Try to imagine the world from your baby’s point of view. While he was in the womb, he was in a world of his own, made especially for him. He has already made the most dangerous journey of his life to be born and now he has to become used to a world full of new feelings and people. It will take time.
It will also take time for you as a parent to get to know your baby and, along with the excitement, to recover from the shock and tiredness of birth and the changes in responsibility a new baby brings.
All babies are different. Some are very peaceful and seem to fit easily into family life but most babies have some difficulty settling into their new world. When he is full, cuddled and loved he may feel peaceful but when he feels wet, hungry, alone or just miserable all he can do is cry and thrash about. Crying is your baby’s way of showing you his feelings.
Sometimes he wants food (or just to suck for comfort), sometimes he wants you to cuddle and talk to him but often he is just out of sorts with himself and the world.
Sometimes there may be a pattern to his crying, for example early evening, and sometimes there is not. He is too young to have any way of helping himself or of telling you what is troubling him. All YOU can do is try to be a sympathetic companion. Try to bear with his crying because he needs your comfort and reassurance.
This is easier said than done because a baby’s crying is specially designed to make you feel something of his distress. This is nature helping us to see the world from his point of view but it also makes being with a constantly grilling or distraught baby very hard to cope with. Try not to get pulled in conflicting directions by too many pieces of advice. Unfortunately there aren’t many easy answers and really only you can get close enough to understanding your baby to sort out what practical measures might be helpful or manageable within your family. Trying to see the world from your baby’s point of view is a good start.
Some babies like to be quiet and still and are easily startled and upset by too much going on. Some babies are more content if they feel there’s a bit of life going on around them. Feeding or sucking work like magic for some babies, others find feeding a bit of a fraught time. Some babies can go easily from being cuddled to being put down; others seem to think this is the end of the world. All babies are different, what is yours like? Try not to compare your baby too much. It’s not a race. It’s bad enough being tired, but it’s even worse if you feel that not sleeping through is unusual or a sign that something is terribly wrong with your baby or with you.
Babies do not know the difference between night and day at first. Most babies under 6 months wake up regularly during what an adult would think of as night time and it’s not unusual to have broken nights for much longer.
Babies’ digestive systems make it difficult for them to go for even 6 hours at night without a feed during the first 3 or 4 months and this is even more true for breast fed babies. But babies don’t only wake because of hunger.
They are at the very beginning of their lives and are extremely emotionally dependent on those who care for them. As your baby grows, she will learn from experience that you are there when she needs you. This confidence in you will begin to enable her to settle or entertain herself for a bit. Babies need food, sleep, warmth and peaceful loving attention.
Routines can help you get through the day but they need to be flexible, realistic and to change as your baby grows up. Having routines won’t transform your baby’s temperament or enable you to have all the answers. Anyway, too much attention to answers may be a real barrier to getting to know your baby. It is a rare baby who is never left to cry. After all, it’s your survival your baby needs most. So your baby needs you to look after yourself and for you to get all the practical help and emotional support you can from your partner, or your family. You may even be lucky enough to have someone who will look after the baby for an hour or two while you have a break.
Babies don’t ask for more than they need. If their demands seem overwhelming it’s not because they are “trying it on”.
A baby can’t understand anyone else’s point of view or consider anyone else’s feelings – even a toddler only just beginning to get a bit of an idea about these things. But a baby who comes through his or her first year feeling loved and understood will be more likely as a toddler to feel confident that a parent will come if really needed and is less likely to fret if that attention isn’t always available.
This provides the best basis for learning about waiting and sharing. If your baby cries excessively and you feel unable to settle him, check with your doctor or Health Visitor that there is nothing physically wrong.
If they reassure you that nothing is wrong, try not to feel that your baby must be ‘crying for nothing’. Or that he is a ‘bad baby’ or that you have failed him. It is an exhausting but common problem that will almost certainly settle in time.
- Try to make sleep time a peaceful time with a familiar pattern to it.
- Give your baby time to settle but don’t leave him crying and distressed for too long if he can’t settle or if he has slept and woken up.
- Talk to him very quietly and try to keep a quiet sleepy” atmosphere at night time so that he learns that this is different from daytime.
- Try to get as much rest as possible.
- Don’t be embarrassed by your baby’s crying and become isolated.
- Accept as much help as you can get and try to make the effort to meet other parents regularly.
- Make the most of any opportunities to enjoy him when he’s happy. Memories of those moments will see you through the bad times!
If your baby still doesn’t seem able to relax and let go of you at night, it’s worth thinking about his day. Has it been too stimulating? Has it been so busy or fraught that he hasn’t had enough peaceful time with you?
Some babies are very self-contained and independent by day and it’s only at night that they seem to realise they need you. It’s worth trying to encourage babies like this to enjoy more of your company during the day rather than taking advantage of their independence to get on with other things.
Babies sense your feelings. If you or the family are going through a worrying or unhappy time it may well unsettle your baby so that just when you need a bit more peace he becomes miserable and wakeful. It’s difficult to protect a baby from family worries but perhaps the problems are ones you could seek help with.
Some people feel down after having a baby. All sorts of feelings and demands, which they might ordinarily have managed, can overwhelm them. So if your baby seems really inconsolable, perhaps it is because he is sensing your unhappiness.
Many people feel lonely with a new baby, and it can be particularly stressful if you are a single parent. During bad patches, you can easily feel everyone is criticising you, including your baby!
Sometimes a baby is born following a period of particular sadness, such as the death of a parent, a previous miscarriage, still birth or cot death. In these circumstances, it may be very difficult for parents to cope with their baby’s distress about being put down for the night.
Most parents worry because they feel they aren’t as loving and patient as they would like to be. It can be a shock to discover how resentful they feel towards their babies. But if you feel that caring for your baby is so overwhelming that you are frequently upset and angry. You may need help.
Each year, thousands of parents of under 5s seek help from a variety of sources from local self help groups (look out for posters in libraries and clinics), family doctors, health visitors, church groups, child & Family Guidance Centres, Hospital departments for children and Social Services. You can find these listed in the telephone directory under your health district or local authority. Some of the help consists of practical assistance and advice but often it is a matter of helping parents to think for themselves about their children by trying to understand the worries and unhappiness that can get in the way. For most people being a parent is the hardest job they will ever do. But it can be the most rewarding so you deserve all the support you can get.
Don’t get desperate…get help!