Babies — a guide

Some people have asked me to summarize the collection of links I posted about baby development. Here is my unauthorized summary. There are links to the original resources throughout the post.

A lot of the following information is based on, or inspired by, the Educaring philosophy as put down by Magda Gerber and taught by RIE. Educaring philosphy is based on trust in the child to initiate development, giving children safe areas to explore in an uninterrupted way, involving the child in all child-care activities, observing the child and responding to her needs and being consistent when limits are concerned. The central theme is respect for the child as a whole person in his own right.

When babies are born, they have one mode of communication — crying. Therefore, a lot of what parents do in the first few months is dealing with crying babies. The blogosphere, unsurprisingly, reacted with a wealth of information to the question “what do I do with a crying baby?”. The basic newborn care advice — check diaper, burp, and feed — only goes so far. If your baby is not giving you hunger signs — clenched fingers and fists over chest and tummy, flexed arms and legs, rooting, fast breathing or sucking noises or motions — feeding might stop the crying even if it is not the best idea.

After those, comes the “unexplained crying”. “Unexplained”, of course, is not a fact about the crying — it is a fact about the parent. Babies have feelings too and need to express them.

The diagnosis of “colic” as long stretches of unexplained crying is giving way to the concept of “PURPLE” crying. PURPLE stands for “Peak” (of crying) “Unexpected” “Resists soothing” “Pain-like face” “Long lasting” (several hours a day) “Evening” (also known as “the witching hour”, around twilight). Apparently all mammals go through their own equivalent of PURPLE crying, the human animal between 2 weeks and 3-5months.

Listening to the crying, being compassionate without trying to stop it, is important. Crying is a form of communication. When we do want to soothe the baby, CALMS1 is a popular approach. [C]heck in with yourself, and connect with your feelings — you want to calm yourself before calming the baby down. [A]llow yourself to take a breath and relax. [L]isten to what your baby is trying to tell you. [M]irror — empathize with the baby’s feeling, voicing his emotions as best you can. [S]oothe your baby. It is OK if the soothing initially makes the crying harder — the baby might need to voice the hurt feelings first. Sometimes, the end result of this approach is to “hold the baby through the tears”, being calm and letting the baby cry as long as she needs to. When soothing a baby, pick a tactic (singing, bouncing, etc.) and stick to it — switching tactics is a bad idea. Repetition, repetition, repetition. There are reasons to be wary of the “5S”.

Parents need to understand that sometimes the baby will cry, and this does not mean they are failing as parents. Unfortunately, that is exactly what attachment parenting is teaching.

Second only to crying in the amount of energy parents spend obsessing about is the baby’s sleep. Nursing kids to sleep does not make them sleep longer — putting them to sleep earlier does. Althought not too much earlier, and not too soon. Wait for them to display sleep signs, and put them to bed then. Babies’ “long-stretches” of sleep start from 3 hours at newborn, through 4 hours at two months, 4-5 at 4 months, 6 hours at 6 months and by 1 year old, 80% of babies sleep through the night. Routines, especially at 4 months and beyond, are useful for helping babies sleep. Babies are woken up by hunger, dreams or discomfort. Some babies fight sleep, and need to be helped there. SIDS is mostly a risk while sleeping, follow AAP recommendations to reduce risk: put babies on their backs to sleep, use a firm sleep surface, room-sharing but no bed sharing and keep soft objects and loose bedding out of the crib.

A distant third is how children play. Even babies can do independent play as long as they are placed, carefully, on their back until they have learned to roll to their tummies. It is OK if the baby does not “do” anything — just kicking their legs and staring is fine. The area, of course, must be safe — a no-“no” area, where everything possible is permissible. It is OK, and even good, to stay near the child and observe — but even if they seem frustrated, not to help them (this is like giving someone the solution to a riddle). Babies are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves this way. Babies can start having play-dates early on — if we believe them capable, if we are attentive to their moods, make it into a routine, and are patient with them. As always, observing them in quiet is important. Tummy time is important developmentally. Start slow, get down to your baby’s level and provide entertainment while the baby is on his tummy. Avoid having tummy time right after feeding, or when the baby is upset. Keep it calm and quiet, so the baby is not scared by what she cannot see. Be patient — the baby will eventually want tummy time.

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