Sunday, 1 March 2015

How can I tell what my baby wants?

In August 2014, the Yahoo Contributor Network was shut down. All the copyrights to articles thereon were returned to their authors, so I decided to publish certain articles of mine, originally written for Yahoo UK on my own blogs. This is one of them.

When I gave birth to my first child, I wondered how I was supposed to know what my baby needs and when to do it?

Being a first time parent is an incredibly steep learning curve, and no one could blame an expectant parent for disbelieving the reassurance that they will be able to do it. Things work themselves out in time, and ultimately, no one is better equipped to care for your baby than you.

With this in mind, I am going to share some of my best tips, as a mum of two. Hopefully these ideas will instill the confidence to listen to your baby and your own instincts.

New babies are not complicated

Babies have very simple needs. More importantly, they only have needs. Babies do not have ill-considered ideas, or Machiavellian tendencies. What they ask for, is what they need to survive, so there is no need to worry about making a judgement call on their behalf.

Initially your baby simply needs food, comfort and security. A lack of any of these will initiate instinctive behaviours that, if not responded to, will progress into crying. They may also cry because they are tired, but if their other needs are satiated, a newborn is more likely to fall asleep than cry from tiredness.

Midwives teach new mums to recognise feeding cues - look for your baby smacking their lips, nuzzling you or sticking their tongue out. Don't wait until they cry to try and feed them, it is much harder to feed a crying baby, especially if you are breastfeeding and trying to establish a good latch.

If you are unsure of why your baby is distressed, try working through the options. If they won't feed (or nurse for comfort):
Pick them up and talk softly.

  • Check their nappy. 
  • Check their temperature by putting a finger down the back of their neck. 
  • Hold them upright against your shoulder and pat to relieve gas. 
  • Rock, cuddle and generally soothe. 
  • If they settle a little, but not completely, try feeding again. Sometimes they need to calm down a bit before they are ready to feed. 

When you are tired and flustered by your baby's cry, this simple list will be hard to remember. Keep a copy where you can see it when you need it.

Learn to distinguish between their cries

After spending a lot of time around your baby, you will begin to hear differences in their cries. The more responsive you are to their types of cry, the more they will use the successful cries to communicate with you.

There are a couple of cheats you can use to help yourself along with this. They work on a baby's communicative crying - the cries they use to alert you, rather than the distressed cries that these evolve into when their needs are not met.

When a small baby is hungry, they often make a "nnn" sound at the beginning of their cry. This is caused by them pushing their tongue into the roof of their mouth.

When a baby has a pain in their belly, their cry will begin with a strained "eee" sound. Holding them upright and patting the back can relieve wind. Gentle massage of the belly in a clockwise motion or slowly pedaling their feet will relieve discomfort in the lower intestine or constipation.

As long as they are fed, clean and comfortable, a great way to console a distressed baby is towear them in a sling. Your familiar movement, smell and sounds are often all your baby really wants.

Moving on and growing up

Just as you begin to get the hang of these basic cues, your baby will start developing new needs. They will get bored, frustrated, overstimulated. The good news is, that by then you will be an old hand at this. Baby signing is also an excellent intermediate step, before speech develops. Never forget that while your baby may not be able to articulate their needs to you, they do understand much of what you say to them. Keep talking to them, asking questions, and see how they respond.

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