is often full of sarcasm, violence, hypocrisy, and fills time instead of having our children learn to create and order their own time.

 

We can say yes to Continue reading

The Older Baby Who Can’t Be Put Down

 

I had a really sweet first time mother write in and ask me about her older baby who wants to be held all the time.  Do you all remember that stage with your very first child?  When there were no other children around?

 

Her question involved another aspect as well:  that of parenting alone for long hours on end and how to get that break when, as the parent, we are just about to lose it.  I think many of us have been there, and I wanted to provide some encouragement.  Perhaps you all have your own experiences to add in, if you can remember that far back to your first child and that sort of mobile and needy one year old stage.

 

Dear Sweet Mama,

,
I think it is really common for an infant of birth through even three year of age to want to be held frequently. In some cultures, infants don’t even touch the ground until the baby turns one year old.  In our society,  many parents use slings, particularly putting your older infant on your back, as a solution to this dilemma. I am a huge fan of slings, particularly wearing an infant or toddler on my back so I can go about my own work – which is work around my home or garden.  Some families are really lucky and have a lot of other adult family members around.  But in American society, most of us are not that lucky.  Often we are the only ones home alone with an infant for long stretches of time.

 

So, this leads to another point….

 

Attached infants can also learn to be happy and not be held 24/7,if you work in short spurts and think ahead about the environment you are setting up for this.  For an older infant or child who is used to being held a lot,  it takes time to know that this is a rhythm, a pattern and an okay place to be.   Sometimes tying it to some particular task you are doing can be successful for the little one who is truly not used to it.  So, maybe you would like to start with putting your infant down whilst you unload your dishwasher. Take the silverware out in case your older baby can pull up and get into the sharp silverware and set them down on a blanket whilst you are unloading the dishwasher.  Sing to them heartily!  Smile at them!  Think about distraction and including them whilst they are down there. Or, set them up to play with a small tray of water on a sheet or in the sink whilst you unload the dishwasher or in the sink.  You have to think of distraction,  and also be cheery and confident they can survive without being held for ten minutes so long as they are safe.

 

You can also get down and play with your child on the floor, but I think what most parents are striving for is to have their hands free for a few moments and have their baby not be wailing. 

 

As far as what to do when you are ready to lose it….We all have moments like this in parenting, especially I think with the first child.  If your infant is in a safe place where they cannot hurt themselves, you can set your baby down. Your baby will cry, you may cry too, but again, if your baby is safe and you are nearby,  they are not going to die by crying. Sometimes too,  just changing the scenery by going outside together, setting your baby down in the grass, or taking a walk together, can also diffuse the moment.

 

The bigger issue is to think about prevention, and also to have that plan for what you are going to do when those inevitable moments happen.  Think about and plan within your family’s schedule what breaks you need throughout the week, make sure you are eating and sleeping well (nap when your baby naps! for the whole first year or even the whole first two years if you can get it!) think about who you can call to talk you off the ledge at that moment, keep reminding yourself what is normal for that age so you are not expecting too much, love your child, get outside, form a community, pray and develop yourself through your own inner work (religion, spirituality, whatever you call it and whatever it is to you) and enjoy your baby.  We were not meant to take care of a baby all  alone for hours on end – I don’t believe. Community is so important!

Again, make sure you have someone you can call in the moment – a friend, a family member – who could come if you called or you could at least call any day or night. And communicate with your spouse – parenting is hard work, and it is important you have at least some time to yourself each week  for a few hours, if not a period of time each day. Parenting with a partner should be just that, working to create a family culture together.

 

Many blessings,
Carrie

Nourishing Your Toddler

I wrote this post quite a while ago regarding the years of birth through age two and a half or so here:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/01/10/getting-children-into-their-bodies-part-one-birth-to-age-2-and-a-half/.  I am still quite happy with this post, but I wanted to add some things here as just gentle food for thought…

Every day, do as much as you can to protect the senses of the small infant and toddler.  We are such an overstimulated society; I think the phrase “eye candy” really sums up how our culture has a visual emphasis.  We practically overdose our senses, especially our sense of sight, on things that are not true to the reality found in nature, the most beautiful and wondrous of our Creator’s work.  If we look about our homes and simplify them into simple scenes where our toddlers can participate in truly meaningful work, where there are simple open ended toys of natural materials, then we have gone a long ways toward promoting the health of our child.

Often we mistake what our small toddler needs and in place of time, space and stability we try to provide new, exciting, stimulating.  Yet, the capacities of our small toddler will flourish with a slow, rhythmic, protected introduction to life.  Develop your own peaceful soul, your own simple ways of being, and your child will be enveloped in this goodness.  Smile at your toddler, love your toddler, tell your toddler every day how strong and helpful they are, wonder and marvel at insects and the sunrise and the wind together.  Your children imitate not only your actions, but your thoughts.  Be brave, be wise, be beautiful!

And work on those lower body senses.  The sense of touch, the sense of life (how do you feel?  Can you even tell if you are not feeling well or do you just ignore that  and move on?), the sense of movement and the sense of balance.

Every day, no matter the weather, spend hours outside in the morning and the afternoon.  There should be opportunities for your toddler to stomp in puddles, in creeks, play in the mud and the sand, walk on forest trails and on the beach, and fully inhabit his home, his yard, his street.  Every day!  Outside time should be the priority for this age, along with meaningful work.

The shift in toddlerhood occurs because toddler energy needs form.  Many mothers will jot down a rhythm to each day the night before.  There must be a plan, and you must be the creator….see this for the wondrous opportunity that it is, and not a burden.  You can do this and it will be just right for you are the expert on your own family.

Many blessings and peace,

Carrie

This Could Be My Favorite Post

…. ( A reader alerted me on 11/7/2012 that this link didn’t work and she couldn’t find the original post.  On quick search I couldn’t either, but this post is similar: http://www.elizabethfoss.com/reallearning/2012/08/lets-talk-about-learning-with-little-ones.html   Enjoy!)

,,,,of all the things Elizabeth Foss has written.  Go and check it out!

http://www.elizabethfoss.com/reallearning/2011/07/lets-talk-about-learning-with-little-ones.html

 

How is that for lovely heading into the weekend?

Many blessings,
Carrie