The baby needs a friendly environment
Most people think of the baby at birth as a complete little person, a tiny adult. But this is not so. During the nine months while the baby was in his mother’s womb, he was slowly developing until he was sufficiently strong to live without the protection of his mother’s body. But even though he is ready to be born, he is not yet complete.
At birth a baby cannot see much. Soon after he is born he is able to follow a moving light with his eyes, but everything else is still fuzzy to him. He hears well and will startle and cry at loud noises, or be soothed by a gentle voice. He does know how to cry, to blink, to sneeze, to suck, and to swallow. He cannot smile, make decisions, or recognize his mother or anyone else. He can feel but he cannot think.
During the first three months the parents’ job will be to keep the baby comfortable, contented, and happy, so that he feels that he is in a friendly world. When he is comfortable and happy he feels secure. When he is allowed to be hungry and to “cry it out,” or is roughly handled, he feels insecure and uncomfortable. A baby’s first feelings seem to be those of distress and pleasure. In his early months his feelings should therefore be kept on the pleasure side with as little discomfort as possible. This helps him to become a friendly, secure little person later on. The following paragraphs explain how this can be done.
1. Finding the baby’s own routine
A few years ago all babies were put on the same schedule. It is now felt that many of the feeding and crying problems of babies were due to the fact that all babies were expected to be alike. But babies are individuals. Some are hungry in two and a half or three hours; others may be able to wait even five or six. In the past a baby cried until the hands of the clock said “feeding time,” with the result that the baby was sometimes too tired or too upset really to benefit from the feeding. Crying and anger have a real effect upon digestion. A happy meal is better digested and benefits the baby much more than one taken after a long “crying spell,” when the child is upset. Then, too, hunger pangs may be very uncomfortable for a time and then stop, so that the baby may fall asleep, tired from his crying, and still be asleep or no longer want his food when the clock says it may be offered. This is why many doctors favor a self-regulatory schedule.
This does not mean that there should be no schedule at all. It means that during the first month or six weeks the baby is fed when it seems to be hungry. This is usually somewhere between two and a half and four hours. If the baby cries before two hours or so, it is usually for some reason other than hunger. If the baby seems hungry so soon after a meal, the doctor should be consulted. Perhaps the formula is not satisfying enough, or there may be some other reason why the baby does not feel satisfied for a reasonable time after a meal. By the end of six weeks, almost every baby has settled down to a routine of his own.
Self-regulatory feeding does not mean that the baby should be rushed to the breast or the bottle the moment he cries. Judgment must be used to determine whether he is really hungry or is crying for some other reason. He may be wet or cold, have a touch of colic, or just need a bit of comforting. It is best to look first for the cause of the crying, rather than offer food right away. Most mothers who have tried the self-regulatory feedings seem to feel that any extra time spent in feeding the baby is more than offset by a contented baby who does not require so much attention in other ways. A crying baby is a strain on the whole household.
The baby should also be allowed to regulate the amount he takes. His bottle should be filled with the amount the doctor has recommended for him, but he should not be forced to finish his bottle. Some babies seem to take small amounts more frequently, others need larger quantities at longer intervals. If the baby gains steadily and is happy and contented, the exact quantity taken at a feeding is not important. However, if a baby seems to be taking a very small amount, perhaps he needs to be held over the shoulder and “burped” more frequently during his feeding time. Bottle babies especially seem to swallow air; for this reason the size of the nipple hole should be checked from time to time to make sure that the flow of milk is adequate, but not too rapid. The length of sucking time should also be left to the baby within reason. Many babies will suck for half an hour and some will want to suck for a much longer period. If it becomes too wearing for the mother it may be wise to take away the breast or bottle, even though the child might like to continue. Some doctors recommend substituting a clean, sterile pacifier if the baby really seems to need more sucking. Babies have a need to suck. If this need is not satisfied at the breast or bottle, the baby is likely to suck his thumb more frequently to complete his need. If the baby does suck his thumb it is best to allow him to do so unless a pacifier is substituted. Taking away the thumb can be emotionally disturbing to the child. When he gets older it will usually be possible to take his attention from his thumb by substituting a toy to hold and to play with or by turning his attention to some other new interest. Thumbsucking in the older child will be discussed later.
2. Providing comfort and security at nursing time
Much of a baby’s first knowledge of the world about him and of his first relationship with his mother comes at feeding time. His mother satisfies his need for the food essential for his growth and comfort. The person who gives that food naturally becomes the person whom the child first learns to love.
Breast feeding is the best for the baby from the point of view of his emotional development. It provides a closeness to his mother and usually greater comfort in sucking than does a bottle. The comfort of the breast and the closeness to his mother help the baby to feel secure and comfortable. Although most doctors feel that breast milk is the best for the baby, modern methods of bottle feeding provide a good substitute when it is necessary. If breast feeding is not possible, the baby should be held close to his mother when the bottle is given, so that the nuzzling and cuddling of nursing can be as much like that of breast feeding as possible. Bottle holders cannot substitute for the holding and cuddling the baby needs at nursing time. During nursing or the giving of the bottle the mother should try to be relaxed, so that her body communicates to the child the security she is able to give.
3. Handling the baby with gentleness
A small baby can be helped to feel that he is in a friendly world through the way in which he is touched and held. If a mother is abrupt and tense, if she hurries or moves rapidly and jerkily, she may find that her baby cries or is also tense. A mother can give a feeling of comfort and security to her baby by the firm, but gentle, way in which she holds or lifts him. When he is lifted his head should be supported so that it will not wobble. A baby will be about three months old before his neck muscles have developed sufficiently for him to keep his own head steady. Since a baby cannot change his own position very much when he is very little, he must be turned from time to time. Occasionally it is good for his mother or father to lift him against the shoulder and walk around with him or rock him a bit. Most babies find rocking very comforting. The parent should talk to him, too, and smile at him. Parents think that he smiles back as early as eight days, but he will not really smile until he is about six weeks or two months old.
4. Answering when he cries
A baby cries automatically when he is hungry, cold, wet, or otherwise uncomfortable. He is not crying because he is spoiled, and answering his cry will not spoil him, for he is still able only to feel, not to think. Babies whose cries are answered when they are little seem to be much more content and to be friendlier and happier when they get older than those who have to fuss to get their needs met. This does not mean that mother or father should rush to the baby the moment he whimpers. Sometimes a baby cries a minute or two and then drops off to sleep. When he is older he may begin to cry and then find consolation in playing with his fingers or toes. But if he really cries, it is best to get to him and see what he needs. Sometimes it is just turning over or holding; at other times he may be really hungry, wet, or cold.
As the child grows older he will have gradually to learn that he cannot always have what he wants when he wants it. But the small baby is not yet ready to be taught these things. He can only feel and know whether he is comfortable or uncomfortable. (Continue below to page 5)