Babies are vulnerable little creatures with a small range of needs – to be fed, warm, held, safe and responded to.
They can do what they do in that moment, they need what they need in that moment and nothing more. Babies are not independent, they are not manipulative and they don’t know that we spent a small fortune on the cot that they aren’t able to sleep in. In Western society it would be more helpful if our expectations, knowledge and preparation were more realistic and based on what babies need and are capable of.
Most babies aren’t capable of sleeping for long periods because they need food, comfort, reassurance and to be held. Babies can need cuddling and rocking, they can need a human pillow – and this is all normal because many babies need the womb replicating for a few weeks/months while they adjust to life. Yet new mums can be made to feel like they are doing something wrong if they feed on demand, if they cuddle and rock their baby to sleep, if they need to pick up their baby ‘again’, and if their baby is reluctant to use the Moses basket, crib or cot.
babies need us to meet their needs
Looking after a baby is all about meeting their needs – and that is normal and what is needed. Babies guide us as best they can with noises and cries – we just have to work out exactly what they need and that comes from getting to know our baby. Baby books, websites and gurus can be all about structure and routines and keeping charts of sleep and feeding rather than just going with it. This can have its place but it can also be more of a stress inducing hinderance than a help.
I recently spent the weekend with my 8 week old nephew – a gorgeous, chilled little man but still a baby who has needs to be loved, looked after, fed, safe and held and he communicates that as clearly as he can. He needs to be held, wandered with, rocked and jiggled. At 8 weeks old, his life is about feeding, sleep, being held, being in his bouncer, being under his baby gym. He can sometimes sleep on his own, sometimes he needs rocking, feeding and snuggling. Some times in the day, he does not want to be in his rocker, he wants to be in someone’s arms. At other times he cries to be out of someone’s arms, to have some space, to not be touched. Babies who are responded to rather than battled with can be much easier to settle – a frustrating, stress, what-am-I-doing-wrong 30 minutes trying to get a baby to settle on their own or a cuddle and a rock and a sleeping baby within a couple of minutes.
If we expect to have to jiggle, wander, bounce, rock to settle, soothe, calm and quiet then we are better prepared for reality and meeting the needs of a baby. It can be more helpful to go with our gut, to do what feels right, to worry less about what we think we should be doing and to focus more on responding to and getting to know our baby. This doesn’t make it all easy and plain-sailing but it does reduce the stress and it can also allow us to focus on what support we need rather than what we feel we are doing wrong.
specialist in pregnancy, birth and parent support | mum of three | aunt of one