Thursday, September 15, 2011

Does Your Baby Really Have A Tantrum?

This little piece is about one of my personal dislikes, and it is probably going to make quite a few people angry with me.  That cannot be helped, it is my own opinion, and we all have those!   I have a favourite hobbyhorse, you could say, and that is the fact that there are many parents who describe their new babies as having  certain emotions and attitudes that babies simply are unable to feel or display.

First among these is that the baby is "being naughty".   A newborn has absolutely no concept of so-called good or naughty attitudes - this awareness does not arise until years after they are born!  Newborns simply have needs that we should be meeting.  They do not "cry for nothing".   I am not going to apologise for any of what I say here, and if you think carefully I am sure you are going to agree with me.   A baby spends the first nine months or so tucked into a cosy water-filled world, with no loud noises (lots of 'white noise'),  no harsh and sudden movements, soft sensations.  They are nourished constantly, without having to think about it, or feel hunger.  They do not excrete, therefore they are totally comfortable.

At the end of that time what happens?  They undergo a painful,  perilous journey into the world, a journey that rivals our labour pains - their bodies twist and turn and are crushed mercilessly, and they are rudely pushed out into our world.  The shock surely must be tremendous to their tiny systems.  For the first time they have to breathe air - and it must smell shocking to them.  Their eyes have to adjust to light of all kinds.  Their petal-soft skin is wrapped not in amniotic fluid, but in harsh material.  They are not cradled in mother's gentle womb but are handled by huge unknown things, that poke and prod and weigh and measure and stick sharp needles in them.   Their organs start working and before they know it they have the first sensation they have ever known of a pinching belly, meaning hunger.  How terrifying it must all be.  And they must hurt all over.

There was a long discussion on Facebook not long ago.  I posted a  comment and it was 'picked up' by one of my friends and reposted, and suddenly there were many mothers joining in.   During the discussion I remarked that a midwife had told my friend that babies who had undergone long, difficult labour were the ones who cried a great deal at the beginning.  Well, it makes sense doesn't it?  Their skulls have been squashed out of shape and their spines distorted, their whole body undergoes tremendous stress - we understand this when we see during a difficult labour that the baby's heart rate drops.  Sometimes it keeps dropping, signalling that the baby is in trouble.  This is when the baby receives desperately needed help.

So it is not a surprise that it takes a lot of recovery from even a normal birth.  A huge adjustment, and this tiny body has to do it virtually unaided.   As an interesting aside, it has been seen that many babies who are unable to settle and  who seem to cry constantly, have improved 100% if they have been given gentle manipulation by an osteopath (chiropractor).  Even gentle massage by mother helps wonderfully.   The osteopaths advise that because of the position the spine and skull are in during birth, and the stresses placed on them, many babies have their bones slightly out of place.  This causes pain.  The only way your baby has of telling you he or she is in trouble, or pain, or needs something,  is by crying.

Manipulation for babies

Although it is horribly old-fashioned thinking, when my baby cried I checked top to toe, is she hungry?  Is she clean?  Has she a nappy pin sticking in her?   Is she too hot?  We had a little check list.   If we went through the list and all was well we would just cuddle our baby, as we believed it was comfort that was needed.  It worked very well indeed.  Babies do not cry for no reason. Crying is baby's way of communicating with you.  Babies cry if they are hungry, uncomfortable, tired, over-stimulated, have pain, are lonely, need comfort,  or are even bored.

Babies understand sensation, and I believe that for a long time this is all they understand.  They do not have "tantrums".  Babies don't  understand enough, even about their own bodies,  to attempt to control their world by throwing a tantrum.  Think how long it takes them to learn how to control even their facial muscles in order to smile at you.  The - dare I say it? - ludicrous statement that baby is being "naughty"  makes me see red.   If your baby is uncomfortable, hungry, tired, lonely, afraid - then baby will tell you by crying.  We all know very well that this is the only way baby can let you know.  At first it is so difficult because we do NOT instinctively understand what is wrong.  This only comes with experience and time.

I will repeat - the business with baby having a "tantrum" is a load of rubbish.  What has happened is that something that gave the baby comfort, or that was interesting, or that baby needed - was suddenly taken away.  And the baby cannot understand this, and is saying I need.  Usually, mummy or daddy respond to that need - either for food, or a change of nappy or a cuddle - whatever.  In this instance?  Nothing.  No response from mummy or daddy, and how bewildering, how terrifying must that be for this tiny person?   Remember, this is a little person who has only been in this world a few months..........who can't even understand the words being said to him or her.  And thinking about this, now think about how ridiculous it is say that baby had a "tantrum".

It is one reason I totally disagree with making a small baby try to self-settle at night.  Learning to go to sleep by yourself is a skill that many babies find very difficult to acquire.  The so-called "controlled crying"  to me is an abomination.   All that happens is that your baby is abandoned in a cot to become distressed - sometimes to the point of soiling themselves or vomiting.   And people advocate this method?   The only thing a small baby learns from this is that when it cries nobody gives a damn.   There have been studies which link the distress to later behavioural problems, although I am not going to comment on this, as I have no hard and fast information at all.

I think that some, not all but some, parents only use the "controlled crying" because they are tired in the evening and don't want the hassle of helping baby to sleep.   Please note, I said some!

There will be many who disagree with me I know, and that is fine - however, I will say one final thing to make you think.  Babies and little children do not even understand their own emotions, which is why we have to teach small children such things as what is sad, or angry or happy.   How, therefore, can a baby have a "tantrum" ?

I welcome any comments, for or against.  Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog!


vicky said...

completely agree! I cannot do controlled crying even tho I am falling apart from exhaustion, I just dont have it in me to ignore my baby in distress which is why I will pick up, rock, cosleep and breastfeed if it comforts him.

Chell Cave said...

I agree with every word. A baby's way of communication is to cry thats simple to understand.. I did the list and always will do, nappy, hungry, hot,cold, dummy, hugs.

I agree that CC just makes(can make) a little one (under 12 months) very stressed and upset. I tried it with Amie and thought I wouldn't make her stressed and upset in the day so why at night when it is meant to be calm and relaxing.

A child will learn over time how to communicate but a crying baby isnt being naughty it is doing the one thing that it knows to do.

Brilliant piece again Carol x

LiquidAngel said...

Beautifully put!


Carol said...

Thank you dear ladies for your kind comments xxx

xx Laura xx said...

Excellent piece again Carol, agree 100% - a baby doesn't just cry, they cry for a reason. Toby is one and even now I do the list!

My hv told me to do controlled crying at 4months - I didn't last longer than 3minutes! I couldn't stand leaving my baby to cry.
Only at 10months did I leave him in his cot crying for a few moments to fetch his teething gel and by the time I returned he was fast asleep. Since then he has gone to sleep on his own - however if he wakes in the night I cannot leave him to cry...its far to distressing for us both. xx

Carol said...

Thanks Laura! It is great that your lo could self settle so young. I think any mum worth her salt can't bear to leave baby crying! I never could either, as you say, it is just so distressing. I think the 'controlled crying' is used badly in a lot of instances too. Hugs, thanks for your kind comments x