“Johnny, Please Be Quiet!”
So cried a young mother, vainly struggling to quiet her noisy baby. She rocked, fed, cuddled caressed, shook and pacified with little effect. Johnny’s cry just got louder.
A BABY’S first cry is music to the ears of a mother. Yet the constant, sirenlike sound of a baby’s cry has driven some to violence. As one doctor expressed it, “the cry of a small infant . . . can reduce the most competent adult to a state of frenzied helplessness.” Exhausted from giving birth, nerves frazzled by midnight feedings and endless diaper changes, some mothers find it hard to respond to baby’s cry with compassion.
Yet mothers have successfully coped with their crying infants for centuries. So can you! Although we offer no “magic” solutions, you can surely benefit from the advice of parents, medical science and the Bible.
Babies Are People Too!
First, let’s dispose of a common fallacy: that a baby is just a little, moldable hunk of clay devoid of individuality—an object, a plaything. Rather, he is a living, breathing human with real needs. An infant is generally alert, responsive and has a unique personality, albeit flawed. Though it’s hard to conceive of a helpless infant as sinful, the Bible realistically shows that “the inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.” (Genesis 8:21) This helps us appreciate that, while cute and cuddly, infants are capable of deceit, anger, jealousy—the trademarks of imperfect humanity!
Likely, much goes on in the mind of an infant as he evaluates the world around him and reacts to his own feelings. Baby wants to reach out and, in effect, say: “Here I am! Pay attention to me!” How does he do this? By calm discussion? No, a baby can only cry—oftentimes at the top of his little lungs.
Forging a Bond
“When I first saw my baby, I fell in love with him. It was just the way he looked. He was so beautiful!” Thus a mother of three describes what doctors often refer to as “bonding,” the mutual emotional attachment between mother and baby. Is it important for mother and baby to be “in love”? Yes, for this bond helps mother to be sensitive to, attuned to, the needs of her baby. “Can a wife forget her suckling so that she should not pity the son of her belly?” asked the prophet Isaiah.—Isaiah 49:15.
It appears that this bond can begin to form even during pregnancy, as the expectant mother senses life growing inside her. And when mother and child are allowed to stay together after birth, this link appears to be dramatically strengthened. Many hospitals now permit such contact, in view of studies claiming long-lasting results: “Less infant crying, more rapid infant growth, increased affection, and more self-confidence on the part of the mother,” to name a few.
The apostle Paul observed how a “nursing mother cherishes her own children.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7) This tender act of nursing does more than provide baby with nutritious food. Barbara, a mother of five, asserts: “Breast-feeding makes you feel closer to your baby. I felt close to the babies I bottle-fed, but when you breast-feed there is a different feeling.” Many doctors enthusiastically agree!
As natural as this bond may seem, it is not automatic, but can be strengthened or suppressed. It may take time and effort to get baby to respond to your efforts, whether he is breast-fed or bottle-fed, born “naturally” or with anesthesia. But, in the long run, it is worth the effort.
But What Is He Trying to Say?
The Bible condemns shutting one’s ears to the cry of the helpless, and baby usually won’t let himself be ignored! (Proverbs 21:13, The New English Bible) He will cry until he is comforted or too exhausted to continue. Confessed one mother: “It just kills you to hear your little baby cry.” That instinctive desire to respond to the cry and comfort him lays the groundwork for real communication. Redbook magazine stated: “Babies whose mothers respond to them regularly in this way become accustomed to having their signals understood. This makes them want to communicate more.” Eventually baby learns to talk. But for now crying must suffice. Listen! What’s he trying to say? Research indicates that attuned mothers can guess the cause of baby’s discomfort with surprising accuracy!
What might be troubling your newborn? Infants have a longing for milk, and possibly your child is hungry. Mother’s milk, a bottle, or even a pacifier may calm him. Like the patriarch Jacob’s children, your baby is very “delicate” and may cry simply because he’s tired. (Genesis 33:13, 14) Does your child have a fever or other signs of illness? Or could it be a wet diaper that is causing him discomfort? The possibilities are numerous.
Your baby also has emotional needs. You need love and reassurance, do you not? Babies need an exceptional amount. How can you meet these needs? By touch!—holding, caressing, tickling your infant. Says Dr. Eleanor Hamilton: “The baby who cries for body contact is clamoring for fulfillment of a need as essential as that of feeding, diapering, and burping.” Depriving him of this essential contact is “the equivalent of condemning the baby to isolation-cell treatment.”
Babies need to feel secure. Physician Luke mentions that Jesus’ mother used an age-old method to soothe her newborn: “She bound him with cloth bands.” (Luke 2:7) “Mummifying” a baby may strike you as strange, but there is wisdom in this practice. One publication on child care advises: “Some tense newborn babies are soothed and find it easier to sleep . . . if they are wrapped in a light blanket or cloth. It seems to stop them from waking from ‘startles’ or waking themselves from random movements of arms and legs. It should be done quite firmly, as a loosely restricting blanket seems to be irritating to babies, rather than calming.” Whether it’s a cry for dinner or a plea to be gently caressed, baby’s cry has meaning, and by trial and error you learn to “tune in” to your infant.
Coping with Colic
“My first child,” says Dwan, “was the ‘perfect’ baby. But my second child cried—actually screamed—almost continually for three months!” The effects? “The baby took all my attention. I isolated myself and had very little communication with anyone. I’m not the nervous type, but this had severe effects on my nervous system and I developed colitis.”
A “bad” baby? No. He was crying out in real pain. A newborn’s digestive system is immature and some infants experience sharp pains in their stomach and intestines. This is commonly called colic. The cure? Admits Dr. Benjamin Spock: “Unfortunately, there is as yet no sure, effective way of relieving colic.” The only real cure so far known to doctors is the passage of time—usually two or three months. In the meantime you may be sentenced to nonstop wailing.
Or are you? T. Berry Brazelton, MD, has had parents clock actual crying time and says that, “although it seemed to the parents that the baby was crying all day and all night, the truth was that the total crying did not amount to more than two hours a day.” Since babies are seemingly sensitive to parental tensions, “the more frantic maneuvers a mother used to try to quiet him, the more the baby cried.”
You must therefore stay calm and take reasonable steps to comfort your baby. Gentle massage of the child’s stomach, rocking, breast-feeding, pacifying, swaddling, softly speaking or even singing may calm him. Maybe not for long, but you accomplish a very important thing: You reassure the baby that he is loved and might prevent his suffering possible emotional scars.
Seth, for example, is a bright, cheerful and calm six-year-old. A person can hardly believe that he spent the first few weeks of his life screaming. But his mother, Janice, recalls being “exhausted from frustration.” Her husband adds: “You get up, you hold the baby, you try to feed the baby. No matter what you do, he keeps crying. It’s a very nerve-racking thing to go through, and I confess that at times I felt like throwing him down!” How did they keep their sanity? Cooperation. Says Janice: “I really could feel Bruce’s loyalty to me and his support.” Yes, he shared in getting up and comforting the baby. They also recognized their limitations: “At times the only way we could get relief was to do first what we could to comfort the baby and then put him down and let him cry. You feel guilty and selfish for doing this. But to get control of ourselves we at times just had to ‘suffer it through.’ Also, we kept reminding ourselves that this would eventually stop.”
Dwan, earlier quoted, further advises: “Make your problem known to your husband and friends. Once they know, they are often more than willing to help. Also, be aware of your own emotional needs.” Maybe a brief respite from parenthood, via a baby-sitter, can help restore your nerves. It is important, too, that you do not neglect your spiritual needs. (Matthew 5:3) Says Janice: “I really feel Jehovah has a lot of compassion for new mothers and helps them if they simply turn to him.”—See Psalm 55:22.
Spoiling and Unspoiling
While love and attention seem to be vital to a baby’s emotional well-being, some babies continue to demand attention even after colic or hunger has abated. Most doctors agree that it is hard to spoil a very young infant. But older babies can become tyrants, demanding their parents’ undivided attention.
Typical is the toddler who, according to his mother, Carmen, “will go into a fit and start screaming if he doesn’t get what he wants.” The solution? “We had to discipline him. He knew that every time he acted up, he was going to get hit for it.” Though some are appalled at the thought of punishing a baby, Carmen knows that the Bible encourages the training and disciplining of children. (Ephesians 6:4; Proverbs 23:13) This may mean giving her child an occasional whack. But Carmen says: “If you spank him, after a while he just goes right to you and hugs you.” So while a child thrives on attention and love, blend in some loving discipline.
The disciplined child is far better equipped to “go public.” The first time in a restaurant or shopping mall with your baby can be a nightmare if he is untrained. Christians have the further obligation of training their children to participate in worship, since the Bible tells of the congregating not only of adults but also of “little ones.” (Deuteronomy 31:12) True, baby may cause some embarrassment as he unleashes a cry from time to time in public. But people are usually sympathetic and tolerant. And a beleaguered mother is grateful when someone kindly asks, “May I help?” and offers her a few moments of relief.
“Out of the Mouth of Babes”
Hopefully, the task of keeping baby quiet now seems just a little less formidable. Of course, baby will keep expressing himself; it comes naturally to him. So relax and enjoy your baby. Get to know him. Being a parent is a full-time job.
While cries and shrieks may come “out of the mouth of babes,” don’t forget that with loving instruction “praise” can come out of those same tiny mouths. (Matthew 21:16) Infants are a marvelous testimony to Jehovah’s love and wisdom and are one of his greatest gifts. Your baby will make you fume from frustration and howl with laughter; drain you emotionally but then lift your spirits to soaring heights. So keep nurturing, comforting and, above all, loving your baby. He just might decide to stay quiet for a while.
[Blurb on page 18]
“Breast-feeding makes you feel closer to your baby”
[Blurb on page 19]
“We kept reminding ourselves that this would eventually stop”
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A child thrives on attention and love
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“If you spank him, after a while he just goes right to you and hugs you”