New babies bring unique experiences to a family. Often the first child becomes the center of attention and her needs are catered to from birth. Second and subsequent children take their place within the family unit from the beginning. While deeply loved, these babies may not receive the time to be who they are--babies.
In busy families, often what is optimal for a baby is overlooked in the name of time and the needs of other family members. The following three strategies provide the best opportunity for a baby to be content and happy. Happy babies become integral family members.
Take a few minutes and watch your baby wake up first thing in the morning or from her nap. She opens her eyes and then closes them again, not quite ready to join the world. She yawns and stretches. She look around the room or at her fingers, the figures on her sleep ware, or the mesh on her crib. She may play with her fingers or toes. Only after this quiet time does she cry or make the sounds that show she is ready to be picked up. That is often the first sign parents know the baby is awake.
Even though she has alerted her parents that she is awake she may not be completely ready to enter the busyness of life. Take a minute to cuddle her, change her diaper, and talk to her. This transition time makes moving into the noisy activity of the family less startling.
In many families these transition steps are overlooked. The baby is whisked out of her crib and catapulted into whatever activity the family is engaged in. Very adaptable babies can handle this. But for many the jarring experience leads to tears and perhaps an inability to settle down.
While babies must fit into the existing family routine, they thrive on structure. Observant parents know how many naps their baby needs, approximately how long they are, and how much time elapses between them. They know how long she can comfortably go between feedings. They discover how much stimulation is enough and how much is too much. A baby’s internal clock is finely regulated, and the more it is understood and followed by parents the more content the baby will be.
Babies are easily over-stimulated. Because they are so portable, in the busyness of family life they can become an accessory to everyone else’s schedule. They are carted to older sibling’s events. They are hurried so parents can get to work and to appointments on time. When everyone arrives home at the end of the day they want to play with the baby. Although done with the best on intentions, this much stimulation can result in a cranky, exhausted baby.
Babies need time of their own. Time just to be. Watching a baby during downtime reveals several behaviors. She organizes her time and makes choices by playing with one toy and then another. She plays actively, then restfully. She makes talking sounds without expecting a response. She cries or makes whining sounds to let her caregivers know when she is ready for interaction again.
What does a few minutes of downtime provide for her?
She learns that she can entertain herself.
She learns to make choices and that decisions can be changed.
She learns to manipulate her environment.
She develops motor skills.
She learns that being alone is fun.
She learns that downtime is restorative and provides a break from stimulation provided by others.
These lessons can only be learned when parents recognize the value of downtime and provide it within necessary safety boundaries.
Following the guidelines for optimal baby happiness may seem impossible to parents who work all day and also want to meet the needs of other children in the family. When parents provide a loving touch, a safe environment, and meet their baby’s needs to the best of their ability, the result is likely to be a content and happy baby.