Thursday, July 12, 2012

Communicating with a baby? Month 2

I used to think it was kinda weird when I’d be with my friends and their babies, and the baby would squeak and momma knew exactly what was needed. Huh? Did I miss something? Did she say something and I didn’t hear it? Maybe I’m holding him wrong? He’s hungry, how do you know? Diaper change, you saw her pee from way over there? Tired, he looks like he’s ready to move mountains? Ooh, maybe he wants to play with this shiny toy instead of that one? How do open the lines of communication... with a baby???

Never did I know that babies had their own language, or that I would ever be able to understand it. Tuff-man had surpassed his birth weight and we knew he was thriving and healthy, and we were getting a little more sleep at night. My brain was finally rebooting itself. I admit, the first few weeks, I could hardly leave my baby’s side. He was just so beautiful, and I didn’t want to miss a single moment even if he was sleeping. Plus, there was a little remorse still lingering from the time we were apart after his birth, and I wanted him within arms reach at all times. Come the 2nd month, I began to get more confident with myself and those negative emotions were starting to fade. We had Tuff on a 3 hour feeding schedule per the pediatrician, but I didn’t really know what else to do with him the rest of the time. Sure… I changed his diaper when it was dirty, he slept when he was sleepy, I gave him little sponge baths in the morning time… but I wanted to understand what he was trying to communicate instead of just following the schedule we set up for him.

I had been reading Dr. Sears Baby Book, and found that the attachment parenting he promoted really did not fit with our lifestyle. I agreed with several of the chapters in the book to some degree, but I started looking for some other material. After reading a few reviews on the opposite extreme of parenting techniques, Richard Ferber’s method seemed almost like torture (both for parent and baby) and I couldn’t read past the reviews. So I picked up a book one night, given to me by a family member, called Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg and started reading. I was fascinated with her gentle approach to communicating with your baby and her suggestions on how to identify and outline your own parenting style. It was a short book and easy to read, great for new moms that only have 30-45 minutes here and there to dedicate to a book. I put tabs on several pages that had useful charts and checklists and tips on calming baby so that I could easily go back and reference them. And I immediately put Tuff on her E.A.S.Y. schedule (Eat, Activity, Sleep, You). It transformed my life within 2 days.

She explained that the first and last feedings of the day should be at the exact same time until baby reaches about 3 months, and that will help him recognize when it is time to get up and when it is time to start getting ready for bed. Daily bedtime routines should be consistent and include a calm atmosphere, warm bath (with or without soap), soft music (like love Jewel’s Lullabies) and some baby massage (with some lavender scented oil or lotion).  This routine will let baby know that it is time to go to sleep for the night. In addition, all the toys and flashing sing-a-long attachments and bouncing chairs and vibrating all the time when he was awake was probably overstimulating him. Introducing one toy at a time would give him a chance to examine it, and experiencing one sensation at a time let me know if he enjoyed the feeling or not. Also, I learned the reactions we have to certain situations reinforce the baby’s overall demeanor. So if the dog barks, or a loud noise happens, or baby gets a blow out diaper and it’s running down your arm, act like it’s no big deal and comfort the baby in a positive way.  We stay calm and baby stays calm (for the most part).  Another thing I took away from the book was that activity time with baby included feeding time and changing diapers, so might as well give your baby your full attention when feeding and make changing diapers fun and enjoyable for your baby (even though it’s a little stinky at times). This will reinforce positive associations with feeding and diaper changes for the future.

She also included a small portion of a chapter to an Australian former mezzo-soprano named Priscilla Dunstan. Now this is super interesting, which is why I had to include it in this post and it may save your life if you are in the first few weeks after birth and struggling to read your baby’s cues… and she’s totally on point! So, to keep the story short, this chick has photographic memory which she put to a new use once she gave birth to her son. She noticed a pattern in his different cries within the first few days. Each distinct cry (or vocalization) is paired with a natural reflex that all babies are born with. See her video below for more details, it’s absolutely incredible!

I was amazed… Not that Tuff was particularly fussy or anything, but after stabilizing his schedule and reducing the clutter around his floor mat for only a few days, he began to give cues and I knew exactly what he  wanted. He would “Neh” because he was hungry around the same times every day, and he would “Owh” when he got sleepy and was tired of playing and I actually understood him. It didn’t have to get to the point where he was all out crying for me to finally get what he was trying to communicate to me. And he enjoyed his activity time so much more. Instead of a thousand toys dangling in his face and blinking, he lay in the middle of the living room floor with just one toy hanging over him and he would be entranced with that one toy. Looking it up and down, studying it, cooing at it and kicking his feet with excitement. When he got tired of it, he stopped looking at it. Simple as that. I didn’t change out the toy with a new one, I just let him do his thing and waited until he cued that he was ready to take a nap or get his diaper changed or wanted to snuggle. My whole outlook on parenting shifted from one of anxiety and confusion, to confidence and comfort. We were finally speaking the same language.

Now we were rolling. I trusted my intuitions as a mother, instead of being in fear that I was doing something wrong. This new point of view encouraged me to get out the house for longer than an hour with the baby. We went to lunch with friends, out on the town, grocery shopping… and as the weeks went by we would teach each other little things. He started to smile voluntarily (what a blissful moment to know that YOU made your child happy), and he started being more vocal with his toys and when I would sing and play with him. He was also starting to sleep longer stretches at night. By 8 weeks, he was in bed for 9:30pm and didn’t wake up until about 4:00am to feed and would be back down from 4:30am to 8:30am… We were actually enjoying this parenting thing (and weren’t doing too bad a job at it either). Yeah, maybe once a week he would wake up a little early or go down a little later, but big whoop-di-doo… he is just a baby after all!

Tuff was 2 months old, and in one month I went from a befuddled new mother who over analyzed every tiny situation to a more laid back and relaxed momma. Tuff’s response to me being more calm and collected was one in the same. If he started to get fussy when I would leave the room or if he got bored, I would just get his attention and once his eyes met mine, you could just see him unwind and loosen back up. And I would have to watch myself, because I noticed one time that I was holding him when I got into a heated discussion with the insurance company (that could be a whole post on its own) and he began to get very squirmy and uneasy. I put him in his bouncy and breathed it out for a couple of minutes… and when I calmed down, so did Tuff. Amazing!

It wasn’t too long, though, that my peace of mind would begin to unravel once again... I had to go back to work soon and we needed to start transitioning him from the cradle in our room to the crib in his own room! This would mean our perfect little routine was going to have to be shaken (not stirred) and my mommy-communication skills would be put to the test. Will I have separation anxiety? Will he be scared in that HUGE bed? What if he cries at night and I don’t hear him? Are we going to have to stop swaddling him? Will he like the daycare? Will he remember me after being at daycare all day? Will he like his babysitter better than me? Will she know when to change his diaper? What if they forget to feed him? What happens if the phones are down and something happens to him and they don’t have cell service and I’m out of gas and can’t get to him? AHHHHH!