It’s all too easy to get to that place of wanting to say or do something that you’ll regret to get a baby to stop crying. Believe me, I’ve been there. The first time I lost my patience and yelled and made my infant daughter cry was the worst day of those first four months. I had a good friend that I called, and sobbing, told her everything, feeling like an abusive mom. She laughed a little lightly and said, “Oh, I remember the first time I made Keenan cry.” This woman was the best mom I knew. I aspired to be like her and to have her tell me it was alright, I wasn’t abusive, was really important.
I was able to be validated that being exhausted and at wits’ end was to blame. I needed to have reassurance that I wasn’t alone. But I wondered about how my attitude was affecting my young daughter.
What I learned was that the more I was upset on the inside, the more she was going to show it on the outside. When I calmed down, I was more successful at soothing her.
She played off my anxiety levels even when I was trying really hard not to exhibit that anxiety. Babies are very talented at reading emotions, and sensing what you feel. They can sense even when you’re hiding what you feel, and that can be even more disorienting because what they sense and what you are showing are two different things. Babies then have to learn coping skills to manage that dis-harmony, and they also begin to question their innate ability to see and feel the truth. What you might try in the future is simply be as honest as you can, in as simple terms as you can, and tell your baby whats happening for you. Try to imagine what they might be sensing, and validate that.
What if your baby is hard to soothe? Ask yourself:
Is there anything going on inside myself that I’m worried about?
Are you heading back to work soon, and worried about leaving your baby? Are you trying to hide that worry? Your baby might be picking up on how you’re feeling and know something is up…and not knowing what is going to make it all the more frightening.
Are you stressed from your day, or angry at your partner/mom/friend? For the same reason, your baby can sense your anxiety and upset and will have no idea that it’s not about her. This can be very disorienting and can cause her to be upset in turn.
Are you simply tired? When you’re tired, your intention will be to get through the day, and to bed asap. The day – and your baby’s needs – will take shape around your need for sleep. Baby can sense this and may feel as if her needs are not important.
Babies are very sensitive to how we feel. If we can find a way to take care of ourselves and attend to the things we’re anxious about, we provide a safe, centered foundation for a baby to lean into and feel soothed.
If you identify a situation in your life you are anxious about, notice it, and find a time when you can sit quietly for a few minutes to calm your own inner climate. Then talk to your baby about it. Say, “I know I’m a little nervous about this, but I am going to take care of myself, so that I can take care of you. My anxiety isn’t about you at all – and you are safe, and loved.”
Talk to your baby about any upcoming changes that are going to affect her such as you going back to work, her needing to drink from a bottle, or start at a day care. Get the support you need to know you’re making the right decisions, so that when you talk to your baby you’re coming from a strong, confident and loving place. Your certainty is something your baby will sense, and respond to.
Get the rest you need. Do you need to pass the baby on to a trusted friend or family member so you can get some needed sleep? Even if she cries while in the care of someone else, when you are rested and refreshed, you’ll be able help her understand why you needed sleep, that she’s not alone, and that you always will return. You’ll be better able to handle her upsets if you are rested, and your calmer demeanor will help her feel safe again, in your arms.
What did your parents do when you were upset as a child? What do you remember from your childhood about how your parents felt and how it affected you? What do you imagine it was like for you as a baby when things were stressed?