My first two babies were mostly even-tempered. As long as they had mama and milk, they were easy to take places and slept well. My third baby, on the other hand, spent more of the first few months crying. At least, it seemed that way.
She was very sensitive and upset easily and neither mama nor milk were the answer much of the time. She was healthy and ate well — she was just very particular.
I’ll pause to say I adore her and am so thankful we have her. My heart is all wrapped up in hers, and I love spending my time with this baby. But I’ll be honest: the first few months were a real challenge for our whole household.
There were lots of would-be peaceful moments that were rushed and stressful, mental breaks cut short because she was so distraught, sentimental occasions spent rocking and shushing her, conversations put off because the “siren” in the background was too loud, social invitations that we declined or left early, time that my husband and I needed to reconnect that was interrupted. All of this we expected on occasion, but it was pretty much the norm with this new baby girl.
There are a few things that helped and comforted each member of our family at different times while we were adjusting to the newest member of our family — or rather, while she was adjusting to us.
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It is important to understand the intention of crying. Babies cry and fuss during the first months of life for various reasons, but it is not something they enjoy while others suffer. Some are struggling with physical discomforts, others with developmental leaps, some just struggle to deal with emotional needs.
Dr. Sears has a great article about the purpose of crying. He explains crying is a baby’s only method of communication. Expressing unmet needs and being heard by a caretaker is vital to their survival. I also read an article a couple of years ago by psychologist Dr. Solter in which she explained crying is also stress relief for babies and in that context, is not a problem that needs to be solved.
Just being with them is all the comfort we can provide. A crying baby is not manipulating, rather communicating. Understanding this truth is a comfort to parents who can start to take the crying personally. A baby crying at his parents is not rejection, disappointment or anger at his parents.
Another change that came on slowly was that I realized I had to lighten my load. Having a baby while caring for older children is no easy load, but having a high needs baby has really slowed me down. So I had to give up some of my obligations. I slowed down my work outside of the house, I lowered my expectations for keeping up with things around the house on the same schedule as before she was born, I even changed my meal planning to be simpler, less involved meals.
Overloading our schedules and my multi-tasking brain brought all of us more frustration. The fault seemed to land on her, but truly, it was keeping up with everything *else* that was causing the stress. There was just no way to keep moving at the same pace as when I had two little ones during those early months and still keep peace in our home. So I said “no” to some opportunities to work, some to serve and some to have fun, knowing that a day would come when I could add it back in.
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I also believe it’s important for all parents to be brave and humble enough (because it takes both) to ask for help. Some days it might be more helpful to have someone help with other things like grocery runs, older kids, projects, etc. Other days it might be helpful to have someone help with the baby so parents can have quiet time, recreation or work time, uninterrupted.
There may be times that parents are so stressed, tired or worn down that it is better for the health of the baby and parents to leave the baby either with a trustworthy caregiver or in a safe place and step out to take some breaths, get fresh air and calm down. Family counselors can also be an incredible tool for helping parents process the emotional toll of caring for a high needs baby.
Now my baby is close to turning one and she is much more smiley and content. I feel like we’ve turned a corner. I can see her personality more clearly now and she definitely has a sensitive heart. Looking back, that has been an obvious personality trait from the beginning.
But all along, every smile and giggle and milestone is more than enough of a reward for bearing with her through the early months.