Since the last update, things have continued to move forward.
Those first times of crying were tough. It was like floodgates were opened and it seemed she would never stop crying. And there was so much rage! Which is why I took her onto our bed to thrash it out safely.
Yet since then she's only had a couple of biggish crying sessions and there hasn't been any raging. She did have one 'tantrum'-like episode. And that was our next big moment. I was at that junction that every parent finds themselves - where little baby is now suddenly showing pre-toddler tendencies. Yikes!
She wanted something that I didn't allow her to have. She was a little whiney and tired. And she burst out in tears and had little yells and went very red in the face with anger.
I held her lovingly.
It didn't last long. She had her cry and then cuddled me and soon fell asleep.
I couldn't help but feel that if we hadn't had our initial crying experiences it would have been much more intense. Because she would have had to release the immediate stress as well as pent up stress. And without the knowledge of allowing her to cry, I would have exacerbated the situation and caused her to feel even more frustrated.
I feel content knowing that we'll be entering toddlerhood with some idea of how to deal with tantrums. Which are afterall an extension of baby crying - expressing frustration and releasing stress.
So reading The Aware Baby has been interesting and has confirmed all that I've tried and experienced, and made a few things clearer.
Firstly, Solter tries to make clear the two different types of crying. The primary function is to elicit a response to immediate basic needs (hunger, cold, touch, etc), and the other to release stress. In other words - communication and healing.
In the first, our role as parents is not so much to stop the crying, as it is to fill the basic need, which in itself stops crying. I think that because we equate met needs with no crying, we (especially AP inspired parets) tend to view crying as a bad bad thing that we should not hear if we are being 'good' parents. Our focus turns to stopping the crying. And that's where the confusion sets in. As Solter indicates, many current theories talk about soothing, comforting and settling baby, all at the total exclusion of allowing the release of stress through crying.
According to Solter, our role to facilitate the second function, healing, is to eliminate the hurt, reduce stress, and then to hold the baby lovingly and allow the crying to continue.
Apparently, cortisol levels are high in newborns, which greatly reduces over time. So newborns are very stressed by default. Other stresses are:
frightening events (loud noises, parental stress, etc)
That's a whole bunch of stress that no matter how amazing we are as parents, we cannot possibly ever reduce or eliminate them all.
Some of the ways we are told to sooth a baby is through movement (jiggling, rocking, patting, bouncing, going for car rides), oral things such as nursing or pacifiers, noise (singing, shushing sounds), or distraction (toys, etc).
Nursing is the controversial one, because many mothers adhere to the philosophy that nursng for comfort is a legitimate need. Now, I'm not saying it isn't, and neither is Solter, I think. However, what Solter says is that doing any of the above (including nursing for comfort) when the baby needs to cry to release stress, is not beneficial to the baby at all.
Makes perfect sense. The baby needs A and we offer B, C, D and E. One of our methods might stop the crying, and thereby trick us into thinking we have successfully met the baby's needs. But if the need is to cry?
So she says that a baby can become dependent on any of the above methods. Most importantly, if these methods work what's actually happening is that the baby is learning how to suppress his emotions.
This confirmed for me something I did shortly after we started this experiment. I took away her favourite soft toy for bed time. Two things happened. She cried a little more, which was of course good to release any stress before trying to sleep. Secondly, she came to me for more cuddles. The latter was difficult for me, in that I got even less sleep! But felt that for her sake it was better. She was coming to a real person for comfort and security.
Solter calls any behaviour that suppresses crying a 'control pattern' (and from some forums I've visited I see that some mothers have misinterpreted the word 'control'). All she means is that a baby learns that his emotions are not acceptable. Any behaviour done frequently enough (like giving a pacifier for crying) can easily become a dependent behaviour. So the baby learns to suppress crying.
So I guess if we shifted our perspective and thought of these methods not as soothing methods but rather suppression methods, we would feel very differently about applying them.
Thumb sucking is a common control pattern. The Wildflower sucked her thumb for a few months after we stopped breastfeeding and I saw the obvious connection. She mostly did it just before falling asleep, and I think that with so much of my attention she soon gave it up. I don't think she ever used it to stop crying. but many babies and children do.
The last bit I want to share with you for now is Solter's theories on babies and their control patterns.
Movement (jiggling, swinging, rocking)
- baby could become overly demanding
- baby could become a self-rocker, head-banger, or hyperactive toddler
Nursing for comfort (rather than for hunger)
- baby could become overweight
- baby wants to nurse frequently when upset
- baby could become addicted to sweets later on (and I would add simply, baby could learn to use food as comfort)
Giving pacifier or bottle
- baby could become addicted to pacifier or bottle (and see my thought above)
Distracting (toys, books, muic, games)
- baby could demand constant entertainment
Putting baby in crib, ignoring
- baby could suck his thumb or become attached to object (blanket, stuffed animal)
Giving sedatives or ther drugs
- baby could seek relief from stress through drugs later on
She adds that control patterns don't disappear without crying, they simply become modified. Such as thumb-sucking turning into nail biting in an older child.
Control patterns give only temporary relief, they do not release stress.
Researchers found that non-nutritive sucking on pacifiers reduced the amount of crying but not the cortisol levels. Food for thought.