Gently turning drama into dreamland
Work with Rebecca
Please remember, these are just a guide and not one way your child should be.
The different types…
As you read the descriptions below, remember that we’re talking about a way of being in the world here, not an occasional mood or type of behaviour associated with a difficulty, such as colic, or a particular developmental milestone, like teething. You’ll probably recognise your baby in the following thumbnail sketches, or perhaps she’s a bit like this, a bit like that. Read all five descriptions. I’ve exemplified each profile with a baby I’ve met who fits it almost exactly.
The Angel baby.
As you might expect, this is the kind of baby every first-time pregnant woman imagines herself to have: good as gold. Pauline is such a baby – mellow, eternally smiling, and consistently undemanding. Her cues are easy to read. She’s not bothered by new surroundings, and she’s extremely portable – in fact, you can take her anywhere. She feeds, plays and sleeps easily, and usually doesn’t cry when she wakes up. You’ll find Pauline babbling in her crib most mornings, talking to a stuffed animal or just amusing herself by staring at a stripe on the wall. An Angel baby often can calm herself down, but if she gets a little overtired, perhaps because her cues were misread, all you have to do is snuggle her and tell her “I can see that you’re overtired”. Then, turn on a lullaby, make the room nice and dim and quiet, and she will put herself to sleep.
The Textbook baby.
This is our predictable baby, and as such, he’s fairly easy to handle. Oliver does everything on cue, so there are few surprises with him. He reaches all the milestones right on schedule – sleeps through the night by three months, rolls over by five, sits up by six. He’ll have growth spurts like clockwork – periods during which his appetite will suddenly increase because he’s putting on extra body weight or making a developmental leap. Even as young as a week, he can play on his own for short periods – fifteen minutes or so – and he’ll coo a lot and look around. And he smiles when someone smiles at him. Though Oliver has normal cranky periods, just like the books describe, he’s easy to calm. It’s not hard to get him to sleep, either.
The Touchy baby
For an ultra sensitive baby like Michael, the world is an endless array of sensory challenges. He flinches at the sound of a motorcycle revving outside his window, the TV blaring, a dog barking in the house next door. He blinks or turns his head away from bright light. He sometimes cries for no apparent reason, even at his mother. At those moments, he’s shouting (in his baby language), “I’ve had enough – I need some peace and quiet”. He often gets fussy after a number of people have held him, or after outings. He’ll play on his own for a few minutes, but he needs the reassurance that someone he knows well – Mum, Dad, a nanny – is close by. Because this type of baby likes to suck a lot, Mum may misread his cues and think he’s hungry when he’d do just was well on a dummy. He also nurses erratically, sometimes acting as though he’s forgotten how. At nap time and at night time, Michael often has difficulty falling asleep. Touchy babies like him easily get off schedule, because their system is so fragile. An extra-long nap, a skipped meal, and unexpected visitor, a trip, a change in formula – any of these can throw Michael for a loop. To calm the Touchy baby, you have to re-create the womb. Swaddle him tightly, snuggle him into your shoulder, whisper a rhythmic sh….sh….sh sound (like the splashing of fluid in the womb) close to his ear, and pat his back gently, mimicking a heartbeat. (This, by the way, will calm most babies, but it works especially well with a Touchy baby). When you have a Touchy baby, the quicker you learn his cues and his cries, the simpler life is. These babies love structure and predictability – no hidden surprises, thank you.
The Spirited baby.
This is a baby who seems to emerge from the womb knowing what she likes and doesn’t like, and she won’t hesitate to let you know it. Babies like Karen are very vocal and even seem aggressive at times. She often screams for Mum or Dad when she gets up in the morning. She hates lying in her own pee or poo, and she says “change me” by boisterously vocalising her discomfort. Indeed, she babbles a lot and loudly. Her body language tends to be a bit jerky. Karen often needs to be swaddled to get to sleep, because her flailing arms and legs keep her up and over stimulated. If she starts crying and the cycle is not interrupted, it’s like a point of no return, and her crying leads to more crying until she’s reached a fever pitch of rage. A spirited baby is likely to grab for her bottle at an early age. She’ll also notice other babies before they notice her, and as soon as she’s old enough to develop a good, firm grasp, she’ll grab their toys as well.
The Grumpy baby.
I have a theory that babies like Gavin have been here before – they’re old souls, as we call them – and they’re not all that happy to be back. I may be wrong, of course, but whatever the reason, I assure you this type of baby is downright mardy, as we say in Yorkshire – he’s mad at the world and lets you know it. (My coauthor informs me that the Yiddish equivalent is farbissiner.) Gavin whimpers every morning, doesn’t smile much during the day, and fusses his way to sleep every night. His mum has a lot of trouble keeping baby-sitters, because they tend to take this little guy’s bad humour personally. He hated baths at first, and every time anyone tried to change or dress him, he was fidgety and irritable. His mother had tried to breastfeed him, but she had a slow letdown (the pace of milk working its way down and through the nipple), and Gavin was impatient. Even though she switched him to formula, feeding is still difficult because of his cranky disposition. To calm a Grumpy baby, it usually takes a patient mum or dad, because these babies get very angry and their cries are particularly loud and long. The sh…..sh…..sh has to be louder than the cry. They hate to be swaddled, and they certainly let you know it. If a Grumpy baby has reached a major meltdown, instead of shushing say “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay” in a rhythm while gently swaying front to back.
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