Help! I can't put my baby down!
The other day a new mom came into the store desperate for some products that would allow her to put her baby down. She was distraught and exhausted and was sure that her baby should be able to be put into her crib and lie there peacefully on her own. But it just wasn’t working. As we talked about it she began to understand why all the ads on the internet guaranteeing a quiet self-soothing newborn, were deceptive and almost cruel, both to the mom and to the baby.
One of the greatest shocks of new parenthood is discovering how much your baby needs you. No matter how many books you’ve read or mommy blogs you’ve read or friends you’ve talked to, nothing really prepares you for the intensity of a newborn's needs.
To get a sense of it, just close your eyes for a moment and imagine what it must be like to be in a warm, wet, dark, super snug environment, where you are embraced and held non-stop around the clock. There is nothing you need to do. You don’t have to eat, you don’t have to see, you don’t even have to breathe. You hear the constant, rhythmic, reassuring sound of a heartbeat continuously. You don’t have to communicate that you need anything because everything you need is taken care of.
This is life in the womb. Cozy, comfy, snug, secure. You are held. And held. And held. Then suddenly, either through a dramatic uprooting where you are squeezed and pushed through a very tight space, or another kind of uprooting where you are suddenly grabbed by strange hands, you are thrust from your warm cocoon.
Suddenly you have to breathe, you have to see. You experience hunger, you have to eat, you have to digest, you have to adapt to changing temperatures, you hear a range of strange noises, and breathe in an array of smells.
Your safe place is gone.
Or is it? There are these beings who can hold you, who can provide you with the warmth and security you’ve suddenly lost. They can keep you close enough to hear their familiar heartbeats. They can soothe you when you are in distress. They can feed you when you experience the pain of hunger. They can rock you, walk with you, sing to you to try to recreate that wonderful safety of the womb.
They understand how hard it is to be in the world and that there is absolutely nothing you can do to take care of your needs for food, comfort and security. They know that you are absolutely, completely and totally dependent on them to get your needs met.
You want and need to be close to them. You get terrified and distressed when they put you down. Who wouldn’t?
So when you think about a newborn’s experience, is it any surprise that you can’t put your baby down? There is nothing wrong with your baby if they need your closeness because... they really do need your closeness. It is very “right”. You are absolutely, positively, not spoiling them by holding them. In fact, the more you hold them the easier it is for their little immature nervous systems, digestive systems, sensory systems etc, to settle and calm down.
There is overwhelming evidence that responding to a baby is essential for their long-term emotional security, physical well being, intellectual development and innate drive towards independence as they become more secure. The more responsive, the better the outcomes
In fact, babies who are held more cry less, and become more securely attached. And the more securely they are attached, the more secure they feel about moving into the world and exploring.
That said, meeting your baby’s needs can be exhausting. You can experience a level of fatigue you’ve never experienced before. You can feel a helplessness when your baby won’t stop crying no matter what you do. When they wake you every hour or two during the night, night after night after night, you may feel like you just can’t do it.
So what can you do?
- Accept that newborns need to be held and to be close to you..
- Remember what their life was like before they were born.
- Smile politely when people tell you that you are spoiling your baby
- Feel good about meeting your newborn's needs
- Pop your baby in a carrier and let them spend as much time as they need there. This will free you to move around, go outside, get things done in the house and most importantly, to lie down, slightly propped up, on your back with your baby on your chest so you can both get some sleep.
- There is nothing wrong with letting your baby sleep in a carrier while you do other things: you don’t “have to” put them down.
- If you are feeling overwhelmed ask for help from partners if you have one, friends, relatives, public health nurses, La Leche League Leaders, postpartum clinics, or your midwife or doctor.
- Participate in groups for new moms
- Remember to eat well, get fresh air and be kind to yourself.
- Remember that every new mother is exhausted. You are not alone!
Before you know it your baby will smile at you, and once that happens, everything will seem right in the world.
Have a wonderful day,
Owner of Mountain Baby and Parenting Coach
- Judy Banfield