You love her, but it seems like all you ever do is try to appease the little tyrant. She can have your milk, your body, your arms, your world, if only she'll stop crying. And what do you get in return? Mostly just the chance to wake up tomorrow morning (or in the middle of the night) and do it all over again. Why, aside from the fact that your baby is so ridiculously cute, do you kill yourself to please someone who can't even say "thank you"? Because deep down you know your baby loves you. She may not smile, yet, and she sure doesn't say it in words. But if she had her pick of all the milk joints in the world, she'd still head to yours, and here are 10 good reasons why.
Babies seem to recognize their mother instantly. "I've seen it so many times," says Laura Riley, MD, obstetrician and author of You and Your Baby: Pregnancy (Meredith). "The baby has just been born, his vision is not great, but the moment the mother starts to talk in a soothing voice, the baby will turn toward her or open his eyes." That's because he could hear Mom's voice from the womb. Baby listens to you talking for weeks before he's born. Further proof that you're special: a newborn may turn his head away from a stranger because of the unfamiliar voice and scent. "If I pick a baby up and cuddle him in the same way as the mother, I don't get the same response," Dr. Riley says.
Whether it comes from the breast or the bottle, the milk you feed your baby offers much more than nutrition. When he's screaming from hunger, he actually doesn't know what's wrong. You magically make it all better. With every meal, you're telling him that you'll take care of him. As he learns that lesson, things get easier for both of you. "If parents respond repeatedly in ways that let the baby know his needs will be met, by 3 months or so babies cry less," says Elaine Zwelling, RN, PhD, director of the Lamaze International Childbirth Educator Certification Program at the University of South Florida.
Newborns don't do much, but they eat. At meals, their eyes seek a little entertainment, and the main dinner attraction is Mom or Dad. "One of the first objects a baby will focus on is a face," says Zwelling, who is also a member of the Pampers Parenting Institute. Baby's vision field is 10 to 12 inches, which puts her in the right spot for gazing up from the breast or bottle. "The first time my baby smiled at me while nursing, it pierced my heart," says Ninotchka Beavers, a mom in Dallas. Baby drinks you in along with milk, and she falls in love with what she sees.
"You can't spoil an infant," Zwelling says firmly. No matter what an older generation may say, it's fine to run to your newborn each and every time she cries. The more cuddling and comforting, the better. "To be able to be spoiled," Zwelling adds, "you have to have enough cognitive memory and thought processes to think, Last time I cried, she picked me up, so if I do it again... Infants just aren't there yet." Once you have a toddler, though, it might be a different story!
When you walk, the rhythm of your movements, just like the sound of your voice, is delightfully familiar. Your baby has been moving with you for the last nine months, and it feels good to keep that going by riding in a sling, a carrier, or in your arms. Even your simplest soothing gestures may be wonderfully recognizable. "A lot of women rub their belly when they're pregnant—after the baby is born, I'll see them unconsciously rub the baby's back in the same way," Dr. Riley says.
For baby, even a visit to the grocery store is full of stimuli. A wedding, a trip to the mall, or just a little trouble getting to sleep can be overwhelming. When that happens, she turns to you. "If you're calm, your energy and everything about you tells your baby that everything is fine, that you will take care of her," says Jenn Berman, PhD, a psychotherapist and the author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids (New World Library). That doesn't mean she'll never melt down, of course, but when she does, you put her needs first. "One of the keys to parenting is to read your baby's cues," Berman says. When you sense that your baby's had enough of something and you whisk her away, you're reinforcing that the two of you are a team and that you'll work to keep her happy and comfortable.
"A baby with limits is a baby who is secure in his world," says Caroline Winkler, coauthor of The Pocket Parent (Workman). Limits protect baby from consequences, whether it's a burnt finger or your disapproval. And even a baby as young as 4 months can be taught some boundaries. "When I would put my youngest child in the backpack, he would grab fistfuls of hair and pull—hard," Winkler says. "Even if it didn't hurt—and it did!—I had to teach him that hair pulling is not okay. So every time he pulled, I would take off the backpack and say, 'No hair pulling. Hair pulling hurts.' It took a while, and we were late for everything, but he did get it." By showing those kinds of guidelines, you're teaching him rules for eventually taking care of himself.
By the time your baby is old enough to start responding, you've said thousands of words to her. You've narrated diaper changes and meals and trips to the store. Through you, she's learning the language of her world. "Their ability to comprehend is vastly larger than their ability to express themselves," says Jamie Loehr, MD, pediatrician and coauthor of The Playskool Guide to Baby's First Year (Sourcebooks). As your baby nears her first birthday and is trying to speak, no one will understand her better than you. "You'll also see your baby following directions," adds Dr. Loehr's coauthor, Jen Meyers, like lifting up arms so that you can take off a shirt. "When you see that understanding, you can try to teach some sign language -- the hands are so much more dexterous than the vocal cords." Even if you don't plan on teaching signs for "milk" or "more," you may see baby inventing signs of her own. Our whole family now uses a sign created by my youngest to signal "give me that": an extended hand tapping fingers to thumb. It's easier for all the kids to share when they revert to that early form of communication.
It's not easy to make a house, or even a few rooms, safe for a crawling baby. "You have to get down on the floor to see the tempting things from his level," Dr. Loehr says. "If the plants are what he can see, he's going to crawl over and play in that dirt." Moving the plant for a few months, putting locks on the toilet, and shifting breakables up and away are gifts to your baby. "When you babyproof and put in the outlet plugs and everything, you're creating an environment where he can have free range," Meyers says. "It says yes, when so much of the rest of the world is no, no, no."
Whether it's blowing raspberries on a delicious tummy, flying the airplane spoon full of food into a waiting mouth, or cuddling and comforting at bedtime, every single day you do things that convey to your baby that you're smitten. You love her, and she knows it with every particle of her being. Of course she loves you back!
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