As a parent, it’s natural to want your baby to be happy and content. But did you know that there’s a secret to raising a happy baby? With a little bit of knowledge and plenty of love, you can teach your child to self-soothe and maintain that state of contentment.
As I got home from work, I heard my newborn son screaming upstairs in his bed, and my mother was folding laundry on the couch. I inquired as to the length of time the infant had been crying. As I sped up the stairs, breast milk soaked my shirt, but she didn’t seem to mind as she patiently piled up the tiny socks. “Just a few minutes,” she called after me. If I could just get this done, I was planning on going to get him.
The conventional wisdom back in my mom’s day held that comforting a crying baby immediately was a surefire way to ruin them. She reasoned that by doing my baby’s laundry ahead of schedule, she was helping to develop her character. This tired old myth about raising children has been debunked by the scientific community.
“Babies use movements like wriggling and mouth opening and closing to communicate needs like comfort and hunger. If that doesn’t work, they’ll start sobbing to catch your attention,” says Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D., co-editor of Evolution, Early Experience, and Human Development and professor of psychology at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
Dr. Narvaez says that if you respond to your newborn’s needs before they get disturbed, your infant will develop a more stable emotional state, greater sense of self-worth, and an expectation that they will be well taken care of.
Babies shouldn’t expect to be happy all the time, and nor should they. Maria Gartstein, Ph.D., a psychologist at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, tells Parents that the first six months are the most important for meeting a baby’s requirements. “After that, though, you shouldn’t feel obligated to shield them from every painful feeling. They need to have the option to calm themselves down.”
With this method, you may lead your infant toward contentment and thrive as a parent.
Think About It From Your Baby’s Perspective
Previous generations of experts failed to appreciate that infants lack the cognitive maturity required to successfully manipulate their caregivers. Physician and clinical professor of pediatrics, Jane Morton M.D., explains that this is a skill that develops with age. Instead, a baby will cry and fuss as they become used to life outside the womb and demand their fundamental requirements be satisfied.
Your unborn child has spent the vast majority of their time up to this point nestled safely within your warm womb. “Suddenly, [they’re] launched into this noisy, bright, busy world, and it’s so different from what [they] know,” says Dr. Morton. When your baby is distressed, you can calm him or her by holding and rocking him or her in your arms, making soft shushing sounds, and giving him or her a pacifier or a clean finger to suck on.
Hug and Kiss each Other
Several studies have demonstrated the calming and bonding effects of positive touch on infants, particularly slow caresses and gentle stroking, which lowers the infant’s cortisol level (a stress hormone) and increases the synthesis of oxytocin.
Dr. Gartstein recommends a lot of physical interaction in the first several months. “Follow [your child’s] lead” means “pay attention to [your child’s] likes and dislikes and act accordingly.”
Breastfeeding naturally facilitates skin-to-skin contact. Pull up your shirt and press your baby’s exposed body to your tummy if you’re bottle-feeding to get some extra skin-to-skin time. If your baby enjoys it, massage their scalp, stomach, arms, legs, hands, and feet as they soak in the tub. And don’t be shy about giving lots of kisses and embraces anytime your little one smiles at you and reaches out for your touch. Plus, those warm hugs and kisses release “feel good” chemicals in parents’ brains, too.
Aim for a Long Rest
Your special someone’s disposition won’t be ideal while they’re tired. Prioritize sleep over other activities if you want your kid to be calm and happy while awake.
Dr. Gartstein co-authored a study contrasting the temperaments of Dutch and American newborns and concluded that the Dutch infants were more content and easier to calm. Dutch culture places a premium on rest, which may be a contributing factor. When parents in the Netherlands bring their newborn home from the hospital, they typically send out cards inviting friends to come at specified times so that they don’t disrupt the baby’s sleep routine, as Dr. Gartstein points out.
When your baby begins exhibiting tiredness, it’s time to put them to bed. If you want to get a good night’s sleep, follow these guidelines:
- In order to block out background noise, try playing some white noise. If you want to safeguard your baby’s hearing, you should play the music softly and keep it far away from him or her.
- You should run errands after your baby wakes up rather than before a nap, when they are more likely to fall asleep in the stroller or car seat.
- If you want your kid to develop a regular sleep pattern, consistency is key. If you have to depart from your baby’s routine and he or she becomes cranky as a result, try giving him or her an extra sleep before bedtime.
Dr. Gartstein notes that “sleep is one of a baby’s core activities,” so we should be prepared to deal with it.
Listen to Your Baby
This is not lost on us. You’re busy. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything from taking care of the house to going to work, keeping in touch with loved ones, and updating Instagram with pictures of your beautiful new baby. But watching and talking to your child to pick up on their cues is one of the best ways to make them happy.
“What children need most is an attuned caretaker,” says Jenn Mann, Psy.D., author of SuperBaby. “Giving your infant the attention they deserve with eye contact, smiles, and loving gestures.”
When it comes to creating a bond with your newborn, keep things simple at first. In that light, consider these suggestions:
- Get some quality one-on-one time with your special someone in the morning before you head off to the office.
- Wake up your morning cookout with some tunes.
- While you’re changing your baby’s diaper, look them in the eye and talk to them as if they understand every word you say.
- Get your phone and computer out of the baby’s room.
- Explain what you’re doing around the house as your infant watches.
Just because bonding is important, that doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to always engage with your infant. The majority of infants prefer quiet time over active play. “Don’t ignore [them]. When they start yawning, leaning back, or avoiding eye contact, you know they need a break,” Dr. Gartstein explains. Stop before your child is so stressed up that they start crying.
Provide Alternatives (But Not Too Many)
“We will never understand what it feels like to be a newborn,” Dr. Morton says. Envision a world in which you have no control over your basic needs, including when and what you eat, where and when you sleep, and what you dress. All the important choices are made for you all the time. The same goes for the tunes playing in the background, the level of brightness in your bedroom, and whether or not you plan to get in your car and go for a drive.
Your newborn is completely at your mercy and has no say in the matter. Keeping that in mind can help make your baby’s fussy fits easier to handle.
When your child gets older, including them in family decisions is a great way to help them learn and grow, as well as increase their sense of fulfillment. “I’m a supporter of two acceptable choices,” Dr. Mann explains. Your infant will feel capable without becoming overwhelmed. You can give them the option of choosing between steaming broccoli and pureed peas or a gray or teal spoon. Your infant seems content. You’ve found what makes you content. We’re through with that.
Away from the Home!
A change of environment can do wonders for a cranky infant. Put them on the swings and go for a walk at the park (if your baby is at least six months old and can sit unsupported). Send them outside to bask in the sun, listen to the wind in the trees, sniff the air, and people-watch (or, more accurately, baby-watch).
Dr. Morton argues that newborns are naturally social and that you should take advantage of this by exposing yours to other babies as often as possible through play dates, library visits, and music classes.
Well, it’s true that venturing outside may do wonders for your mood. A baby’s care is demanding and lonely work; you shouldn’t feel bad about needing a break. Do something about it if you’re bored or dissatisfied. Participate in a support group for parents, quit missing your favorite book club, and have more honest conversations with your partner.
The children of depressed mothers are at a greater risk of becoming depressed themselves, according to Dr. Morton. If you start to feel overwhelmed, weep a lot, notice changes in your sleeping or eating patterns, or find it difficult to concentrate or make decisions, it’s time to consult a doctor.
Affirm Yourself Physically
Babies can’t tell you what’s making them cranky, so you have to play detective. Do a body check to see if your child has had a good night’s sleep, eaten, had a bowel movement, has no dirty diapers, and has no fever.
Check their fingers and toes for hairs that might be stuck, and take off any clothing that might be bothering them. Doctor Morton also suggests trying to divert your baby’s attention by engaging in an activity that often makes them happy. The infant might enjoy a massage, a warm bath, or some time in their favorite swing.
You Must Learn to Acknowledge the Signs That It Is OK to Let Them Cry
Frustration and tantrums are normal reactions to developmental milestones like sitting up, crawling, walking, and self-feeding, which your baby will experience over the course of the next several months. It’s possible that shedding a few tears might be a normal developmental response.
“It’s a dance between a parent and a newborn,” Dr. Morton explains. The pride on your infant’s face as they take their first steps across the floor will speak volumes about how vital it is for them to feel independent.
It was well worth the effort involved. Your child will get the self-assurance to try new things if you have consistently shown that you are there for them during the good times as well as the bad, which is exactly the point!
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