Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Happiest Baby on the Block

Our friends over at Noodle's Adventures loaned us this book to help us prep for the Resident Alien's arrival. The argument Harvey Karp makes, rather effectively if not a bit redundant, is that babies are born a trimester too soon because it is the only way our species could survive given the size of our tremendous brains. Had we stayed in to stew just a few months longer to learn a few more things, mothers would not have been able to successfully deliver us to the planet. And so, somewhere along the evolutionary path, it was decided that human babies would come a little earlier and be a little more immature than, say, a giraffe, who can stand and walk and run and do all of these other cool things within seconds of being born. The functions hardwired into our baby brains are much simpler and survivalistic in nature - keeping the heart beating, sucking, crying, and pooping. Unlike an animal that requires brawn to survive in the wild, our babies require brains to succeed, so our babies arrive with brains that are as big as they can be and still fit through the birth canal. Then, during the next three months - or what Dr. Karp calls the "fourth trimester" a baby's brain grows an additional twenty percent in size. (If you can think about it when your child is born, try recording what your baby is like at four-days old and then do the same when the child is four months old to compare the differences to get an idea how much your baby advances in such a short time.)

He also argues that some babies are natural self-calmers, meaning they just aren't fussy babies because they have some capability to monitor their own situations and keep themselves from getting over stimulated or bored. These babies are the ones you hear about that adjust well to being outside the womb, that may become fussy but hardly ever break into the red-faced wail, they can be put down to sleep without problems, and stay that way for longer blocks of time. (Dear Zeus, please send me one of these.) When your baby isn't one of these self-calmers, when your baby needs more time to adjust to being outside your belly, this is when you need to mimic the environment of the womb. You do this by using the 5 S's. As outlined many, many, many, many, many times throughout the book, they are as follows:
  1. Swaddling
  2. Side or Stomach
  3. Shhhh
  4. Swinging
  5. Sucking
And briefly, here's what he claims they do.
Swaddling calms the baby by stopping the flailing arms and legs and focusing the baby's attention. The secret to a successful swaddle is that it is tight and does not allow the baby the opportunity to break free from the bundle. When to stop using the swaddle depends on the baby but Dr. Karp's research shows that most babies are ready to be weaned off swaddling by three to four months of age.

Side or stomach is about positioning the baby so it turns off the Moro (falling) reflex, which the baby experiences when he/she is lying on her back, and turning on the calming reflex, which imitates the baby's position in the uterus. It should be noted, however, that while the side and stomach positions are incredibly soothing, once the baby is calm and put to bed, he/she should only sleep on his/her back.

Shhhhing is a great tool for continuing to trigger the calming reflex. Shhhhing imitates the whooshing sound your baby heard while snugly packed in your womb. The secret for this tool is that it must be loud enough to pierce through your baby's crying. Translation, the volume of the shhhhing must match the volume of the crying in intensity. It might sound too loud and not comforting at all to us but the baby is used to the loud sounds he/she experienced when camping out in his/her mother's belly. The baby must be confused by the relative quiet into which he/she is born. The good thing is we've got plenty of other noisemakers we can utilize around the house and beyond to help save our voices - vacuum, hair dryer, automobile, static from a radio, etc.

Swinging is another tactic to try to switch on that calming reflex that is built in to your baby. This technique should not be confused with shaken baby syndrome, which can result from abusive shaking of a small baby. This technique uses small, vigorous jiggly movements to calm your baby, again, by mimicking the type of movement the baby experienced in the belly.

And finally, sucking. Now that you've got the baby's attention and his/her calming reflex has been activated, you can give him/her a nice hearty meal. Or, if they aren't hungry but are just looking for attention - remember, they are used to getting it 24/7 because they were so well taken care of in the womb - you can use a pacifier to help the baby drift into a peaceful rest. Dr. Karp recommends waiting a few weeks before introducing the pacifier to prevent nipple confusion if you are breastfeeding.

I think the doc has some good ideas and upon reflection there is merit in his argument, particularly when you consider that some peoples in the world don't have colicky babies because they carry their newborns constantly, offering the breast up to 100 times per day to meet and satisfy the baby's every need. I recommend this book to anyone who is having or who just had a baby. If you can't tromp your way through the entire thing as I did, Noodle's mom Sara said it was great to consult on the fly and there is a handy index to help guide you to the information you need.


VDog said...

This worked REALLY well for us. THe soothing techniques still help after 3-5 months, but you won't get the zonk-out that you did in the newborn stage.

I would also recommend Penelope Leach's Your Baby and Child. Well written, easy to read, and not guilt inducing (like our *friend* Dr. Sears, heh). The AAP book is also good, but on the drier side compared to Leach. It is nice to know what perspective my Ped. is coming from (she follows the AAP guidelines pretty strictly).

Good luck! From what I've read, sounds like you're going to be great parents!

christie said...

Thanks for the tip. I haven't yet ran across Penelope Leach but I'll definitely check her out now. I do have "The Attachment Parenting Book" from Sears and another friend recommended his "The Baby Book" as a good resource book, as well. I wonder if practicing for the bar is going to be as exhaustive as my studying for the baby has been? :)

I never would have thought about asking which perspective my pediatrician endorses but that seems a great way to help select one, which Darr and I have yet to do.

Cathy said...

IF you have a fussy baby your sling purchase will be the BEST investment you have made so far. Liam was, still slightly is, a fussy baby. I never thought of myself as One Of Those Parents who would actually carry the baby around the zoo, the mall, anywhere. But guess what, it didn't matter what kind of Parent I thought I would be, it all had to do with the Type of Baby I had produced. And I had produced a baby that Needed to be held close, and nothing worked better then the sling. On a bad day I'd call Mike to complain (or cry) and he'd say, "Just put him in the sling and walk around outside." Duh. And I felt like I was pregnant again - and Liam must have felt safe and comfy - just like in the womb. The only problem with the sling is - once he's asleep you can't lay him down (which wouldn't have worked anyway for us). I also advise to learn a good swaddle. Both of my boys loved to be swaddled.

Cathy said...

Oh yeah - and my OBGYN also refers to the 3 months following birth as the 4th trimester for you, the Mom, as well as for the baby. The hormones are still adjusting and your body really isn't back to normal for awhile...
I never read this book, but it's advice (the 5 s's) is quoted often in parenting magazines and by my sister-in-law!
When are you due??

christie said...

The kid is scheduled to arrive on October 14th but I'm hoping he shows up a little early. I can't imagine him hanging around inside for another two weeks. Egads!