Making Plans with a Fussy Baby
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 6, November-December 2005, pp. 260-263
"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
My baby is very sensitive. I never know when she will be fussy, and I don't like to make plans to go out only to spend the whole time trying to soothe a crying baby. I feel so isolated and I'm going stir-crazy! What can I do?
I would like to share with you some things that helped me with my sensitive son, who is now 13 months old. First of all, it really helped when I lowered my expectations, both of myself and of my baby. While I was pregnant, I read lovely stories about mothers casually breastfeeding their contented babies in their slings while they attended weddings, ate at fancy restaurants, or enjoyed a movie at the theater. When my reality clashed with these expectations, I felt both resentful and guilty. Once we had ruled out physical causes, such as acid reflux and sensitivity to something in my diet, I had to remind myself that my baby's fussiness was not my fault. He behaved this way because of his temperament, not because I was a bad mother.
Secondly, despite his unpredictability, I began to keep track of his "triggers." I learned, for instance, that a crowded restaurant with the loud music and bright lights, although "family friendly," was too much for my baby. On the other hand, a smaller restaurant with dim lighting and a fish tank in the lobby met our needs better. I also noticed that certain times of day were better than others, and planned to go out when he was more likely to be in a good mood. For us, this was usually first thing in the morning, or after a nap. It helped me to have a flexible attitude. If I had to arrive late or leave early because of my son's needs, that was okay. Our motto became, "If it's not working, try something else."
Finally, I actively sought out activities that both met my needs to get out and have social interaction, as well as took my son's needs and temperament into account. For example, a daily walk with my baby in the sling was a lifesaver. I got the fresh air and exercise I needed, and it was something I could do even when my son was crabby. The motion calmed him down and he was usually asleep by the time we got home.
Additionally, I avoided negative people who assumed my baby was fussy because I was spoiling him, and spent more time with people who were supportive of my parenting. I am very blessed to have a helpful family, including my mother, who breastfed both of her children well into toddlerhood. Having dinner with a room full of doting relatives meant that I had several other loving pairs of arms to help me tend to my baby's needs while I enjoyed my meal. This is also how La Leche League became such an important part of my life. It was so refreshing to be able to talk to other nursing mothers who encouraged me and did not look down on me because of my fussy baby. Some of these mothers had older children who had been sensitive babies, and their ideas and perspective were very helpful.
Now that my high-need baby has grown into a spirited toddler, things have begun to get easier. While he is still sensitive, he is a bright, happy child who is comfortable around people, insatiably curious, and enjoys new experiences. I would like to think that my persistence in learning to read his cues and respond in a loving way has something to do with that.
Sheboygan WI USA
I can empathize with you on having a sensitive baby. We spent the first six months at home, unable to go anywhere without a lot of difficulty and crying. Since then, she has improved somewhat and I feel much freer to move about with her. Here is what helped us.
Take a walk with your baby by yourself or with your husband or other family members and friends. We carried the baby in a sling on the walks and this soothed her. Occasionally, try to meet with a friend close by your home. Before you leave, make sure the baby is well rested and fed. You know your baby the best so take into consideration his/her temperament when picking a place to meet. For example, restaurants were always too noisy for our little one, but she loved to watch people, so the library and grocery store worked well.
Don't forget to go to local La Leche League meetings. Nobody there minds if you have a crying baby. Maybe there are a few mothers there that you could arrange to meet or invite to your house for some adult conversation. If you can't get out with the baby, call a friend and invite them over. At the very least have a phone conversation. Remember, this too shall pass.
Spring TX USA
Like you, I have a daughter who is very sensitive. New noises, surroundings, and people can be very disruptive to a baby's insulated world of nursing, napping, and pooping on demand. I found myself going stir-crazy at home, especially in the first months after my daughter was born. Yet, at the same time, leaving the house was exhausting between gathering up diapers, toys, making sure the baby had been nursed and changed, only to end up enduring a cranky car ride and further fussiness upon arrival at the destination!
The best advice I can offer is, if you can't go to the mountain, make the mountain come to you! Find other stay-at-home mothers with similar interests (LLL meetings are a good place to start) and invite them to your home for a playgroup. Ask them to each bring a snack so you don't have the added burden of cooking while you play hostess. You can also invite friends to come to your house for a themed social gathering—coffee house or movie night, for example—anything that will help bring the party to you.
Of course, every now and then you will definitely want to get out of the house for a change of scenery. The most important thing to do is to stay tuned to your baby's needs and signals. Just because you leave the house doesn't mean that the baby's routine has to change dramatically. I found that by carrying my baby in a sling, I was able to keep my baby safe, secure, and close even while we were out. Slings are also great for nursing in public. A happy baby is a baby whose needs are readily met. I quickly realized that my baby could only be soothed by constant nursing, especially when we were in a new place. After my initial discomfort and frustration, I realized that my social hang-ups were impeding my baby's happiness. I had the power to soothe and comfort my baby, and it was up to me to use it. It is all about attitude and technique—if I was uncomfortable, so was she. So I just had to ask myself, "What could be more natural than nursing my baby?"
I have nursed while pushing a grocery cart, sitting in synagogue, and relaxing in a floor-model chair in the aisle of a store, as well as countless other places in order to tend to my baby's needs. I believe that you will find that a sensitive baby can be a blessing—she is so in tune to you and her surroundings! Her fussiness will cease as she beings to understand that her most precious advocate and nurturer is always by her side.
Chana Maya Sidi
Albany NY USA
My first baby was also very sensitive. He cried often and breastfeeding was the only thing that comforted him. If I waited too long after his first cues to nurse him, he would cry inconsolably and had a very difficult time calming down enough to latch on. When I was by myself at home it was not as hard to do, but when I was around others or in public I felt a great deal of anxiety about what I would do if he began fussing. I was uncomfortable nursing around people; it was new to me and I was unsure of myself and concerned about offending others. My worst fear was accidentally exposing myself and causing a scene because my baby was crying so hard that everyone was looking, yet he was unable to calm down enough to take the breast quickly. My situation took a long time to remedy, but perhaps you will be able to apply the things I learned over a year to ease your concerns much more quickly.
I wish I had begun attending La Leche League meetings before or as soon as I had my baby. It was so helpful to see other mothers breastfeeding, and I learned from watching their techniques. It was also good practice for me, as I became more comfortable nursing around a group of people because I felt safe enough to do so at the meetings. I then spent time practicing nursing in front of a mirror. It takes some effort, but set up a comfortable nursing area where you will be able to see your reflection so you can get used to watching yourself and assure yourself how little exposure there is.
My other suggestion is to begin getting out more by going to visit other mothers who are comfortable with breastfeeding or asking them to come over. You have less pressure when you are not in public, and yet will be able to have some adult contact. LLL is a great place to make new friends. Don't be afraid to approach someone you like at the meetings and ask if she would like to get together sometime. Be specific and choose a time, day, and place right away so you can both commit.
Something else that I found very helpful was trying different ways of carrying my baby when I was out and about. He was happiest in a sling when he was a newborn, and I wish I had practiced nursing in it as I think I would have been more comfortable doing so. When he was old enough to support his head, I carried him in a front-pack carrier and being able to see kept him interested for longer periods of time, though it took some time to get him out and take the carrier off when he did want to nurse. I didn't discover a backpack carrier until he was nine months old, but he loved it for outings and was happy for much longer periods of time than I had anticipated once I started using it. These were all helpful because he was able to be close to me and it didn't wear me out to carry him.
When you start venturing out for longer periods in public, look for a place to breastfeed as soon as you arrive somewhere so you're prepared when your baby needs to nurse. One of the best places to breastfeed in a store is the children's or infant's clothing section. Depending on the personality of your baby, some mothers have found it helpful to anticipate the need their baby will have to nurse and get settled in to offer baby the breast before she is showing signs. I found that wearing a nursing shirt was very helpful for my level of confidence, and I often draped a jacket or blanket (or my sling) over the arm of the side the baby was latching on until he had gotten started to provide a little extra coverage. It was easy to slip off my shoulder after he was nursing comfortably.
The most important thing is to remember to mother your baby in the way that you know is best for her. You know your daughter better than anyone else, so don't be concerned about what others might think. If your baby needs you or your milk, let her fill that need for closeness, warmth, food, and comfort. The more you venture out, the more comfortable you will be, and the more your daughter will begin to enjoy the change in surroundings.
Derby KS USA
My first son was also very sensitive. All of the standard soothing techniques worked, but only for a few minutes at a time before I had to try something else. Worst of all was when I would spend time with someone who had an "easy" baby who seemed content much of the time.
There were two things that helped me. One was a mind set that I would try to accomplish just one thing on any given day, whether it was cleaning the bathroom, doing the laundry, or going to an LLL meeting. I made a conscious choice to concentrate on that one task, working through my son's nursing, napping, and fussy times and not leaving various tasks half finished or getting frustrated that I couldn't do it all. Some days, when all he did was nurse and fuss and I could barely get a shower, I decided that the one thing I needed to do was keep him happy, and I didn't try to do anything else.
The second thing that helped was keeping a "things that work" list (which I now have in my son's baby book). I stuck a blank page to the refrigerator and jotted down what made my son happy on any given day: riding face front in the carrier, being in the sling outside while I raked, watching a weather station on television, sitting under a ceiling fan, teething on my thumb, watching the cat, having his back patted, and pedaling his feet. I remember many times when I was sleep-deprived and stressed, I would check the list and realize that even though he seemed unhappy so much of the time, there really were many things that brought him joy and comfort.
Now, at age seven, Evan is a bright and eager learner who still gets frustrated when things don't go right for him right away, but he's developed a lot of excellent coping skills. I've since had two more beautiful sons who have both been relatively "easy" babies—calm and mellow from the beginning, easily contented in the sling or swing, with completely different personalities from my first. I realize mothers who have never had a tough baby can't always relate to how hard it is some days (all days, really). For that first year, we ate a lot of pasta and takeout and had constantly frayed nerves; but it eventually did get easier and we developed routines that worked and a tolerance level for the times where we couldn't find the answer. It is hard to believe babies can be so different. Enjoy the moments of joy when you get them!
Chelmsford MA USA
Our Group used this letter as a discussion exercise at our last meeting. We came up with a variety of suggestions that might be helpful to you. All of us were nodding our heads in understanding! We hope some of our ideas can help.
What do you think is the biggest factor that makes you uncomfortable about being out with a crying baby? We all had reasons that might make us feel that way: self consciousness or awkwardness about breastfeeding in public, being judged as a "bad" mother because baby is crying, resenting baby's needs infringing on "me" time, postpartum blues making it hard to cope, and the feeling that everyone is being disturbed by you and your baby. Quite a list of negative feelings! If any of these things are bothering you, perhaps the realization that there are plenty of new mothers who have felt the same will help you to come to a more acceptable level of comfort.
Can you think of a way to connect with other mothers with children about the same age? Exchange phone numbers at the next LLL meeting and try to set a date with someone. Most mothers are sympathetic to crying babies, and may even offer to hold and soothe your baby while you have a cup of coffee or eat a sandwich (with both hands)!
Begin setting a pattern, such as taking a daily walk, regardless if baby is crying or not. Perhaps the act of getting ready and going out for a 10 minute stroll will begin to register with baby as something for you both to look forward to.
It sounds as though your baby's crying is fairly unpredictable, even at home. If you are going to have to soothe her anyway, you might as well be out!
You can also use your phone to reach out to others. Call sympathetic family, friends, or your LLL Leader when you need consolation or just to hear a voice that isn't fussing. Check the Internet for mother's chat groups, too.
Keep trying—maybe baby will be calmer than you anticipate or will learn to be with time. Plan an occasional outing at nap time or when baby is sleeping so you can be assured of at least some quiet time—you may have to give up your own nap!
We have two mothers in our Group who routinely call each other and demand, "Repeat after me: It's all a phase, it's only temporary." Learn that sentence, then teach it to a friend!
Time your outings to coordinate with one of baby's more reliable nursings. One mother routinely went to the movies at the time for her baby's longest nursing of the day, nursed baby to sleep and enjoyed the movie in peace.
See if you can find a gym with good child care and do a quick workout while baby stays there. Look for mother/baby yoga or other exercise classes, or a stroller walking group.
Rely on your partner or another caregiver periodically to get some pure "me" time. Don't judge his or her style—another caregiver will never do things exactly your way or the "right" way, and the more you let them know they are not doing things the same as you, the less likely they will be willing to take the job. The easiest way to be sure you do not judge is to just leave—if you aren't there to witness it, you won't complain that baby's bottom was not powdered the "right" way.
Ask other mothers what baby-friendly businesses or restaurants they can recommend. Call ahead to order food so it is easier to leave if you must.
Surround yourself with support—family, friends, other mothers. Accept all help and ask for it when needed. (Everyone in the Group agreed that asking for help is probably the hardest thing for a new mother to do!)
Don't give up! Get through the crying to get to the outing—pull over and nurse on your way to the play date, don't just go home.
It's okay to stay home if you can't cope with going out. Try not to feel pressured to be a "Supermom." Perhaps you could plan an "inning" instead of an outing—invite another mother over for coffee and enjoy the company without the pressure of being out.
Finally, remember the importance of the job you are doing and give yourself a break. From eight nursing mothers to another, we congratulate you on your efforts to mother your child through breastfeeding. With all the focus on our babies, we tend to neglect ourselves. Remember that you are important, too!
LLL of St. Thomas
US Virgin Islands