Newborns Tell Their Story. If We Listen
Shared with authorization from the author. Written by Giuditta Tornetta from joyinbirthing.com
For years we thought newborn babies would only sleep, eat and cry, for the first six months, but that is not all they can do!
We live in a fast-food, fear-based, instant gratification society. As a consequence many mothers are induced before their due date or during labor to get the baby out quickly. They are encouraged to get an epidural, terrorized by the stories of unbearable pain during labor. And once that baby is born, parents are taught to quickly shush and soothe a crying baby, because a baby’s cry needs to be fixed.
There is only one way for a baby to communicate to the world around her crying. That is what most people call it. I prefer saying that a baby is talking. Babies usually talk when they are: hungry, startled, thirsty, tired, wet, have to burp, want to be held, wonder where you are, are just lonely, or want to tell you something. You will quickly learn what your baby is trying to tell you, if you shift your belief from “My baby cries she is in distress and I have to fix it.” to “My baby is talking, I might not understand exactly what she wants but I WILL LISTEN?” Your baby has a right to self-expression.
Responding to your baby’s talking every time she does, will not spoil her; it will however build a trusting relationship between her and you. At birth you will want to hear your baby’s voice as an indication she has taken her first breath, don’t try to shush her or even saying things like”don’t cry, it’s okay.” Use empathy and listen to her very first expression. You could use something like,”Wow is that your voice? Please tell me more.” Psychologist Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development suggest that trust and mistrust are the first building blocks of personality. According to Erikson, choosing one versus the other, trust or mistrust, is the result of our first learned experiences in the womb, at birth and throughout the non-verbal life of a child.
Babies “talk” a lot so the best thing to offer is empathy and an attentive ear. Babies have only one way of communicating “ it sounds like crying,” and if every time they attempt to talk we try to shut them down they will get the wrong message.
In my work as a postpartum doula, I’ve noticed that sometimes when babies cry they just need your attention. Of course I encourage parents to always attend their crying baby. In fact, I am not a big supporter of anyone who tells you to let you baby cry to self-soothe or sleep on her own. But when I respond to a baby who is crying, instead of shushing or bouncing him on a ball to quickly quiet him, I rather approach the baby and simply empathize. I say something like, “I hear you, I am here, tell me more. Did you wake up scared? You seem very upset, tell me how you feel?” Invariably the baby hearing and feeling empathy calms down.
By empathizing we give respect to and acknowledge the baby’s feelings. Sometimes babies talk when they want to tell you the story of their birth, or they want to tell you they just had a scary dream. Maybe they just want to let you know that when they fall asleep on your breast and then wake up in the crib alone, they get scared.
Picking up a baby who cries using words such as “Don’t cry, there is nothing wrong. Shushhhhhhh,” is denying his/her feelings. Think about it, how would you feel if your loved one used these words when you were crying? Of course sometimes babies are simply hungry, have a dirty diaper, are overtired, or need to be burped, but once you have checked that their bodily needs are met, allow them to tell you their thoughts and feelings. If this talking happens in the middle of the night it is okay to give yourself a time limit; you can tell your child,”I hear you, I’ll listen to what you have to say for awhile, then we’ll go back to sleep.” After you have allowed the baby to express himself, go ahead and use the gentle shushing, swaddling or other techniques to help your baby go back to sleep.
Remember that as much as your child has a right to expression, so do you. It is OK to tell your baby: “When you talk this way I also feel frustrated because I wish I could understand you better.” But beware of boundaries. Empathy is one thing, while simply crying with them is another. When you respond to a baby’s voice first check in with yourself and settle your feelings, only then can you truly help another. Excessive crying is the number one culprit for postpartum blues and depression. By changing your belief system from my baby is crying to my baby is talking, you will begin to shut down the voices inside that tell you that you don’t know what you are doing, that you are a terrible mother, that you cannot satisfy your baby’s needs, or worse that your are starving your baby.
The development of trust and mistrust continues into the toddler and childhood years. The level of reliance your child will feel in her life is correlated with your ability to keep your word and allow her to freely express herself with you. As a mother, you represent the safe haven the child can rely on and return to when going out and exploring the world. You are the one person she was born to trust unconditionally; a trust that she will be heard and that her right to self-expression is respected.