Friday, December 08, 2006

Babies - carrying, crying and control patterns from an Aware Parenting perspective

Babies who are carried cry less - This can be seen by comparing cultures where babies are carried almost continuously with those where babies are carried much less. (Barr, 1991, Brazelton 1969, and Lee, 1994). One study asked one group of mothers to carry their babies an extra two hours a day and another group to provide extra visual stimulation. At six weeks, carrying mothers reported that their babies cried 43% less overall (about 1 hour on average) and 51% less during the period of 4pm to midnight. There was also less crying reported at eight and twelve weeks. (Hunziker and Barr, 1986).

From an Aware Parenting perspective, frequently carried babies cry less because their primary need to be touched and held is met. But in addition, carried babies are protected from over-stimulation. “Over-stimulation occurs when the infant cannot make a meaningful connection between new information and familiar experiences. Most of the information that young babies take in is of this nature because of their limited experiences.” (Solter, 2001, p.45) When stimulation is reduced, so is infant crying. (Lucassen, 1998) When we see things from a small baby’s perspective, we can see how washing machines, telephones, shops, cars, and strangers, can all be over-stimulating. Not only that, but simply getting used to the physical sensations of their body outside of the womb, such as breathing, digesting, the feeling of clothes on their skin, changes of temperature and texture and motion, provides lots of stimulation. “Much of the crying that occurs in the early months may be due to over-stimulation. As a general guideline, the younger the baby, the easier he is to over-stimulate.” (Solter, 2001, p.131). When a baby is carried, particularly in a carrier and where he is facing inwards, the familiarity of the sensations of body closeness and heartbeat protect against over-stimulation. He has the opportunity to protect his skin, ears and eyes from stimulation that is too much by snuggling in closer and beneath some fabric. Compare this with a baby in a stroller, where the impact of over stimulation is intnsified.

Many parenting advocates talk of the benefits of walking, jiggling and rocking a crying baby, or “wearing down” a “fussy baby” to sleep. In many parenting paradigms, all crying is seen as a sign that a baby has an unmet need.

In comparison, the style of attachment parenting called Aware Parenting indicates that crying serves two functions for babies. The first type of crying indicates that the baby has an immediate need that requires fulfilling, and alerts the caretaker to respond to this need immediately. These needs include touch, food, and relief from discomfort (such as changing a wet nappy).

The second type of crying has the function of relieving stress, over-stimulation, tension and trauma. When all of a baby’s immediate needs have been met, and he is still crying, then it is likely that he is crying to release stress. For this to happen, he needs to be held in arms without distraction from the crying. His tears, sweating and vigorous movement effectively release over-stimulation, stress arising from unmet needs, frightening experiences, prenatal stress, birth trauma, and developmental frustration. Given this loving opportunity, he fully cries until he has completed a chunk of healing. After this he will be alert and ready for full connection, or will fall into a restful sleep without requiring anything being done to him. A baby who has released his daily stress in this way falls asleep in the evening simply being close with a loved one. He does not require jiggling, feeding, rocking, or anything else.

Since most parenting techniques do not understand this second function of crying, they advocate many different responses to stop this type of crying. Attachment parenting usually recommends feeding for comfort, or walking and jiggling in a sling. Non-attachment parenting advocates thumb sucking, dummies, and controlled crying. All these things when done regularly become known as control patterns, that is, things that are done to temporarily calm the baby, but which in time become habitual ways to prevent expression of feelings. Babies seem to need these things to happen to them many times a day to stop them from crying. Control patterns have a lasting influence on a baby’s development. Babies given control patterns accumulate more and more tension in their bodies over time, leading to difficulties going to sleep, frequent waking, agitation, whining, and biting. When control patterns associated with the parents’ body (breastfeeding, rocking, movement) are used to get a baby to be calm enough to sleep, they lead to frequent night waking. Specific control patterns lead to specific behaviours. Babies who are jiggled, rocked and walked whenever they need to release stress learn to move whenever they are upset, leading to toddlers who never seem to be able to sit still, and hyperactivity. Children described as “spirited” are often children with lots of stress in their bodies who have learnt to move to avoid crying.

”Movement stimulation is important for babies, but the timing for this is crucial. It is best to save activities such as bouncing, swinging and rocking for times when babies are happy, alert, and ready for stimulation. Do not wait until your baby fusses. Babies do not cry because of a need for these artificial forms of movement. Bouncing and rocking will only distract them from their need to cry.” (Solter, 1998, 70). When a baby is crying or fussing, he is asking either for an immediate need to be met, or to release stress through crying in arms. Some people believe that babies need to be calmed down with movement because they experienced continuous movement whilst in the womb. Yet, a lot of the time the mother was sitting or sleeping and then the baby only experienced small movements of the mother’s breathing and digestion. Simply holding a baby close provides this same level of stimulation. “If babies cry whilst being held closely, it is time for either feeding or respectful listening, not frantic attempts to distract the baby.” (Solter, 1998, p.70). It is commonly noted that hyperactivity is more common in boys than girls. We can postulate why when we learn that parents generally rock and bounce baby boys more than baby girls. (Fagot and Kronsberg, 1982). As Solter (1998) suggests, it is possible that this contributes to later hyperactivity, especially if the rocking was done to stop the baby from crying.

As an Aware Parenting instructor, I have talked to many parents who rocked, jiggled and walked their babies when they were upset, and later felt dismayed at how agitated and hyperactive these little ones became as children. One baby at 12 months old seemed to “need” constant movement all day to stop him crying. Movement had become such a control pattern that the mother had become highly agitated with all the rocking she was doing. This is very different to a baby who has been lovingly held in arms whilst he cries to release stress, and who is calm and alert and happy for the rest of the day.

Each culture and country has its own favoured control patterns. !Kung mothers respond to crying with feeding, movement and singing, regardless of the cause of the crying. (Konner, 1972). Anthropologists have found that in some tribal cultures, children cry lots when the adults force them to walk and refuse to carry them. (Small, 1998) This is possibly be the child catching up on the crying that has been repressed by control patterns in infancy. (Solter, 1991).

With Aware Parenting, parents can meet all of a baby’s needs for closeness by carrying him for much of the day, and also give him the opportunity for healing from stress and trauma by calmly holding him without bouncing, rocking or walking when he needs to cry.


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