Caring For a Baby - Free Self-Help
Instalment One: Helping Babies Stop Crying and Sleep Longer at Night, Playing With and Talking to Them

By Diana Holbourn

Article Summary


This instalment of the article gives advice on a few topics, including things that can be tried if the baby cries a lot, ways of helping a baby sleep for longer, how babies have different personalities with some getting more easily upset than others, some good ways of playing with babies, and how talking to them from early on can help them develop understanding and speech.

Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the article contents and self-help article.

Things People Have Said About Babies

If your baby is "beautiful and perfect, never cries or fusses, sleeps on schedule and burps on demand, an angel all the time," you're the grandma.
--Theresa Bloomingdale

A baby is an inestimable blessing and bother.
--Mark Twain

A perfect example of minority rule is a baby in the house.
--Milwaukee Journal

Babies are always more trouble than you thought - and more wonderful.
--Charles Osgood

Babies need social interactions with loving adults who talk with them, listen to their babblings, name objects for them, and give them opportunities to
explore their worlds.
--Sandra Scarr

Child rearing myth #1: Labor ends when the baby is born.

Every baby needs a lap.
--Henry Robin

People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one.
--Leo J. Burke

What good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is usually best after all.
--Benjamin Spock

It kills you to see them grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn't.
Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

Getting down on all fours and imitating a rhinoceros stops babies from crying. (Put an empty cigarette pack on your nose for a horn and make loud "snort" noises.) I don't know why parents don't do this more often. Usually it makes the kid laugh. Sometimes it sends him into shock. Either way it quiets him down. If you're a parent, acting like a rhino has another advantage. Keep it up until the kid is a teenager and he definitely won't have his friends hanging around your house all the time.
--P. J. O'Rourke

Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.
--John Wilmot

An ugly baby is a very nasty object, and the prettiest is frightful when undressed.
--Queen Victoria

Background Information About This Article

The Self-Help Information in the Article

  1. Things That Can Help a Baby Stop Crying
  2. Getting the Baby to Sleep, and Settling Him or Her Into a Daily Routine
  3. Trying to Understand the Baby's Feelings
  4. Playing With the Baby
  5. The Importance of Talking to the Baby and What It's Worth Saying

Part One
Things That Can Help a Baby Stop Crying


Mary thinks:

I've got two books here. One's called The Baby Whisperer and the other one's called What To Expect The First Year. I've found some helpful things on the Internet as well.

The book What to Expect the First Year says most of what any loving parent does instinctively will be the best thing for their babies, done without the need for books or anything; for instance, every time they cuddle the baby they're reassuring it it's loved and making it more likely to grow up feeling happy and secure.

Books can come in useful though.

The book The Baby Whisperer says that babies tend to cry for a total of between one and five hours in a 24-hour day, and since the noise can be so wearing, it can feel like a lot longer. But it says there are at least things we can do about it.

Working Out Why the Baby's Crying


One reason a baby might cry a lot at first is because it's quite put out at being shoved out of its nice warm home in its mum's womb into a world where all kinds of things happen that it doesn't understand and can't control. It must be a bit scary at first.

But it can still cry a lot when it gets more used to it. It can be hard at first to determine what on earth a baby's trying to say when it cries. But it gets easier. It can cry in different ways when it wants different things. Also, we can make good guesses a lot of the time by thinking about what's going on and whether anything could be making it uncomfortable. We could ask ourselves several things:

It's awkward for a while because crying's the only language babies know how to communicate with. So finding out what's wrong can sometimes be a matter of trial and error. But the language can be learned to some extent because the cries can sound a bit different depending on what's wrong, and the book The Baby Whisperer says that by the time the baby's six weeks old, parents who've been paying attention can be fairly good at understanding the baby's crying language. Its body language can help.

Crying doesn't have to mean the baby's seriously upset; it's just the way the baby expresses its needs and wants before it can express them another way. It'll learn crying gets attention, so it'll know crying's a good way of communicating that it needs or wants something or is unhappy about something and needs help achieving what it wants.

The book The Baby Whisperer mentions the ways a baby's cries can differ depending on what's wrong. For instance, a hunger cry can start with a small cough-like noise in the back of the throat, then short to begin with and then going on to be a more steady waa, waa, waa rhythm. An over-tired cry can begin with three short wails followed by a hard cry, and then two short breaths and then a longer, even louder cry.

The book What to Expect the First Year describes a baby's hunger cry as being short and low-pitched, rising and falling rhythmically with a pleading quality to it, as if the baby's begging to be fed. It says a pain cry tends to begin suddenly, often as a result of something happening such as being given an injection, and is loud and panicky-sounding, with each wail being long, lasting maybe a few seconds, leaving the baby breathless. There's a pause in between each cry where the baby gets their breath back and breathes in for another wail. The cries are long and high-pitched.

The book says a boredom cry starts out with coos, as if the baby's trying to start a chat with someone, then turns to fussing if they're ignored, and then to indignant-sounding crying as if to protest being ignored, alternating with whimpering, as if to say, "Come on, why aren't you picking me up?" The boredom cry will stop as soon as the baby gets picked up.

An over-tired or uncomfortable cry is a whiny, nasal continuous cry that gets more and more intense. It'll mean things like, "I've had enough of this; I want a sleep now" or, "Change my nappy now please", or, "I'm fed up of sitting in this position; I'm getting uncomfortable". That kind of thing.

A cry that means the baby's feeling ill can often be a soft nasal cry that's more low-pitched than the pain or over-tired cries, as if the baby just doesn't have the energy to cry louder. It's often accompanied by other things that can tell us the baby's ill, such as a high temperature or diarrhoea or lack of energy to do anything.

Crying doesn't always mean the baby wants some kind of attention. Some babies cry for a few minutes before going to sleep as if it's their way of lulling themselves to sleep But then sometimes it means they're having trouble calming themselves down, so singing them a lullaby or two and rocking them a bit could sometimes help.

Hmmm, it seems heartless calling the baby "it". I shouldn't really; it's just that when thinking about lots of babies at the same time, it just seems easier than thinking he/she-him/her all the time.

The books say babies can differ individually in the amount they cry over things. For instance, some just fuss a bit when they're hungry, while others get frantic with crying very quickly.

The process of elimination can help us work out why a baby's crying as well. For instance, if we've fed the baby only fifteen minutes ago and it starts crying and won't calm down, it's unlikely to be saying it's hungry and wants more. It's far more likely to be saying it's got a stomach pain because of wind or indigestion, in which case, feeding it more will just make it more uncomfortable and cry more. Doing something to calm it down would be better.

Trying Different Ways of Soothing the Baby

If the baby cries at a certain time of day every day for no apparent reason, it might be thought to be a digestive problem when it's really something else. Calming techniques can be tried such as gentle rocking and putting some soothing music on or saying shush soothingly over and over again fairly close to the baby's ear. Some babies find it soothing to hear noise in the background. Gently dancing to music with the baby in the arms might help, perhaps singing to them as well. Babies tend to find movement and gentle sounds calming. If the calming techniques stop them crying, we'll know they weren't in pain but perhaps just missing all the sounds and movement they would have been used to in the womb, or bored. Some babies enjoy being gently bounced up and down on the lap or sung to. If a baby's sicked up a bit though, jiggling them around won't be a good idea, since it'll make the problem worse. But babies can sometimes cry a lot when there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with them at all. If a parent's stressed, the baby can pick up on that and cry because the parent being anxious is making the baby anxious. But parents might be able to relieve some of their nervous tension at the same time as they're calming the baby, by, for instance, putting soothing music on and gently rhythmically bouncing around the room to it with the baby in their arms. Some babies like being gently swung to and fro, but when they're little, it's best if it's with tiny movements of no more than an inch either way.


My sister's got a baby who's a happy baby. Sometimes when she used to cry when she was little, my sister's husband would suddenly burst into a bar or two of opera singing. Not close to the baby's ear, of course. My sister's baby would stop in surprise, wondering what on earth was going on.

Sometimes the baby might be fed up and want a bit less stimulation than it's getting, something calming when it's been in a lively atmosphere. In that case, trying to make it laugh or become distracted and interested in things, or swinging or tickling it and so on, might just make them more miserable. Sometimes a good trip out in the fresh air calms them down, or being put down somewhere very quiet with nothing going on. Sometimes babies can just feel overwhelmed with so many things going on that they're not used to.

Some babies will cry every day at a certain time, often the evening, and no one really knows why. Some think they just can't cope any longer with taking in everything that's going on around them. Parehnts trying to calm the baby down are advised to watch out for what things they try actually seem to make the baby cry more, so they can remember to try different things instead from then on. Still, some soothing techniques might work one day but make the baby unhappy another. It's worth making mental notes of what the baby likes and doesn't though.

Different things can be tried, such as singing in a loud deep voice, singing in a quiet voice, playing lively music, playing slow relaxing music, cuddling them tightly, putting them down, passing the baby to others to see if the change calms them, and so on. A lot of babies love repetition, so if one tune in particular seems to please the baby, it can be sung over and over again. They can also find noises that hardly vary soothing, like a recording of the sound of waves on the beach or a breeze blowing through the trees, the vacuum cleaner, a recording of birdsong and so on.

Some babies find it claming to be gently massaged. Some don't like it, but a lot do. It can be relaxing for both mother and baby if mother lies on her back with the baby face-down on her chest. Sometimes when the baby's having a bit of stomach pain, it can relieve it a bit if a little pressure is put on the stomach, such as if the baby lies face-down on a parent's lap with the stomach on one leg and the head on the other. Or if the baby's got the wind, it can sometimes help if someone gently pushes their knees up to their stomach and holds for about ten seconds, then gently puts them down and straightens them, and then puts them up again for ten seconds, repeating the process of putting them up and down several times. Perhaps it helps to push the wind out.

But if the problem doesn't go away easily and seems to be something physical like wind or some other digestive problem, it'll be worth speaking to a doctor.

Sometimes babies find sucking very comforting, so it can soothe them if they're shown how they can suck their thumbs.

Some babies cry out of boredom and frustration that they can't do much, while some cry because too much is going on around them to have a chance of making sense of. So we can experiment to see if the baby wants to be shown new toys and things or shielded from the world for a while.

Wearing ear plugs or putting music on can make the noise more bearable.

There's a sligh possibility a baby could be in discomfort because of an allergy to what they're being fed or something in the mother's diet that's being passed on through the milk, so experimenting with a change of diet for a little while might help. And if some kind of bad reaction is suspected, seeing a doctor about it will probably be best.

Quite a lot of babies have crying spells every day that stop when they get to about three months, perhaps because they're more used to the world around them or their stomachs are better developed so they can cope with what's being put in them better. So at least someone having to put up with crying can keep reminding themselves that it probably won't last.

Giving the baby to someone else to hold for a while whenever possible during the time it's going on can be a good idea though.

Some babies won't calm down even when calming techniques have been tried, and yet there seems to be nothing physically wrong with them. Parents don't have to feel it's a bad reflection on their skills with babies. But sometimes parents move from one calming technique to another quickly because it doesn't seem to be working, but if they'd stuck with it a bit longer, it would have stopped the baby crying. Doing several calming techniques in combination can have better results than just trying one at a time. For instance, gently jiggling the baby around while whispering soothingly to it, or gently swaying to nice music with the baby in the arms while singing to the baby, might have better results than just trying one of those things.

It's best if the parents can try to stay fairly relaxed if they can, though it's natural to worry and get stressed about whether we're doing a decent job of caring for the baby if it keeps on crying. But the baby will sense our tension and think something's wrong, and cry even more. Or if we get irritated with it and show our irritation, that'll make it cry more. Some of our tension might be got rid of if we hold the baby and gently sway with it to some soothing music, and perhaps sing our tension out. And we might find that soothes the baby too, as long as we're not singing too close to their ears.

Happily pregnant

I read something once where a man said when his wife was pregnant, he would put his face up to her stomach every night and sing a song so the baby would hear it, the same song every night. After the baby was born, her mother was bathing her and she was crying one day. He came in and started singing the song. She immediately stopped crying and perked up. They took a photo of her before and after he started singing. There was a big difference. Maybe she was feeling a bit lost and scared because she was in such unfamiliar surroundings with such unpredictable things going on, but when he sang the song she felt something was familiar after all. Or maybe she was pleased something she recognised and liked was happening. I've heard babies cheer up when songs they heard a lot from inside their mothers are played. I think there was a survey that found babies cheered up during the theme tune of a popular soap opera that was on twice a day. So if there were songs we played a lot while in the last stages of pregnancy, they might cheer the baby up or soothe them if we play them after they're born. People in the late stages of pregnancy could play certain songs a lot, and then play them after their babies are born and see if it cheers them up.

Trying to Imagine Things From the Baby's Point of View


The book The Baby Whisperer says we can get more of an idea of why a baby's crying if we try to imagine what it might be feeling, and doing that's a good idea, because sometimes it might not occur to people that babies have feelings just like everyone else, but they do. They might not be able to express them in words, so they have to resort to crying to communicate. But if we try to imagine things from their point of view, we might get better at working out what the matter is with them a lot of the time.

For instance, if we take the baby into a church for the first time, we could crouch down so we're seeing things at its eye level, and imagine what the baby might think. We could think about whether any incense or candle smell might be a bit strong for a baby's sensitive nose, or whether the music or the noise of the crowd might sound a bit too loud for a baby's ears.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't take them to new places; but if they're crying a lot in an unfamiliar place, it might well mean they're saying to us: "This is all a bit too much at the moment. Please introduce this to me more gradually, or try it with me in another month".


My sister's been taking her baby to church with her since she was born, and she likes it. She gets attention afterwards from people who think she's a cute little thing. The other day, my sister told me her husband was on the altar taking part in the service, and her baby was shouting out to him across the church during the service. He was doing his best to ignore her and do what he was supposed to be doing.

Some babies are more shy though.

It's not just with going to places where it's good to think of a baby's feelings, but all the time, when we think about what we're about to do to the baby or what we say. For instance, if we put him up the other end of the room to play, while we chat to some friends at the other end, and he cries, he might really be asking to be with us because he's feeling a bit lonely all on his own. Or if some people the baby's never seen before come into the house and it buries its head on our shoulder, it might well mean it's nervous about the intrusion and wants our protection till it decides the people are friendly.

We can also spare a baby's feelings if we think things through and plan ahead so we can avoid things that we know will unnecessarily upset them. For instance, if it's convenient for us that our baby plays with our best friend's baby for the morning so we can have a good chat to our best friend, but the babies don't get on so they end up fighting and ours is always crying by the end of the morning, we could spend the morning with a mum we don't like quite as much whose baby our baby does get on with, and arrange to have a chat to our best friend at another time and arrange a baby-sitter to look after our baby while we do.


Also, a baby can be less stressed if we don't try to make it do things that are bothering it, if it's not necessary. For instance, if a baby's scared of something, such as a big dog, ignoring its feelings and hoping we can cajole it into liking the dog after all by saying something like, "Come on, you like doggies" is disregarding real distress. It can diminish a baby's trust in us.

Trying to force a baby or toddler to eat more when it's full, perhaps by coaxing it, saying, "Just a little bit more", is disrespecting its feelings. So is trying to get it to socialise with children when it's shy and a bit anxious.

Not communicating with the baby is letting it down. Even if it can't understand what we're saying, it needs to hear us talk, partly so it'll pick up the sounds words make to help it learn to make them itself. Also, a baby can pick up on a person's tone of voice and know it means they're angry or being comforting or wanting to have fun with the baby and so on, long long before it begins to understand what's being said. And when a baby makes little sounds, it's trying to communicate. Not communicating back could feel as if its efforts are being disregarded.


That reminds me of something funny. Only a few months after my sister's baby was born, she was lying in her pram, and my other sister said to her, "Don't you get bored lying there with nothing to do?" and she said something that sounded very much like "Yes."

That reminds me of another funny thing. My sister's got an older daughter, and just after she was born my sister was discussing with some of the family what her middle name should be. She thought Claire would be a nice middle name. Our mum thought it would be nice to give her the name Josephine which is her own name. They couldn't agree, so one of them said, "Allright, let's ask her what she wants to be called." They said to the baby, "Put your right hand up if you want to be called Claire and your left hand up if you want to be called Jo." She raised her right arm. They thought it might just be a coincidence since babies move their arms around quite a bit anyway, so they said to her, "Raise your left hand if you want to be called Claire and your right arm if you want to be called Jo." She raised her left arm. They thought that was funny. So they called her Claire. My mum said laughingly that if she says later in life that she doesn't like her middle name, they'll say she was the one who chose it.

The book The Baby Whisperer says Another thing it's not fair to do to a baby/toddler is to put them in a new situation without warning them they're going to be put in it. That would include things like dumping them at a play group and leaving for a while.

Oh yes, that reminds me: My mum has two brothers who are quite a bit younger than her. She once told us she took the oldest one to a play group on his first day there, when he was about two years old. She left him alone there, and she could still hear him crying when she was at the other end of the road. Then she remembered she hadn't told him she was coming back later to get him.

That reminds me of something else: My sister said when she used to take her older daughter to play group when she was about three, she would cry every day at first. One day, when they were on the way there, her daughter said, "I'm crying in a minute." My sister was annoyed, thinking she must be just putting it on. But perhaps since she didn't know many words, crying was the best way she knew how of saying she wasn't happy, so the fact she was doing it deliberately didn't mean she was just trying to be manipulative.

The book The Baby Whisperer says it also isn't fair on a baby or toddler if a parent sneaks out of the house without telling them, hoping to avoid a scene when they go to work or out for the evening. Babies can get anxious if they find their main care giver has disappeared.

Of course, they can also get anxious if they see them going. What could help is if the person who's caring for them while their parent's away makes it sound as if it'll be an exciting cheerful time and gets them to wave goodbye. That won't always work though. But sometimes babies can be distracted from crying with something they enjoy doing.

That reminds me of a funny story:

Daddy is Going to War - True Story

During the Persian Gulf War, I was assigned to go to Saudi Arabia. As I was saying good-bye to my family, my three-year-old son, Christopher, was holding on to my leg and pleading with me not to leave. "No, Daddy, please don't go!" he kept repeating.

We were beginning to make a scene when my wife, desperate to calm him, said, "Let Daddy go and I'll take you to get a pizza."

Immediately, Christopher loosened his death grip, stepped back and in a calm voice said, "Bye, Daddy."

Then again, a baby can't be jollied out of their mood if they're too upset. Well, no one can. I remember someone's toddler was playing and he fell over and banged his head and started crying. His mum came into the room and picked him up and cuddled him. Someone else jumped up and tried to cheer him up immediately by asking him if he wanted a sweet. That was a nice idea, but it would have been better to wait a minute or two before doing that, because he needed soothing right then, not cheering up. Banging his head probably hurt and scared him a bit. The toddler ignored the person for a minute or two and carried on crying. Then he accepted a sweet and cheered up. Another time, the toddler was playing with a balloon and it burst. He started crying. Perhaps it scared him a bit, and he might have thought he was going to be told off for doing something wrong. The other person cheered, as if he could make him instantly stop crying and laugh about it by doing that. It didn't work. Reassuring him soothingly that it was allright and it didn't matter worked.

Then again, I've heard it's best to try and get a happy medium between jollying a baby or toddler along and feeling sorry for them. Treating them as if they're a poor thing who needs sympathy too often might make them feel sorry for themselves and not be as robust as they should be.

The book says another unfair thing to do to a baby, although it might feel like a quick fix at the time, is telling a toddler it can't have something, such as a piece of cake, and then giving in and allowing it to have some when it cries. It'll cause the toddler to think that all it has to do if it wants something it can't have is to cry for longer and it'll get it. Then that'll just make the parents more frustrated with it.

Part Two
Getting the Baby to Sleep, and Settling Him or Her Into a Daily Routine

The book What to Expect the First Year says that when babies are first born, they'll want to sleep most of the time. They'll doze off during feeds, and not want to stay up much past them. And they might well want to sleep for quite long stretches of time. But after a few weeks, they'll want to stay up for longer and be more interested in what's going on around them. They might also stay up for longer at night though when we'd rather they didn't.

They can stay up at night for quite a while at first as well though. When my brother's little boy was newborn, my brother said he cried for what felt like hours the first night they got him home, and my brother ended up feeling really annoyed because he couldn't get to sleep with the noise. Perhaps the baby thought everything was new and scary and didn't understand why so much had changed. My brother said the baby was happy to doze off to sleep during the day when there was noise going on around him, but he found it difficult to sleep at night when everything was quiet. I had the idea that maybe they could tape record the everyday noise they made and play it back at night to help the baby get to sleep, to reassure him they still existed. They didn't try it, so I don't know if it would have worked. I once heard that in Japan, an album of the kind of noise a baby would have heard in the womb was sold as a sleep aid for babies and it was at the top of the charts for six months. I don't know if it actually worked though. Still, experimenting with some kind of quiet sound the baby will find familiar for a little while might be worth doing. I wonder if soothing music played in the last stages of pregnancy when they'd be able to hear it would work. It would probably be best not to play it all the time though, in case the baby started finding it difficult to sleep without it because they were so attached to it.

The books say there are techniques that can encourage a baby to settle down and go to sleep, and to make it more likely it'll sleep through the night. None is guaranteed to be successful all the time though.

Some Quick Tips on Helping a Baby Sleep

The book What to Expect the First Year says several things can help keep a baby asleep or help them get there:

It's just natural for babies to wake up a lot during the night. When they cry, they might often be asking for help getting back to sleep. There are ways of teaching them how to get back to sleep, and it's best if we start teaching them early, in their first months of life. If parents didn't and their babies have got problems because they won't sleep, the babies can be taught later, but it'll just take a bit longer.

Still, in the first month or two of life, most babies must be expected to wake up a couple of times a night, because their stomachs are too small to hold enough milk in them to keep a baby going throughout the night. It can help if a relative is willing to look after the baby for a while some days, to give a sleep-deprived parent a break.

There are a lot of reasons why the baby might not be sleeping at night. Often, more than one reason is the cause at any one time. Different reasons could be the causes on different nights. For instance, one night the baby might be too hot, the next night hungry, and the next night they were over-stimulated during the day so they're all hyped up and can't settle down. So causes will have to be investigated a bit whenever they cry. On the other hand though, there are several things we can do to reduce the amount they wake up at night or the length of time they stay awake when they do, which will start working at least after the first couple of months.

How Having a Daily Routine for the Baby Can Mean They Want to Sleep More at Night


The book The Baby Whisperer says babies have a 24-hour body clock just like adults, and often they're out of synch with everyone else, sometimes even living as if day was night and night was day. After all, they could have been born at any time of day and their body clock might have started then. So they might be up for hours during the night and sleeping a lot during the day. They need to be encouraged to stay awake more during the day so they'll sleep more at night. It's allright to gently wake them up. It might seem a shame to disturb them when they're sleeping peacefully, and babies do need quite a bit of sleep. But they won't mind being woken up much if we're waking them up to give them something nice like a feed. And if they end up sleeping more at night, it'll be best for them and us.

We can wake them up for a feed if they've spent more than two hours asleep. After all, when they're little, it's good if they're on a three-hour routine, napping for an hour and a half or so, then having a 45-minute feed, then doing a little bit of activity and then going to sleep again. Missing feeds will mean they'll need to make up the nourishment at night. After all, they need regular calories as well as sleep.

The book says that if a baby often spends five hours or more in one go sleeping during the day, or if they have two or more naps of three hours or more, it can be good to wake them up every 45 minutes to an hour for the first few days to shift their body clock into a better rhythm where they sleep more at might and stay awake more during the day. Also, waking them up fairly often will mean they get the calories they need. After three days, it says we can gradually increase their nap time by fifteen minutes each three days until we're letting them sleep from between one and a half hours and two hours each day, which is about the time a baby of four months old and less should be sleeping. Then we might well find they sleep longer at night.

Premature and small babies are the exception, because they do need extra sleep during the day. They can't stay up for that long between sleeps. But as they grow a bit, or as they reach the age where they would have been newborn if they were full-term, they can start sleeping for the same times as other babies. It'll take them longer to start sleeping through the night though, since when another baby's sleeping the hours an eight-week-old would often sleep, for example, an eight-week-old that was two weeks premature will really only be six weeks past the stage of development babies should be when they're newborn. Before they're the age they would have been born if they'd been full-term, they won't be able to stay up for long at all. After they are, the parents can try getting them to stay up for a bit longer between feeds, gradually increasing it by a few minutes a day for a while, till the baby's up for about twenty minutes after each feed.

How to Wake a Baby up Gently


A baby can be woken up quite peacefully if we take them out of their blankets and gently pick them up, and then massage their hands gently. It recommends we could also carry them into a room where there's more activity going on, and then gently sit them upright. It says a baby's eyes tend to pop open when they're sat up. It says if a baby doesn't wake up at first, we can keep trying for a while. The book What to Expect the First Year suggests we could also massage their arms and shoulders and pat their back gently, and talk to them or sing them a lively song. It says waking them up might be more successful if we try waking them from their dreaming sleep when their eyes are moving and they change facial expressions and their arms and legs might move quite a bit, than trying to wake them if they look sound asleep. It says they're in dreaming sleep for about half the time they're asleep.

Calming the Baby Before Settling Them to Sleep


Babies can sleep better if when we notice they're a bit drowsy, we help them calm down more until they're lulled into a peaceful sleep. They can take longer to drop off or can wake up sooner if we leave them to go to sleep on their own while they're still feeling quite lively. It's best if we start calming them while they themselves are feeling a bit sleepy, since it'll be more difficult if they're feeling active. Babies show signs when they're feeling sleepy, and if we can learn to recognise them, we can start helping them get to sleep when we notice them. If we wait, they might start feeling alert again and it'll be more difficult.

Babies can have different signs of tiredness, so if a parent's finding it difficult to know when their baby's drowsy, they can spend about four days observing them and writing down what times they went to sleep and what they looked like before they dropped off, along with what they were doing then and what the baby was doing. They might discover not only what the baby's signs of drowsiness are, but also what makes the baby drowsy, so they can do more of it if the baby's having sleep problems.

There are several possible signs of tiredness a baby could show:

With newborn babies who can't control much of their body except their mouths, a yawn is often the best clue, though getting whiny can also be a good one. Some babies fidget or make other involuntary movements. Some open their eyes wide. Some squeak or sound like a creaking door. By the time they're six weeks old, when they're gaining more control over their head, they might start turning away from their parent's face or from a toy, or burrowing their head into their parent's neck when they're carrying them.

Ideally, parents should start settling the baby to sleep immediately they notice their signs of tiredness. Keeping them awake longer won't make them sleep longer later. They might get over-tired and irritable so they won't get to sleep so easily.

Helping a Baby Get to Sleep


Babies find it more difficult to get to sleep if they're feeling lively when they're put to bed. Or they might wake up more because they don't go to sleep so soundly. So they can sleep better if we calm them first. Even if they've only been looking around the room, for a little baby, that's novel and exciting. There are several things we can do to calm them. If we give them a little sleep routine, something we do to lull them to sleep every time we put them down for a nap, then the baby will get to learn that when we do that, it's their time to go to sleep.

Some little babies, under two months old, like being wrapped fairly tightly in a sheet, arms by their sides, so they're wrapped up not too tightly but snugly. They sleep better like that. Older babies aren't so keen because it restricts their arm movements, and also it's not a good idea once they've learned to roll over, because they might roll onto their stomach and not be able to get back again because they can't move their arms. But little babies can find it comforting, just in the first weeks. Some have been found to sleep more, although some research suggests it isn't necessary to do it for many days because the effect will just be the same as the effect of doing other calming things regularly after that. One reason it can help babies sleep though is because when they're little, they can move their arms and legs around a lot without having proper control over them and that can disturb them and keep them awake if they're tired, so wrapping them with some kind of swaddling arrangement that stops them doing that can keep them calmer, though it is important to find instructions on how to swaddle safely, and not do it for all that long, since swaddling in a way that restricts the legs too much can interfere with their proper development.

The book The Baby Whisperer says babies often get to sleep better if one of their parents is there with them while they nod off, perhaps doing no more than just sitting with them, providing a reassuring presence.

The first thing it can be good to do when putting a baby to sleep is to make sure the environment's calming. So we can take them away from rooms where things are going on that could distract them into their room where it's peaceful and shut the curtains. Soft soothing music could be played.

Different things seem to suit different babies. Someone once told me that when his baby was born, they found he slept much better if the everyday noise they made was going on in the background. It seemed that when they put him to bed in a quiet room he'd wake up and couldn't get to sleep; but he slept with no problem when they were bustling about around him. Also, when he was asleep in his pram after they'd taken him for a walk, they'd tiptoe away from him so things would be quiet for him. But then he'd wake up. They discovered he slept best when they just carried on what they'd been doing.


The book The Baby Whisperer recommends that before we lie the baby down in its cot, after they've been swaddled, we hold them upright with their head buried in our neck so they're not looking around and becoming more alert by looking at what's around us. If we hold them still, rather than jiggling them around or rocking them or pacing the room, it might be best, because movement will liven them up a bit. But we don't have to hold them till they go to sleep. The book recommends we put them down to sleep when we notice they're nodding off, which may well only be a few minutes, then say something in a calming tone of voice like "You're going to sleep now. See you later", and perhaps kiss them gently. That way, they learn to go to sleep fully in their cot rather than on our laps, so they learn they can get to sleep in their cots. We don't have to stay with them till they're asleep; once we've put them in their cot we can quietly walk out the door, unless they're restless and whiny, in which case we could calm them a bit more.

Some babies won't need all that. Some babies will be happy to go off to sleep if they're just put in their cot. But if they seem to find it difficult to do that, we could experiment with holding them to see if they fall asleep more easily.

If we put the baby down and instead of going off to sleep it gets upset, we can use another technique to soothe it and distract it from being upset. Babies can be distracted from crying if nothing's really wrong with them if something else happens. The book recommends we pat the baby on the back in a rhythmic motion, not too gently they'll hardly be able to feel it or can easily take no notice of it, though obviously not hard enough to hurt, and say "Shhhhhh" continually at the same time as we're patting them for several minutes, taking a long time to whisper each shush so it sounds soothing. We can put the baby on its side so we can reach its back more easily while it's in its cot, or take the baby out if that doesn't work and put them over our shoulder. It'll be best to pat in the centre of the back. Too low down and we'll be patting it where its kidneys are. In the middle's best.

It's best if we have our mouth fairly near the baby's ear when we whisper the slow shushes, but the noise should go past the baby's ear rather than directly into it, or it'll be too loud for it and might even perforate its eardrum.

When the baby's breathing becomes deeper and the baby's body seems to be relaxing a bit, we'll know the baby's gradually going off to sleep. We can gently put them in their cot, but perhaps slightly on their side so it's easier to pat their back. If the room's quite light so they can be distracted from sleep by looking around them, the book recommends we put a hand over, but not on, their eyes to block it out. Then we can lean down and say slow shushes to them and pat them for another five or ten minutes or so after they've calmed down. When it seems the baby's concentrating on the shushing and patting, the patting can become slower and slower and the shushing quieter until they're stopped. Hopefully that'll lull the baby to sleep. If they cry though, they can be picked up again and shushed and patted on our shoulder till they stop and then put down and shushed and patted to see if they drift off to sleep this time. If they don't but start crying, they can be picked up and shushed and patted till they stop, then put down and shushed and patted till they calm down. If they cry again, we can do the same thing. At least that's what the book recommends.

When we feel sure the baby's calm, we can stop patting them and step back from the cot for a few moments to see if they stay asleep or jolt back into consciousness like some can. It's best to wait till we feel sure they're soundly asleep, or we might walk out the room and just be settling down to do something when they wake up and start crying and we have to stop what we're doing and start patting and shushing them to sleep again, and if we leave again before they're soundly asleep, it might happen again! We'll be able to tell if they're soundly asleep because their eyes will stop moving from side to side, their breathing becomes slower and shallower and their body completely relaxes.

Accidentally Doing Things That Lead to the Baby Not Sleeping As We'd Like


The book The Baby Whisperer says when people do what seems the most convenient thing at the time to stop a nuisance like the baby crying, or they feel bad because they blame themselves for it so they often do something that calms the baby on the spur of the moment but unwittingly helps the baby get into bad habits, it can cause problems later when the baby does things that inconvenience the parents. For instance, if the parents make a big fuss of the baby when it wakes up at 5:00 in the morning, it won't want to stop waking up then because it enjoys the attention, and the parents might get tired of being woken up that early in the morning but might not know how to stop the baby waking up then.

While it's allright to comfort a baby with that shush-pat technique, doing anything more stimulating to help it get to sleep can be counter-productive, since it'll come to rely on it, and that'll be awkward for us when we keep having to get up in the night and help it back to sleep by doing whatever it is. At least that's what the book The Baby Whisperer says.

Unfortunately it doesn't explain just why the baby won't come to rely on the shush pat technique just as much as on the others, and why there's a difference. Who's to say there is a real difference!

Still, it says that for instance, walking around with the baby till it gets to sleep or rocking it to sleep, or always giving it a feed whether it's that hungry or not, or giving it a dummy to suck to help it get to sleep so if it falls out of the baby's mouth the baby will cry for us to put it back, or letting the baby go to sleep lying on us or in our bed, can be things we'll end up feeling we have to do whether we like it or not if we do them often enough that the baby gets into the habit of thinking that's what has to happen before it can get to sleep again. Also, if the baby goes to sleep in our arms or somewhere else and we put it in its cot or somewhere different again when it's asleep, it'll wake up not knowing where it is, so it'll want to be reassured, and we might feel the need to walk with it or rock it to sleep or whatever we did before all over again. And that might happen a few times a night, with the baby crying for us to help it back to sleep. It might feel nice to rock a baby to sleep, but we ought to think ahead, because if we do it often enough that the baby gets used to going to sleep that way, we might have to still be rocking them to sleep months later when they cry to be rocked because they haven't learned how to get to sleep by themselves, and that could be tiring and irritating when it keeps happening in the middle of the night.

If the baby's got a bad habit already, expecting us to do a certain thing for them to help them back to sleep in the night, the bad habit will probably fade over a week or so if we just do a wind-down ritual when we want them to go to sleep like soothing them a bit when we notice their signs of sleepiness and putting them in their cot, shushing them if they're restless till we can tell they're nodding off. What's important though is that we don't do what we've been doing again within that time, or the baby won't get out of the habit of wanting it, and might assume they'll get it if they cry hard enough. They won't be happy at first that we're doing something different, but they'll get used to it soon enough and soon forget we ever did anything else.

It's Best Not to Rush in as Soon as the Baby Stirs

When babies stir in the night, they might fuss a bit or make other noises. It isn't really crying. They might just sound as if they're talking to themselves in baby language. Sometimes, they're not even fully awake when they do that. If we leave them, they might well go back to sleep. But if they get used to us rushing in when we hear them, they'll come to expect it, so they'll stay awake and start crying if we don't. So it's best to wait till they're definitely crying before going in, since they might just go back to sleep instead if we don't. If we go in, we might actually be accidentally disturbing their sleep.

Tips on Keeping a Baby Asleep for Longer if they Wake Up With the Sunrise

Startled by an alarm clock

If we play with babies or take them into our bed at night when they cry and cuddle them or something else they'll enjoy, they'll start waking up in the night and wanting us to do that, so they'll cry for it. They won't realise we just want our sleep. The more enjoyable we make waking up in the night for them, the more they'll wake up. So checking to see if anything's wrong with them and then putting them straight back to bed, shushing them to soothe them if necessary, is better.

It's the same when they wake up early in the morning, perhaps at 5:00 AM. If we're all welcoming and talk to them or play with them and so on, they'll think it's perfectly natural to wake up then and carry on doing it. If we wait to see if they go back to sleep on their own and soothe them back to sleep if they don't, presuming we can be fairly sure they're not really hungry or something, they might well learn to wake up at a more civilised time. Even if they are hungry, we can just feed them and put them back to bed without doing anything that'll wake them up more. Later on in the morning we can sound welcoming, rather than apologetic that we left them in bed for a couple of hours after they woke up the last time.

The book What to Expect the First Year gives tips on making it more likely a baby will sleep longer. It says it's unlikely that the baby will sleep in past 6:00 or 7:00 if it enjoys waking early, but there are things we can do that might stop it waking up as early as it did:

It may be that nothing we try works. Some babies are just programmed to wake up early and don't need much sleep. So we might just have to get up early. But we can at least go to bed earlier ourselves and can hopefully take turns with our partner to get the baby up.

Disrupting a Baby's Patterns of Waking in the Night

Trying to get to sleep

Babies can wake up at the same time every night in the middle of the night, night after night, because something in their brain's got into the habit and we've made it enjoyable for them to be up then.

I do know the brain seems to have a remarkable built-in clock; at least, I remember once when I was a child, my older sister and me decided to have a midnight feast, oddly enough at 11:00 PM. My sister set an alarm clock to go off then. I was looking forward to getting up then and wanted to wake up. I did wake up, and ten seconds later the alarm went off. I was amazed at how well my brain seemed to time it.

The books suggest that one thing that can be tried to disrupt the habit a baby's got into of waking at the same anti-social hour of the night every night is setting our own alarm clock to an hour earlier than they usually wake, and then gently jostling them and rubbing their stomach so they wake to semi-consciousness. Then we can leave them to go to sleep on their own. It'll change their sleep cycle so they're in a different stage of sleep when they'd normally wake up so they might not.

I'd be a bit concerned they might wake up fully and it might start a new bad habit. But it might be worth a try if they keep doing it. If we stop as soon as we notice them beginning to stir or their eyes beginning to move as if they're dreaming, we might get away with it.

One of the books recommends we try it for three days, though the baby might get out of the habit even sooner.

The Idea of Letting a Baby Cry and Only Offering a Little Comfort, to Show Them Crying Won't Get Them Attention So They May as Well Not Bother


Some experts recommend that to wean a baby off crying, instead of going and picking the baby up, it's best to just say hello from the doorway and talk to the baby from there for a moment or two, and then go out, and let the baby cry for five minutes before going in again, talking to it soothingly or jollying them along reassuringly from the doorway for a moment again, and then going out for ten minutes while it cries. Then we go in and say a few words from the doorway again and then go out. We increase the time we stay away by five minutes each time.

The book What to Expect the First Year says that if a technique like that's used, it shouldn't be used on a baby under six months old, because before then, a baby cries to communicate its needs. After that point, they can start crying as a way to get attention. So when the baby realises it won't get attention by crying any more, it will stop. Then again, babies still cry for other reasons, such as if a baby hasn't been put on solids yet and it's hungry. The book says the technique of leaving the baby to cry for gradually longer and longer often only has to be done for between four and seven nights before it works. The baby will cry for less and less time each night, till one night they just fuss, and then the next night they don't do anything.

It says if a parent's trying that technique, it's important that if the baby's cry changes, we go and see what's wrong, because they might have pulled themselves up and can't get down again or got themselves into some other kind of trouble.

Such a technique shouldn't be tried if the baby's likely to be in a bit of discomfort or pain from teething or some kind of infection or something, or if there's just been a bit of disruption that might have made the baby feel a little insecure or changed the baby's routine, such as travel, the baby seeing a parent less because of a new baby-sitter, or something else. It's best to wait till the routine settles down again before trying the technique.

Watching television

The book suggests that parents uncomfortable with hearing the baby cry yet wanting to try that technique could mask the baby's cries by putting low-volume music on in another room or having the television or radio on quietly, or wearing earplugs. It also suggests that if the neighbours are likely to hear the crying, we warn them in advance of what we're going to try and apologise, telling them how long we expect it to last, taking them a peace offering like a box of chocolates or something, especially if the apology doesn't work.

We could also muffle the sound by hanging blankets over any windows that look out onto the neighbours and on the walls of the baby's room, and closing windows in the baby's room to stop the sound travelling so far. Carpets can also muffle sound. We don't have to feel too guilty though; a lot of neighbours wil probably have been annoying with their own noise often enough.

A way some crying might be avoided is if we try feeding the baby a little bit before bedtime and then playing with them quietly till they seem drowsy, so they'll fall asleep more easily when they go to bed, especially after a calming bedtime routine. If they've been used to us rocking them to sleep or doing something else to help them, putting them to bed without doing that while they're drowsy will help them get used to going to sleep without those things, and if they do get used to that, it'll also mean they won't automatically expect those things when they wake up in the middle of the night, so most are more likely to learn to soothe themselves back to sleep.

Even with all the techniques and things for helping the baby get to sleep and stay asleep, a little baby, especially in the first couple of months of life, will still be bound to wake up a couple of times a night, because their stomach won't be big enough to contain enough food to last through the night. But as they get a bit older, they might well sleep for longer. Even a newborn won't need to wake up more than a couple of times a night for food. If they're waking up more than that, especially after the first several weeks, we might well be accidentally doing something that makes night-time seem a good time to be up to them.

The Importance of Using a Technique for Getting a Baby Back to Sleep Consistently


Sometimes a technique for encouraging a baby to go to sleep isn't as successful as it could be because the parents don't use it consistently, so the baby's just beginning to get used to it when the parents do something else, so when the parents start using it again, the baby will take time to get used to it again. For instance, if a baby keeps waking up in the middle of the night and won't sleep for ages unless the parents take it into their bed, and they normally do, but they want the baby to sleep in its cot all night, it might take several days of refusing to take the baby into their bed before the baby gets used to staying in the cot. The baby might be getting used to being in its cot, but if one night it cries a bit more than usual and the parents take pity on it or are desperate for a bit of peace and take it into their bed, it'll learn that crying gets it what it wants if it carries on. Also, it will start expecting to be taken into the bed again instead of beginning to expect to stay in its cot all night. So it'll start crying more often to be taken into the bed again. Just what the parents can do without! It's easy to understand how the parents might be desperate for a bit of sleep so they do what the baby wants. But it means they'll have to work harder and go without more sleep later on trying to teach the baby to be content on its own all over again.

So it's best to try a technique for about two weeks before deciding it won't work and moving on to another one.

Naturally, the baby won't always be crying for attention, so the solution won't always be to just encourage it to go back to sleep. Several different things could happen to make the baby cry when it doesn't normally, such as if it's too hot or not feeling well, or hungry because it's getting bigger and it's time to start giving it more milk or solid food during the day so it doesn't get hungry at night, and so on. So it shouldn't be automatically assumed that the technique isn't working if it's tried and then the baby cries some nights.

Going to check on the baby when it cries and then shushing it to sleep in its cot is a more friendly solution than leaving it to cry as some recommend. If a baby's been welcomed into the bed of the parents and then they start leaving it to cry, the baby can feel abandoned and insecure and as if the parents have stopped caring about it. If a less drastic technique works, such as the parent assuring the baby they are still there before they go back to bed, even though they're not going to spend much time with it any more, then the baby will know they haven't just been forgotten.

Some babies have been left to cry for well over an hour after they were previously taken into the parents' bed and petted, and they can't understand what's happened and become anxious. They end up hating to be put in their cot because they'll know what's coming. Even when parents start attending to them more again, they'll still feel anxious and cry. And if they spend a long time crying at night, they might be grumpy the next day and fall asleep during their feeds and end up hungry the following night, so they'll cry because of that as well.

So it's best to get up and attend to the baby when it cries at night, but not to give it much incentive to keep doing it. If parents have been trying another technique but it hasn't worked and the baby has just grown either anxious or dependent on their parents' attention to sleep, it could even take a few weeks before they're sleeping through the night with no problem. But it's best not to decide a technique isn't working and change it too soon, because the baby won't have time to get used to anything.

If a Baby Develops Cot Phobia


The book The Baby Whisperer says some babies become so anxious and distrustful of parents who've left them to cry that the parents do best to stay with them a lot for a few weeks to reassure them they're going to be there for them. For babies under eight months old, they can keep the baby in their arms till it's in a deep sleep and then put them on a pillow on the floor and sleep next to them on a lilo on the floor so they'll be right there as soon as they wake up. It'll be best if they stay there all night. If the parent doesn't want to go to sleep when the baby does, they can do something they can stay near the baby and do, perhaps reading a book. They can separate themselves gradually: The second week they can put the baby down on the pillow on the floor before it's asleep, still staying with them, and the third week put the pillow in the cot, putting their hand on the baby's back to assure it they're still there till it's in a deep sleep. They can do that for three days, and then just stand next to the baby while it's falling asleep in its cot. A few days later they can start leaving it, but if the baby cries they should go back in straightaway. The next week, they can try putting the baby on the cot mattress itself. The baby might have become much less anxious by then so it won't mind. If it's still unhappy, it can sleep on the pillow for another week.

It might sound like a tedious thing to do, but the book says it'll be better than not doing anything and having an anxious child for who knows how long.

When Babies Wake Up Because They're Hungry


The book The Baby Whisperer says if a baby wakes up and cries because it's hungry during the night, the problem can often be solved by giving more feeds during the day. In the first several weeks of life, the baby will be bound to wake up at night for feeds; but after that, its stomach will be big enough to hold enough food to last through the night. When a baby's under four months old, unless it's premature which will mean it should be fed more often, it should be being fed every three hours during the day, according to the book. If it's fed less often, it won't be getting enough milk so it'll wake up at night for more. When it's about six weeks old, we could try cutting out one feed in the middle of the night by feeding it more in the evenings and especially just before it goes to bed to see if its full stomach keeps it contented for longer.

If the baby seems underweight, it might be that the breasts aren't producing enough milk so actually it does need as many feeds as it can get to get the amount it needs. Or it might be that it isn't being latched onto the breast properly when it feeds so it can't get much each time. It might well be best to speak to a doctor or a breast feeding consultant about those kinds of problems. There are things we can try ourselves too though. For instance, if the baby won't stay on the breast even when it's due a feed, it might be that the breast's slow to begin letting milk down, so we can try extracting a bit with a pump or by hand to get it going first.

But if the baby's weight seems healthy enough, it'll be capable of going without a feed at night if it gets a decent amount before bedtime by the time it's about six weeks old, though it'll still want one at night for a little while longer.

Babies Sometimes Have Growth Spurts and Get More Hungry


By the time they're about eight weeks old, many babies will be sleeping for over five or six hours at night without waking up. If they don't, it could be to do with their temperament or several other things. But if they've been sleeping well and then start waking up at night, it might be because they're having a growth spurt and need more food for a few days.

Instead of setting up a pattern of feeding the baby at night from then on and having to get up to feed it every night, feeding it more during the day for a few days can solve the problem. The book The Baby Whisperer recommends not giving it more feeds but giving it more milk at each one. If it has a bottle and finishes one each feed, more milk can be put in it each time. If breast-feeding, the baby can be allowed to drain both breasts and then put back on the first one. It might not feel as if there's any milk left, but the body will have started producing more in response to the baby suckling, and will start producing more in response to the increased demand, so soon, the baby can take in more each time. We can maybe put it back on the first breast for a few minutes and then back on the second for a few moments. Or instead, we could use a pump to gather a bit of milk an hour or so after we've fed the baby and feed the baby that in a bottle as well as their feeds at each one.

Some babies who don't sleep well at night are sleeping too much during the day. The book The Baby Whisperer recommends parents wake their babies up after two hours during the day for a while, to feed them, and because long naps could mean they're not so tired at night so they'll wake up more then, and waking them up will mean they want to sleep more at night. But the author says that if parents are doing something similar to that or something that's worked before and then the baby stops wanting to sleep so much at night as they did, it might be because it's having a growth spurt. There are a few times when babies grow more quickly than other times, and during those times, they'll want more food. They'll likely be back to their normal patterns before long. The book says growth spurts happen for the first time at around six to eight weeks, and happen about once a month or every six weeks after that. The one the baby has at about five or six months tends to mean it's time to put the baby on solid foods. Bigger babies might have their growth spurts a bit earlier.

While if a baby wakes up hungry in the first five or six weeks of its life it can be because the mother's having difficulty attaching it to the breast well so it isn't getting so much milk, such problems will often be sorted out by six weeks or so so if the baby wakes up hungry after that when we fed it just before putting it to bed, it might well be having a growth spurt.

Some babies just get into bad sleeping habits though. Often with a bad sleeping habit, the baby wakes up at around the same time every night. With a growth spurt, they'll tend to wake up at different times each night. Also, with a growth spurt, the baby will take a full feed at night, whereas with a bad sleeping pattern, they'll just feed a little bit before losing interest, showing they weren't really hungry. But the baby will be encouraged to carry on the bad sleeping pattern if it gets rewarded with attention and a feed whenever it wakes up.

In any case, letting the baby feed till it loses interest during the day and making sure it goes to bed at night with a full stomach can reduce the chances of it waking up hungry. Feeding more often will be good. It won't mean the baby will have to be fed more often from then on. But feeding the baby more often for a few days will stimulate the body to produce more milk, so the baby can go back to feeding when it did before in a few days, but the body will be producing more milk so as to satisfy the baby's new need for more as it grows and develops.

During a growth spurt, the baby might not want to go to bed during the day when it used to. That might mean it's still hungry and wants more food. Not feeding it but trying to get it to go to sleep hungry for days because a parent just doesn't realise it's hungry might make it associate trying to get to sleep with feeling hungry and miserable, so it might develop an automatic protest reaction against going for a nap whether it's hungry or not.

Another reason a baby might start waking up at night when it didn't before is if it's mastered a new skill recently like crawling. It might be so excited by the fact that it wakes up wanting to try it out. Also, if other new things are happening or something stressful's going on, the baby can start waking up more. It's best to offer comfort, but only as long as the stressful episode lasts, and then to wean the baby off it by providing less and less so they learn to sleep again without it.

Using a Dummy

Baby with a dummy

The book The Baby Whisperer recommends parents give their babies dummies when they're very little, and stop when they're about four months old. It claims that when babies are that young, most won't get dependent on their dummies, and they're useful to have because babies enjoy sucking on something and it soothes them, but that young, they don't think to suck on their fingers for comfort. They might, though, suck on the breast or on a bottle after they've stopped being hungry, just for the pleasure and comfort of sucking. So a mother might feel the need to keep them at the breast longer than the baby would be there otherwise, or will put the baby there more often than necessary and it'll feed too much.

On the other hand, the book What to Expect the First Year says dummies aren't always a good idea; they might slow the baby down when it's learning to feed from the breast, because a dummy requires a different sucking motion to a breast. And it says it's best to attend to a baby's needs when it cries, for instance by feeding or rocking it or changing its nappy, rather than to quieten it with a dummy.

I know my mum hates to see babies with dummies. She says it's as if it stifles their self-expression. When they're starting to make baby noises, it's good because they're beginning to make the sounds that'll help them put words together with practice, but they can't get practice like that if they've got a dummy in their mouth; or if they want to whinge, she said it means something's wrong, so it's unfair to stop them communicating that way by putting a dummy in their mouths; and also when they drop them on the street, their mother will pick them up and lick the dirt off and then give them back, which is better than nothing, but still not that hygienic. She really doesn't like them.

But the book The Baby Whisperer just recommends them when the baby's very little, under four months. I don't know how much of a good idea it is. But it says most babies who go to sleep with a dummy in their mouths will still sleep soundly after it's fallen out, and when they do wake up, it'll help them feel more contented when going to sleep again. We can also use it to tell whether they're really hungry or just want the comfort of sucking something, because if we give it back to them and they're happy with that, it'll mean they weren't really hungry, so we've spared ourselves the effort of feeding them.

They might look as if they're sucking before they go to sleep, but that might well be because they enjoy it and are using it to soothe themselves. If we keep assuming they're hungry and feeding them, they might turn into a baby who can't get to sleep without a feed because they're so used to it, so that'll become a burden for us.

Babies can reject a dummy at first, but the book says that can be because of the way it's presented. It has to be placed properly in a baby's mouth, not just shoved in. Different shaped ones can also be tried, including ones shaped more like nipples than ordinary teats. The dummy shouldn't press down on the baby's tongue, but should be angled so it goes against the roof of the baby's mouth. If the baby's given the dummy several times during its awake time, it might get used to it after a while if it rejected it at first, so it can suck on that while going to sleep rather than wanting the mother's breast a bit too often.

Not Feeding the Baby at Night as it Gets Older

Baby in cot

By the time the baby's five or six months old, it'll be capable of sleeping for a good six hour solid stretch through the night. If it wakes up at about the same time every night, it might well be just a bad habit it's got into. It'll be best to encourage it to get back off to sleep without feeding it, since feeding it will encourage it to wake up regularly for a feed, which will be more work for us. Parents who have been regularly feeding the baby at night can try increasing the amount of food the baby takes in during the day and the amount of milk it has before going to bed, and then not feed it at night. It might cry a lot the first few nights because it'll be expecting food and won't like not having it. But if it's had enough during the day, it certainly won't be painfully hungry, so when it gets used to not having food any more, it'll settle down and be happy enough not having food. And if it hasn't really got anything to wake up for, it'll get more used to sleeping through the night. The parents just need to be consistent not feeding it till it gets used to it. The first night or two might be hard on the parents, because the baby will probably cry more because it's expecting a feed, but if the parents don't give in but just say something soothing to the baby and show it it's expected to get to sleep again, it'll come to expect not having one. But if they don't feed it for two nights but then give in and feed it the third night when the baby starts crying, for example, it might have started crying less because it's getting used to not feeding at nights after protesting at first, but then it'll realise it does get fed sometimes, so it'll learn to cry till it does, so the parents will have tried not feeding it when it wakes up for nothing and will have to start again.

And just as bad, if the baby's allowed to have little feeds throughout the night, it might not have such a big appetite during the day, so it might feed a little bit, then get hungry for more fairly soon afterwards, and then get hungry not long after that, all the while not taking much in each time. That'll be a hassle for the parents because they'll have to feed it more often than they'd like. Reducing the number of feeds it gets means it'll be more hungry for each one.

But sometimes, if a baby wakes up and cries fairly early on in the night, the parents could try giving it less food before they put it to bed in the evening, but then waking it up before they themselves go to bed, and then giving it a full feed. That way, it'll go back to sleep when the parents want to go to bed with a full stomach, so it's likely to stay asleep for longer at the time the parents want to sleep.

Babies Can Find it Hard to Sleep if They're Over-Stimulated

Watching television

Babies who are feeling too lively when they go to bed will find it difficult to sleep, won't get a good sleep after managing to drop off, and might often wake up. That's why it can be a good idea to put the baby to bed after its first yawn, when it's feeling a bit sleepy, not just putting it straight in its cot but soothing it a bit and so on first.

If a baby's used to having fairly long naps during the day but then doesn't sleep for long each time and at the same time becomes grumpy during the day, it might be that something is over-stimulating the baby and hyping it up too much to get to sleep or stay asleep for long. If a baby's always only had short naps and seems cheerful enough and sleeps well at night, or if they start having shorter naps but are still as cheerful as ever and sleep quite well at night, there's nothing wrong with that. Short naps might well be all they need. But if the baby can't sleep for long and gets grumpy, it could be that too much has been going on around it. Sometimes the problem gets worse the longer the baby is exposed to things that make it more livened up; so it isn't a good idea to keep the baby up later hoping it'll sleep better because it'll be more tired.

If a baby sleeps badly during the day, it can end up grumpy and bad-tempered, and that can stop it sleeping so well at night. And one thing that can happen is that the baby starts off going to sleep but then jolts back into consciousness a few times. The book says a mistake parents often make is to pick the baby up for a cuddle when it does that instead of letting it go back to sleep. That'll mean it gets to be even more awake, so it'll take longer to get back to sleep.

While it's natural for parents to want to get babies all kinds of toys to stimulate its brain as well as to play with, it can be good if the baby has some quiet times during the day so it doesn't get more hyped up than is good for it. A little baby can enjoy things like staring at a mobile or cuddling a stuffed toy for a while. Most babies enjoy a good cuddle with their parents. We can encourage the baby to play quietly in their cot as well so they come to see it as a place to play as well as to sleep. If they learn to play in it they'll be happier in it when they're awake.

It's best if for a while before bedtime and nap times, we don't expose them to too many new things or people or bright colours or lively play or animated talking. And if they've had a problem with not getting to sleep, we can spend longer calming them before they go to bed, perhaps including spending longer shushing and patting them. It might sometimes seem as if they're asleep, but if they've been over-stimulated, they'll likely jolt awake a few times before they drop off into a sound sleep. So it's worth waiting till they seem to be sleeping deeply before we leave them.

It's Best Not to Keep a Baby Up Past the Time it Wants to Sleep

Some people think keeping a baby up will make it more tired so it'll sleep better. But it can just make the baby grumpy or over-excited so it sleeps worse. Some parents who've been at work like to see their baby when they come home so they like it to stay up for that. But though not seeing it might be hard on them, it won't be much better if staying up that long makes the baby grumpy and restless so it doesn't sleep so well for much of the night. Being with the baby more at other times can be better, such as getting up a little bit earlier in the morning.

Babies Can Over-Stimulate Themselves

When babies start to move around a bit, they can disturb their own sleep. For instance, they can roll over one way but they can't roll back again, so they end up in a position they'd rather not be in. And they can roll right over to the corner of the cot and hit their head on the side. Or they'll start doing things with their hands like pulling their own hair or ears or poking themselves, because they're not good at using them yet and don't realise they'll hurt themselves. Or the noises they make flailing their arms against the sheet can wake them up. Putting a rolled-up towel on either side of the baby's body might prevent it rolling around so much.

Just normal everyday activities can make a little baby tired because everything is so new and quite a bit for someone who isn't used to it to take in. So anything extra, such as going out to a mother and baby group, can make a baby over-tired and sleep worse that night. It won't necessarily do that. But if a baby seems to enjoy the group but does sleep worse that night, sleeping worse that night might be a price worth paying. But if the baby's a bit fretful in the group, or if they sleep worse not only on that night but on a few nights after that, it might be worth keeping the baby at home instead and waiting a few months before trying them at the group again. It'll partly depend on whether we think the benefits for ourselves of going to the group outweigh the drawback of the baby sleeping worse that night, if it does.

Sleep Problems Caused by Discomfort or Pain


One reason a baby can wake up and cry at night, or not go to sleep in the first place, is if it's in discomfort or pain. It's best to check to see if a baby's too hot or too cold when they wake up crying. We could gently feel the baby's nose and forehead or cheeks and perhaps hands. If they're cold, the baby's likely cold. When moving from summer to winter when the weather can suddenly change temperature or not change as much as expected, babies can be especially likely to get too hot or too cold.

Naturally we'll need to check to see if the baby's nappy needs changing.


If the baby's in pain, there are signs that can let us know. Pain cries sound different to hunger cries. They tend to be shriller and more high-pitched. And there are different kinds of pain cries. A trapped wind cry can sound different from a reflux cry, for instance. A baby might well be in pain if it grimaces, its body gets rigid, it pulls its legs up, or it flails wildly around when asleep or when trying to get to sleep.

The crying might be because of reflux if the baby will only sleep in an upright position, such as when in a car seat. When lying horizontal, stomach acid can come up with little bits of milk and the baby can feel a bit of a burning sensation. When it's upright, gravity helps keep the food down. Medication can help neutralise the stomach acid so it isn't painful when it gets sicked or burped up into the baby's throat. Raising the top of the cot by putting something underneath like a couple of big heavy books can help as well. In fact, if a baby's been sleeping in a car seat or in something else where they've been upright, they might be more happy when their parents start putting them in their cot if the top of it is raised. The ideal though is that babies don't sleep in something else to begin with but that the parents put them in the cot with the top raised when they stop crying. Otherwise, some will come to want to sleep elsewhere out of habit and won't like it if their parents want them to sleep in their cot from then on. So warns the book The Baby Whisperer.

Another thing to bear in mind is that if a baby was diagnosed with reflux and given medication when they were very little, if they've still got it a few months later when they're quite a bit bigger, the dose of medication they got when they were tiny might not be big enough for them so their reflux may have become painful again, so it's worth speaking to the doctor again.

Of course, a baby might suffer pain because of other digestive problems. Sometimes they might get constipated. A breast-fed baby can sometimes go for three days without pooing and still be allright, though a bottle-fed baby should be pooing more often. But if a baby hasn't pooed for several days, it could well be constipated, and if it's in pain with it, it might be bringing its knees up to its chest and seem uncomfortable. Diluted prune juice can help. Or we could see the doctor.

Following a Daily Routine for the Baby Where Possible

Relief from stress

The book The Baby Whisperer says just as adults like some certainty in their lives to be confident they have some control over them and know what to expect when, and like to feel fairly sure they're going to get their needs met because things are predictable enough that they can be confident they will, so do babies. It's disturbing to not know what's coming. Adults like to know roughly what's coming. So do babies. People in general feel happier if there are some predictable things about the day, perhaps some rituals such as having a break for a cup of tea at a certain time each day, that can give a sense of stability to the day. Familiarity can give people a sense of security. Too much predictability is boring, but too little can make people anxious because they don't feel in control. Also, people don't like to find themselves suddenly dragged away from something to do something else, when they didn't expect it. That goes just as much for babies. So it's best not to take them away from an activity suddenly to do something else, but to give them some signs we're going to. Long before they can talk, they might understand individual words if we've said them often enough. For instance, if we say "food" and pretend to eat before we give them food, they'll learn to expect food when we do that. We could have a ritual before their bedtime that involves us doing something calming with them so they can wind down from the day gradually instead of just being put to bed when they're still feeling lively after an activity, unless they start to drop off to sleep during it.

Regular feeding, activity and sleeping times that happen around the same time every day can be good, so a baby gets used to doing things at roughly the same time. It'll also mean we can be better at ensuring the baby gets enough sleep and so is refreshed in the mornings, since we'll be better able to calculate how long the baby's been asleep and when its last one was than we will if we just let the baby sleep when we get around to it or when it happens to drop off. Just as how with an adult, if they're late for work, it can have a knock-on bad effect on their whole day, for instance by making them grumpy so they don't work so well, which might get on the boss's nerves and he might tell them off a few times which might make them feel worse, so their whole day might not go so well so they're not in that good a mood even when they get home, and it all started just because they spent too long getting ready and so missed their morning train, so routine is good for babies and their day can be more stressful without it. For instance, if a baby's used to having a nap early in the afternoon, but one day doesn't get one till a few hours later, he might get grumpy before the nap, and then because he has it so much nearer his bedtime, he might not sleep so well that night, and so be grumpy the next morning.

So the book suggests that even as soon as mum and baby first get home from the hospital, the parents put the baby on a structured routine so it'll get familiar with what happens when. The author suggests we alternate a few things throughout the day, so the baby will get into a routine of: eating, enjoying some activity, sleeping, and when it sleeps it's you time. The four of those things can be done one after the other throughout the day; and one way of remembering the order is if we make a word out of their first letters. It suggests we remember the word EASY, which stands for "Eat, Activity, Sleep, and You time". It might not always be easy to stick to that routine in reality, but things might well end up going a lot more smoothly than they would if we didn't have a routine at all. At least that's what the book says.

It says it's not suggesting we put the baby on a strict schedule, such as giving it half an hour to feed, half an hour's activity, and half an hour's sleep, and then starting again. Nothing as strict as that; it ought to be quite relaxed, and to take account of what the baby wants. After all, as the baby grows older, it might well want more play time and less sleep. But the author's just saying if we do things regularly in that order, and with a rough idea of the time each thing will take, it could make for a happier baby.

She says when the baby's only a matter of weeks old, the cycle of eating, activity and sleep will probably last around three hours. We don't have to worry if it isn't exact though.


So when the baby's only a matter of weeks old, it may be that we could give it a feed when it first wakes up in the morning after changing its nappy, then 45 minutes later change its nappy again if it needs it and play with it and talk to it, watching out for signs that it's getting tired, such as rubbing its eyes or yawning. At the end of about half an hour, we could put the baby down for a nap. It might take about 20 minutes to get off to sleep. When it does, we could perhaps nap ourselves. Perhaps an hour and a half later, it'll wake up for another feed, and the cycle starts again. When it sleeps, we relax, sleep a bit, or do what needs doing around the house. The baby might not be able to stay up for nearly that long after it's had a feed. we can see what seems to suit the baby and us anyway.

Driving a car

That doesn't mean we can't go out. Part of the baby's activity time could be being pushed in its pram by us as we go out to do errands or riding in the car with us; or it could sleep in a car seat while we drive somewhere after we've done some kind of activity with it. Having said that, it might not get such a good sleep that way, since it might wake up when we turn the car engine off, but we could see.

At the end of perhaps twelve hours, we can bath the baby and put it to bed, perhaps with a lullaby or something else that's calming, and hope it more-or-less sleeps through the night, perhaps giving it the odd feed if it wakes. In fact, in the first several weeks, babies will tend to want a couple of feeds at night rather than being able to sleep straight through it.

The book recommends that if people are just starting out putting their baby on a routine, they try to stay at home as much as possible in the first two weeks so the baby gets used to the pattern in a cosy environment.

Throughout the day, we can watch out for signs a baby wants to move on from one thing to another. For instance, if it yawns or rubs its eyes or gets a bit whiny when we're playing with it, it might mean it's had enough and wants to go to sleep. Watching the baby carefully will mean we pick up on the signs it's giving about what it wants to do next. Sometimes it might sleep for less time than usual or get tired sooner than it has for a few days, but that won't usually be a cause for concern.


For some babies, the cycle might be quite a bit less than three hours long. For instance, a baby who didn't weigh all that much at birth might want to feed more often, because they can't take in so much at once. Some babies won't want to stay up for activity very long or will fall asleep during their feeds, especially if they're jaundiced, or if they were premature or low birth weight. Premature babies will still be at the stage where they need to sleep as much as they did in the womb, since they're still supposed to be there. Some babies are just naturally more sleepy though. The book The Baby Whisperer says it's best to try to keep them awake during their feeds, or to wake them up every two hours for feeds if they're sleeping almost all the time, so they get the nourishment they need, especially if they've got jaundice and it needs to be flushed out of the system, though it should disappear within days; but it's best not to keep them awake if they start falling asleep during activity, or they'll become over-stimulated and upset. Sometimes, it's best if they stay up for only about five or ten minutes during their activity time, because they get tired quickly and need their sleep. If they keep falling asleep during their feeds but wanting food again an hour or so later, feeding them more often will be best. Once they put on weight, they'll probably need feeding less, because they'll take in more at any one time. And they'll be able to stay up longer for activity.

Activity time can include the time when they're being bathed and dressed and so on.

If we're planning to take the baby on errands we run or to do activities outside the home or to meet with friends, it's best to go when the baby will be feeling refreshed, rather than, for example, a time when they're getting a bit grumpy because they're tired. Too much stimulation will just make them feel worse.

If they're premature, it might be best to take especial care settling them to sleep, creating conditions that are warm and dark like the womb where they're still supposed to be. Putting them somewhere quiet might help as well.

As the Baby Grows Older


By the time the baby gets to be about four months old, it might well only want a feed every four hours. It's best to increase the time the cycle lasts gradually, by fifteen minutes every day for four days, rather than suddenly expecting baby to adapt to a lot more activity time. It shouldn't be too difficult by the time they're that age, because it'll be easier to amuse them than it was when they were younger. They might laugh at mummy pulling funny faces at them or dancing around the room or doing keep fit moves while they watch. They might enjoy a ride in their pram around the park. And they can start to take an interest in toys. And so on.

The baby will learn to amuse itself, so we won't always have to be with it all through its activity time.

The baby will also learn to eat more quickly, so feeds might not take so long. So as long as they're gaining weight and seem healthy, we don't have to worry they're not eating as much as they were before if they're taking half the time they used to breast-feeding.

If we haven't had the baby on a routine for a while, it might protest with screams and cries for the first few days or so if we try to put it on a routine, since it might want to stay up half the night when we want it to go to bed and stay there. But once it gets used to it, the book says it'll be happy, and we'll be happier as well.

If it wakes up early, it's best to let it play on its own in its cot or try to get back to sleep, rather than going to it or taking it into our bed, since whatever we do, it'll come to expect it, so in time, it won't be happy till we do. If we've done something like that for a while but don't want to any more, it'll take several days of listening to it cry and telling it to stay in its cot by itself before it gets used to the idea.

As the baby grows older, most parents become more confident handling it. After the first couple of months, it starts to cry less, can stay up for longer, doesn't fall asleep so much during its feeds and will often stay asleep for longer at night, possibly six hours at a stretch.

It may be that the baby will start waking up more. That can be because it's growing and getting hungrier so it needs more food during the day. A feed before bedtime can also help.

But often, waking up in the night can get to be just a habit for a baby. Not rushing in too quickly but seeing if it goes back to sleep on its own can be a good thing to do, or it'll come to expect a parent to be there all the time and find it more difficult to get to sleep without being consoled or attended to by a parent. Sometimes, babies can start waking up at certain times, playing and talking to themselves a bit and then going back to sleep. It's allright to leave them to do that on their own. Going in too quickly can mean they start to expect us to be there.

For instance, feeding a baby whenever it wakes up might always get it back to sleep, but the baby will start wanting a feed every time it wakes up and not be content to go to sleep without one, so it becomes a hassle for the parents, who might start feeling they have to feed it several times a night.

A baby will start waking up in the morning out of habit rather than because it's hungry, so we don't have to feel it needs a feed immediately. It might amuse itself for a little while and then sleep for a bit longer if we leave it.

By the time a baby's a few months old, it'll be more proficient at feeding, so it won't take so long, perhaps about 20-30 minutes as opposed to 45 at first. And then babies are often happy to spend one and a half hours in play or other activity before they nap again, or two hours by six months. So they can have more play and one less feed and one less nap a day, since they'll be more alert, and will be taking in more food when they feed so they won't need to feed so often.

At six months, it's time to start the baby on solid foods, so mealtimes will become a bit longer again, and messier, since the baby will get things down it, throw things on the floor and so on.

Waving happily

At around eight months, the baby will start to need less sleep again. The nap it used to have in the early evening can be cut out, so most babies will have just two naps a day, probably lasting between one and two hours. They'll be more alert and be able to move around more, so they'll be far more interested in exploring their exciting environment than going to sleep.

If the baby's developed bad habits, such as not going to sleep unless it's fed, it'll take longer to wean them off them, since it'll be more used to them, having done them for longer.

The baby's behaviour might well change quite a bit from day to day; for instance, one day he might want a long nap in the morning, the next day in the afternoon, and the next he might skip one nap altogether. One day he might be ravenously hungry, and the next have little appetite. That'll make planning more difficult. But at least we'll know it's normal for babies to do that. By the time they're nine months old, babies will often go for hours without napping, maybe having only one a day. That'll mean the routine we had them on when they were younger won't apply anymore, but that shouldn't be cause for concern. It'll just mean the baby's becoming stronger and more adventurous. We can adjust the routine so instead of feeding the baby, playing with it and then putting it down to sleep, we can feed it, play with it, feed it again, let it have another play, and then maybe it'll want a sleep. It might want to sleep for longer than it did before since it's not having one of the sleeps it used to have. If it only wants one nap a day, that only needs to be a concern if it's grumpy.

If we can try getting the baby up, giving it its dinner, putting it down for its nap, giving it its tea, giving it a bath and putting it to bed at night at roughly the same times every day, it'll still be a decent routine.

At some time between nine months and a year, the baby will be able to go five hours between feeds. It'll have three meals a day just like everyone else in the family, with a couple of snacks in between times. They can have a lot of energy and can play for some time without a break. By the time they get to about 18 months, or even a few months earlier, it'll probably be the norm for them to just have one long nap during the day rather than more shorter ones.

A routine can be easier for the parents as well, because they know they're going to have set times when they can catch up on what they need to do and give attention to the baby's older brothers and sisters. If they can roughly predict what times the baby will go to sleep and how long it'll stay asleep for, it'll be easier to plan things to do at those times such as paying attention to the baby's older brothers and sisters, doing something to relax or getting on with a job that needs doing.

The reason it can be good to always do activity with the baby after they've had a feed is so they don't start thinking feeding time is the time for sleeping and start wanting to be fed whenever we put them to bed. Naturally, that doesn't mean we should worry if the baby does fall asleep just after its feed. The baby's needs are more important than the routine, after all. But as a rule, at least according to the book, it's best, during the day, if they have some play time between the time they feed and the time they sleep.

The baby won't always need us to be with them to play. They can often be happy to play on their own, for a longer time as they get older.

Actually, I know someone who's had a baby recently, and someone bought her something the baby could play on even when it was tiny. It was a little mat with a couple of archways on it with toys hanging down from them, like rattles and little plastic animals and things. When the baby moved its arms up, it could hit the toys and they'd swing about, and some would make interesting noises, like the rattle. And the mat itself played nice cheerful music. The baby enjoyed pushing the toys around.

Happily pregnant

Actually, they played with the baby even before it was born. Well, kind of. When the baby was kicking and moving its hands around inside its mum, the mum and dad and their other daughter had a good laugh putting pennies on the mum's stomach and watching them fall off when the baby kicked.

The book says babies can be calmer if they know what's coming because they're used to a routine. Then they can eat more and play alone more confidently.

If a baby's on a routine, it'll be easier to work out what it wants when it cries than it would be if its parents did things at any old time of day. For instance, if a baby's used to always eating when it wakes up, it'll be quite likely that it wants its usual feed if it cries when it wakes up. If it's had its feed and is playing and after about 15 minutes it gets a bit whiny, it might well want its sleep.

We can't expect things to stay the same all the time though. For instance, if a baby started off as a good sleeper but then starts waking up and crying at about six months old when it hasn't been asleep for all that long, it might still be hungry and the answer might well be to start feeding it solid foods sometimes during the day.

The routine is only meant to apply during the day, naturally.

If it's Difficult to Keep to a Routine but the Baby's Miserable or Irritable, it Might be Worth Making the Effort to Try

It might be difficult to let the baby sleep at set times because we want to run errands and that kind of thing and need to take the baby with us. But the book advises that if the baby's miserable, we at least try for a couple of weeks to stay where we can put it down to sleep at set times and leave it asleep for some time, because we need to train it to sleep the right amount during the day so it'll sleep better at night. If the baby does start sleeping better, then we'll know the problem was that it was having difficulty settling to sleep before, and we can try to give it a more structured routine from then on.

If we leave the baby in the care of someone else for a while, it'll be worth explaining to them what routine we have the baby on, and perhaps stay with them for a few days till they get the hang of it, paying them a surprise visit every now and then after that to check they're keeping them on it.

Part Three
Trying to Understand the Baby's Feelings

Extra Sensitive Babies


Some babies have temperaments that make them dislike things other babies would enjoy or take in their stride. For instance, a particularly active baby might enjoy exploring the world so much that it doesn't enjoy being held and cuddled, because it's an interruption. It's important for a mother not to see that as a sign of rejection or try to cuddle it when it wants to be playing or crawling around having fun. The mother might be longing to cuddle the baby, but it can be best to wait till near its bedtime when it might feel calmer. Or sometimes a baby might be more overwhelmed by being in the company of strangers or hearing loud noises like the hoover than most would. Making allowances for that is best, introducing them to them gradually, or waiting till they're a bit older. After all, no one else would like to be suddenly thrown into a situation where things they found scary were happening.

The book The Baby Whisperer says some babies will even slap their mothers when they pick them up. The mothers can feel hurt because it feels as if their babies are rejecting them. But it's best if they don't take that kind of thing personally, because all a baby will be saying is that it wants to get down, perhaps because it prefers to be active or feels happiest when it's alone or exploring the exciting new world it's discovering. A baby won't have developed the mental ability to decide it doesn't like someone and think they deserve a slap as a signal that they're being rejected.


But with some babies, we'll have to have extra patience and pay special attention to their feelings, because they'll be extra sensitive. If we notice it doesn't take much to make them cry, then too much stimulation could be overwhelming for them. A glaring overhead light, a loud television or an itchy label could be all it takes to upset them. If they seem to be like that, we could imagine we're them and think about the effects things around us could have on us, trying to anticipate what might upset them so we can find away around it before it does, to try to keep the house calmer. We could try to keep them in a calm environment as much as possible, and give them lots of support if we're making changes, though it's best not to hover over them, because that'll give them the idea there really is something to be scared of because they're needing to be protected. It'll also be best if we don't do anything too suddenly. The book suggests we explain everything we're about to do to them, such as changing their nappies, even if we don't think they understand. Talking calmly to them might reassure them, and once they do begin to understand words like nappy and change, which they'll get to do more quickly the more we use them before we change their nappy, they'll get some warning of what we're going to do so they won't feel we're suddenly imposing something on them.

We can think about what kind of baby we seem to have, because then if they cry, we'll know whether to suspect the typical culprits - hunger, tiredness and so on, or whether it might be things that some babies wouldn't get so upset about, such as the lighting being unusually bright. It'll be best not to introduce a sensitive baby to very many other people at once for some time. Talking to them soothingly can help reassure them.

Calming Agitated Babies


But then, most babies probably won't like conditions that are a bit over-stimulating. We might be able to sometimes work out why a baby's crying because we notice it often cries in a particular situation. For instance, if there's a musical mobile above its bed and it cries when the music's playing, we can consider that it might be the music it doesn't like, so we can switch it off and tell the baby it's allright; it can just look at it if it wants to.

If we discover some things work better at calming our baby than other things, we can make mental notes of them. For instance, some over-stimulated babies might calm down if we take them to another room and distract them with something soothing, whereas if we try to soothe them in the same room as the action's going on, it isn't so successful.

Some babies might be fussy about where they sleep, so for some, putting the cot in a quiet room and darkening the room for naps can be most calming.

Some babies are very active, happiest when they're playing energetically and exploring new things. Before they can, they still like to be moved into different positions a lot so they can enjoy looking at different things. But if they become over-tired, they can become bad-tempered. If they're becoming stroppy, it's best to try to calm or distract them from what they're doing, moving them to a different place and maybe soothing them if they're showing signs a tantrum might be coming on. Relatives and other people who look after the baby can be told they need that kind of thing so they can watch out for signs of irritation and help distract the baby.


Another kind of baby is just naturally grumpy. They don't smile or laugh as much as other babies. It's best if parents try not to take that personally or get irritated with the baby. It's best if we let them choose what toys they want to play with, since introducing them to new things quickly could be a bit overwhelming for them. It's good if we can warn them about any changes coming. For instance, if they've been playing and it's nearly time for their nap, we might say something like, "it's almost time to put the toys away", and then give them a few minutes to get used to the idea. They won't understand at first, but if we often say it and then put their toys away not long afterwards, they'll get to recognise the sound the phrase makes and know it's something to do with putting toys away so they'll know it's nearly time to do that when we say it.

Actually, I think it's nice to tell any child in advance what we want them to do so they have some time to get used to the idea. Just suddenly telling a child to put their toys away, for example, seems a bit abrupt and they probably won't like it. Everyone likes to get used to the idea that something new's going to happen before it does.

It says with grumpy babies, too, it's best to encourage them to socialise with only one or two children at first, so they can get used to new people gradually.

Taking a Baby's Temperament Into Account When Planning Things

Scared of what's on television

The author of the book The Baby Whisperer says she was asked to help a small group of mothers who liked to meet together but they were concerned because their babies didn't seem to get on. She sat with them and just watched what was happening for a while. The babies were all just under a year old. They were amusing themselves rather than playing with each other.

One of the three babies seemed especially sensitive and a bit daunted by being with the other two. He whined for some time and kept putting his hands up to his mother, obviously wanting to be in her lap. The more she tried to talk him out of his reluctance to be with the others, by saying things like, "Come on, you like the other boys. See how nicely they're playing", the louder he whined. After a while the mother just tried to tune him out by chatting to the other mothers, hoping he'd give up whining and settle down to playing. But he kept whining and eventually started crying. The mother finally did take him onto her lap, but by then he was inconsolable.

One of the other boys was an energetic child who excitedly rushed from toy to toy. Eventually he decided he just had to have a ball the other baby was holding. He tried to wrench it from him, but the baby held onto it tightly, till the one trying to get the ball shoved him and he tipped over backwards and started crying. His mother swept him into her arms, and looked at the other two women as if to say, "Not again!"

The mother of the very energetic child felt very ashamed, especially because things like that had happened before. She tried to restrain her baby by taking him onto her lap, but he didn't want to be there, and the more she held him, the louder he screamed in protest and the more he tried to wriggle out of her grip. She was also trying to reason with him about playing nicely, but he wasn't interested in listening.

The mothers could have treated the babies in different ways that would have kept them happy. The author advised them on how, so they could do so in future.

The book says the one with the anxious baby who was distressed by being put with the others should have known his worries weren't going to magically vanish even before they got to the group that day. She could have let him sit on her lap, reassuring him that everything was allright and that he didn't have to play until he was ready. She could have gently coaxed him to play instead of putting him down in the midst of the others and expecting him to manage on his own. She could have got down on the floor with him, maybe pointing out a toy he liked to play with. Even if she was worried it would take him six months to get up the confidence to be happy on his own with the others, she should have let him go at his own pace.

The book says if a baby's getting over-excited, crying or hitting out, putting it somewhere on its own isn't helpful. It doesn't know how to manage its emotions; what it needs is help to do so. Taking it out of the action and distracting it with a change of scene can help, since having something new to think about can help a baby forget what it was bothered about just a short time before and want to get absorbed in something new. The mother with the very energetic baby could have planned ahead, just as the one with the sensitive baby could have. Since she knew her baby was very active and excitable, she could have stepped in as soon as she noticed him getting a bit wild. Some warning signs that a child's getting over-emotional are that they talk louder, they flail their arms and legs, and they start whining. When she noticed warning signs, the mother of the energetic child could have taken him out of the room for a while to give him a chance to calm down. She could have invited him to go with her as if she wanted to take him to see something he'd enjoy looking at.

Once a baby, especially that type, starts having a tantrum, they're not going to listen to someone trying to reason with them. In any case, a child that young can't really understand how their actions affect others, so there's a limit to how much reasoning they'll understand. Taking them out of the room wouldn't be a punishment; it would just be meant to help them calm down. The mother could have gently taken him by the hand instead of restraining him, and led him out of the room, saying something like, "Let's go in the bedroom and I'll read you a story. You can come back and play with the other children when you feel a bit calmer."

Babies like the ones in the little group can learn to behave differently over time if their behaviour is managed with care. The anxious one might become braver, more outgoing and more willing to play with the others over time, if he's allowed to build up his confidence at his own pace, rather than being pushed into situations that make him anxious. If he feels secure and comfortable, he'll be more likely to dare to try out new things. The lively baby can learn that it's not allright to bully other children, but not unless his behaviour's checked effectively when he begins to get out of control. It'll be a few months before he learns what "calming down" means, but he can still get the general idea before then. The boys' parents need to be like guides who can be relied on to show them the right direction and save them from pitfalls along the way. Children will feel safer and more secure if their parents step in to show them the right way and help them handle themselves. They can trust their parents more if they feel confident they'll protect or support them if they feel scared or they're getting over-emotional.

Parents can think of mistakes as learning experiences that teach them what kinds of things trigger off emotional reactions in their children and what calms them down, so in future, when it looks as if things like them are going to happen again, they can intervene to change things.

Another important thing is that they should think of themselves as authority figures guiding the way, rather than getting involved in situations as if their emotions are nearly as primitive as their children's and over-reacting.

Also, it might help to change their meeting time to a time when their children have just had their naps so they're well-rested and calmer, and also meet less often, perhaps once a week instead of twice, since their children don't exactly get on.

On the other hand, even though the mothers are good friends, it would be a good thing for them to consider whether they ought to meet together with their babies at all. Something else might suit their babies' needs better. The lively baby might be far better off in a group of other energetic children where they're all doing lively things. And even though the anxious baby might get more confident over time, it would be less stressful for him not to be around the very lively one for a while.

If the Baby Gets Anxious About us Leaving it


The book The Baby Whisperer says that when a baby's between seven and nine months old, they tend to get especially attached to the main person caring for them and get anxious when they leave the room, perhaps crying. And they can have disturbed sleep.

Oh yes, I remember when my sister's older daughter was about that age, someone else held her and she started crying, only cheering up when her mum took her back. Someone said, "She's a mummy's girl, isn't she". My sister said, "Not for long!" And she did get to be happier around other people soon.

The book says there are some simple things that help them over their anxiety:

If we have to leave them in the care of another adult, it'll be best for both of us if we present it as if they'll enjoy themselves and the other person is a fun person to be with, in the hope the baby looks forward to it rather than dreads it. Expressing remorse about going away, as if the other person's an inferior substitute, is likely to make the baby more clingy so it'll be more difficult to leave.

If we get someone else to care for our baby for a while, such as a relative or child minder, it's best if we explain to them about our child's temperament if it's a bit challenging, and make sure they're understanding before leaving them with the baby. If we're hiring a stranger to look after the baby, it's best if we stay with them for a few days to see how they're interacting. The baby will feel better if it doesn't just feel abandoned by us but has time to adjust to the new person while we're still there to reassure it.

Being Careful We Don't Accidentally Give the Impression We'll Let Little Children Get Away With Things We'd Rather They Didn't


Being aware of baby's feelings also means not confusing him or her by saying one thing one day and another the next. That'll also make it easier for us. For instance, if we tell a toddler not to eat in the living room one day, but the next day just ignore them when they do, and we keep doing things like that, they might get to think our words don't really mean anything and stop taking any notice of what we say.

Babies will also respond to our emotions. For instance, if we're stressed, a baby might become edgy, because they feel as if something must be wrong. So they might cry more or seem grumpy.

I can imagine that'll be especially irksome for us if we're stressed because they were crying in the first place! So we could try to be quite calm around the baby.

Or if the baby does something and it makes us laugh, they'll likely do it again, hoping for the same laugh. That means we need to be careful about what we laugh at. For instance, if we laugh the first time the baby throws its dinner on the floor, which it might do because it's bored and frustrated and doesn't want to eat any more, it'll think it's funny, so it'll likely do it again the next day, hoping for the same laugh.

Babies will often look at people to see if their crying's having an effect as well, according to one of the books; so, for instance, they can work out if they're likely to be picked up if they carry on. They won't be able to do that at first. They might develop the skill when they're several months old. We need to be a bit careful we don't let them manipulate us with their cries, or other displays of emotion, since they'll learn crying can get them what they want. They won't do that when they're a little baby, but they might by the time they're nearing their second birthday. For instance, if we want them to wash their hands before dinner, but when they cry, we decide not to insist they do that day, they'll learn they can make us give in by crying. They'll perhaps remember that the next day when we're out shopping with them and they grab a chocolate bar. We might try to make them put it back, but they might cry in the hope they'll be allowed to keep it. If we still insist they put it back, they might cry louder. If we give in, they'll know that crying louder and longer is a ploy they can use whenever they want something we don't want them to have. So though it might be difficult, not giving in to them but distracting them with something else wherever possible or being firm with them can prevent bad habits starting that give us quite a lot of trouble later.


Oh that reminds me of a couple of things. Mum told us that when my younger brother was a toddler, she was shopping in a supermarket with him one day and he took a bar of chocolate off a shelf and started eating it. She didn't notice till they got to the check-out, and by that time he was halfway through it. She was embarrassed and offered to pay for it. But the woman at the check-out was sympathetic and said it would be allright if she didn't.

And I remember when my sister's older daughter was a baby, she managed to teach her to put her hand up when she wanted to be picked up instead of just crying. But she wished she hadn't, because her baby put both hands up every time my sister went past where she was lying, wanting to be picked up all the time. It's no wonder really. Babies love to be cuddled. At least, most of them do.

Being Patient With the Baby

Observing the baby's behaviour will give us clues as to how he/she's feeling, and if we act on them, we can often alter things before something dramatic happens. For instance, a toddler won't normally just walk into a room where other babies are playing and get aggressive towards one of them. Often if we look, there will be signs we can pick up on that they're building up to it, getting more and more frustrated; and we can take the opportunity to distract them so they get interested in something else instead.


Also, the book The Baby Whisperer says when babies cry, they shouldn't just be ignored, because that's like saying to them, "You don't matter"; that's the message they might well get. Crying is the language they communicate in before they can talk. If they repeatedly get a clear message no one's listening because no one ever comes when they cry, they eventually stop bothering to cry, and they also stop thriving.

It's not always practical to go to them immediately. But the author says she's known mothers who think letting a baby cry is good for them because it toughens them up, or who look helpless and say they can't possibly attend to the baby right then because they're doing something important like attending to another of their children who needs them. The trouble is that they don't just make the baby wait a few minutes; they make it wait and wait and wait.

Another thing the author recommends is that we be patient with our children. Having a baby is like signing up to a contract that says we don't mind our houses and ourselves getting dirty for the next few years. Trying to teach a baby to eat will be messy because they'll likely drop or throw things all over the place, and they're unlikely to get the hang of drinking from a cup without spilling loads of liquid all over the floor. We can't expect babies to pick things up without making a mess, or to think of food as being strictly for non-play purposes at first. They'll learn. But it's unfair to get cross with them because they don't pick things up in a great hurry.

The author says babies will generally start crying less and less the older they get. When they're a few months old, they might well start laughing more than they cry. But she says different babies have different temperaments. Some seem a lot more discontented or easily upset than others from birth. They might need an especially quiet place to sleep, and might seem especially stressed by changes, so they have to be introduced gradually wherever possible.

A baby's temperament can be modified by the way the parents treat them though. That could be for better or worse. But even babies who are grumpy a lot of the time will have good qualities, and if those qualities can be nurtured, those babies might grow up to be quite talented in some areas. Or if a baby's aggressive and energetic, channelling that into sports and other energetic things while disciplining it for bad behaviour can help it to grow up with a healthy appetite for exercise. A parent might worry that a boisterous child will become a bully, but the parents can have some control over whether it does, because whether a child becomes one can have a lot to do with how its treated.

One thing that's important is that we work with what talents a child has, rather than trying to push it to be what we'd like it to be which might not be something it's keen on. For instance, if it's naturally shy, we might be able to help it overcome its shyness, but trying to put pressure on it to be the centre of attention if it's reluctant won't be fair. Or trying to push it to do lots of sport when it isn't keen might just antagonise it.

The book says another thing is that we need to be wary of interpreting some personality traits our baby has as being more significant than they are. For instance, it says an anxious mother might interpret a little hesitancy to do some things on the part of her baby as the same kind of anxiety she suffers. Then she might want to protect him from the pain of it, so she might keep him away from those things. That might give him the idea that they're not safe. So he might genuinely develop anxiety about doing them. Then the mother might think she's got a real problem and be desperate to know how to cure her baby's anxiety.

Part Four
Playing With the Baby

The Best Kinds of Toys to Buy

Child playing with toy duck

There might be a lot of tempting things in the shops, but the prettiest or most hi-tech things won't necessarily be the best. One good way of finding out whether the baby's likely to like a toy is if we see them playing with it in another person's house or in the shop, the way it's meant to be played with.

Actually, I remember when me and my older sister were little, one of our favourite toys was a big cardboard box. We used to pretend one of us was a rabbit and it was a rabbit hutch. Sometimes, one of us would sit in it pretending to be the rabbit, and the other one would pretend to put rabbit food through the bars, in reality handing little sweets in through the flaps of the box. No wonder we liked that game! But it proves technology isn't necessary for a favourite toy. I've heard of other children unwrapping Christmas presents and playing with the wrapping rather than the present.

Toys can help babies develop new skills or practice to perfection ones they've already got, though it's worth remembering that childhood should be fun, not just practice to be clever. And if they're too difficult to use, the baby will just get frustrated and be put off the toy. If it's too easy to use though, they'll get bored.

Babies like toys that are stimulating though, things that make nice sounds or have bits that do different things when things are done to them.

Ways of Having Fun Playing With the Baby and Teaching Them Things at the Same Time


The book What to Expect the First Year advises that at first, we only show the baby one toy at a time, because they won't be used to looking at things and too much at one time might make them feel overwhelmed. It says it can be nice to have a mobile above their cot they can look at, though naturally we'll need to remember that the bit it's nicest to look at needs to be visible from below where the baby is. It says it's best to hang it just over a foot above the baby, to one side, since babies often like to gaze to one side. We could perhaps observe them to see which direction they prefer looking in.

It suggests we could move a rattle or other brightly-coloured toy across a little baby's field of vision to encourage them to track objects. We could blow bubbles for the baby, or take them to a pet shop and sit them in front of a bird cage or fish tank to watch what's going on.

Babies can spend a lot of time quietly looking at things. They're not doing nothing; they're learning what things are like. They might well enjoy looking at interesting patterns and pictures of people. They can love mirrors, especially when they start grinning and making funny faces and the baby in the mirror does the same. Naturally we shouldn't let them have an easily breakable mirror. But we can hang little ones by the cot and in other places the baby will often be.

Babies like looking at people, so we and others can spend time around them, talking to them, making funny faces and other things. When they're a bit older, we can show them family photos, pointing out who's who. We can also get them books with pictures of babies and children and animals and toys, and say what they are. It's best if there isn't much other detail in the pictures since that could make it harder for a baby to identify things; simple boldly-defined pictures are best.

It's good if we can give the baby opportunities for seeing what's around them. When we're out with them, we can draw their attention to things by pointing them out and saying what they are. Talking non-stop will be too much for them though.

We can entertain the baby by singing to them and imitating animal noises, especially of animals they're familiar with so they'll know what we're imitating, for instance a dog. And we could put on funny voices and so on. We could also imitate the noises they make, so it'll seem to them as if we're willing to communicate on their level.

Little babies can be fascinated by sounds around the house. They can enjoy soft or lively music, the sound of a vacuum cleaner or blender, the crinkling of paper, the tinkling of a bell or wind chime, running water, and so on. Some of those sounds could soothe them when they're a bit whiny. When they're older, they might go through a phase of being frightened of louder sounds, along with other things. To keep their trust in us, we'll need to be considerate of that and show them we care but that they don't need to worry. But we could make some sounds specially if they like them. For instance, there might be music they seem to enjoy that we could play quite a lot. We could see if music soothes them at bedtime or when they're a bit cranky, or cheers them up sometimes. We could maybe try playing children's songs sometimes, like nursery rhymes, though it'll be worth listening to any we buy before we do to make sure we like them. If there's music they don't seem to like, it'll be best not to play it when they're around. And it'll be best to play any music fairly quietly because we'll need to protect their ears.

We can make sounds with rattles and other toys as well. We don't have to wait till they learn how to shake a rattle; we could shake it for them, or put it in their hand and help them shake it.

A lot of babies enjoy listening to music boxes and will show they recognise a tune quite quickly. Music boxes that are nice to look at can be especially appealing for a baby, but we do need to be careful that if they're within reach of them, they haven't got small bits the baby might break off and put in their mouth.

Musical toys can be nice, especially ones that make a noise when the baby does a certain thing to them, and also if they do things that are fun to look at, such as a soft animal toy that does a dance and plays a tune when a string's pulled. We will need to be careful though that we don't get toys that make loud noises that could possibly damage a baby's hearing; and any that are fairly loud but not all that loud still shouldn't be put near a baby's ear.

Most babies love to be cuddled, caressed and kissed. They can enjoy having their hands or feet gently blown on or being gently rocked, and that kind of thing. We could try to work out whether our baby prefers being handled firmly or lightly, fast or slowly. We could also try gently massaging them. The book What to Expect the First Year says when premature babies are massaged for twenty minutes a day, they thrive and grow more quickly than those who aren't massaged. We could try to pay attention to which kinds of massage strokes a baby likes best and isn't keen on so we can do what they like.

We could give the baby things with different textures to feel, such as velvet, towelling, cotton and so on. We could also show them when toys have different textures, such as something hard and something soft and furry. We could get them to touch things with contrasting textures one after the other and act as if we're trying to show them the contrast, such as rubbing something furry and saying something like, "furry; soft!" and then rubbing a metal car and saying things like, "metal; hard; smooth; car".

Unpleasant teacher

The baby will learn to behave by our example. When they grow up a bit and play games with other children like mummies and daddies or teachers and pupils, we might often notice they're talking using the tone of voice we use with them. So we can try teaching them how to interact nicely with each other by the example we use with them. Even before they can talk, they'll still be watching and picking things up. When they can talk, we ourselves could play 'Let's pretend' games with them, perhaps dressing up even. For instance, we could play games where we're the baby and they're the mummy, or we're a nursery school teacher and it's their first day there, or a game where we're going on an adventure with them to find some hidden treasure, and so on.

We can give the baby lots of opportunities to use their hands, especially when they're younger and just learning, playing with things and so on. The book suggests we give them things to try holding and playing with, that don't require any skilled movement. It says that for example, there are such things as little rattles with two handles or surfaces that can be grasped easily that the baby could teach themselves to pass from one hand to the other.

For some reason, it says little babies won't usually take things offered to them from directly in front of them; they're more likely to take things offered from the side.

It says there are things called cradle gyms which are things that can fit over a cot or pram or play pen, that have several things on them that a baby can spin round, push and pull, and they do different things. But it says we need to be careful of ones that have strings that are more than six inches long in case the baby wraps them around their neck or something, and they should be taken down once the baby can sit up.

The book says it's important that we put the baby down on the carpet or a blanket or somewhere on their stomach sometimes while we supervise them, to give them the opportunity to learn to lift their head and shoulders, roll from front to back and eventually learn to crawl. If we keep them strapped in a chair all the time or whatever, they'll be slower to learn those skills. It's best to change their position often so they get used to moving a bit in different positions, and also so they get a change of scene. So, for example, we could prop them up in a sitting position, and put them on the floor, sometimes on their stomach and sometimes on their back. We could encourage them to learn to roll over by putting an interesting object by the side of them that they'll have to move to get. If they manage to roll over a bit but not fully, we could help them move the rest of the way at first.

We could stimulate their brains partly by getting them used to the sound of us talking right from the beginning. Long before they come out with any words, they'll be putting together sounds in their minds and trying them out. Talking to them will encourage them to do that. We can give names to objects, people and animals when the baby sees them, often point to body parts and say their names, tell them what we're doing, and read them little nursery rhymes or simple stories from books for young children, showing them the pictures.

We could take the baby to a variety of places so it has different experiences, such as going to the park, to the supermarket, to museums and so on. We could take the baby on buses as well as travelling in cars with them, and maybe sometimes even in taxis. We could give them changes of scenery even at home, sometimes putting their baby seat in front of a mirror, or near a window, but not near enough that the baby risks falling out of it. We could put the baby in the middle of the sitting-room carpet to watch things from there, or in the middle of the bed while we're folding clean clothes. We could put their push chair in the kitchen while we prepare food in there so they can see what we're doing, and so on.

Whatever we do, stimulating their senses needs to be fun for them. It's play first, learning second.

Playing With the Baby as They Become More Active

The book What to Expect the First Year says when a baby's just learning to walk, toys it can hold onto and push along can give it more confidence because holding onto them can help it stay steady on its feet.

Oh yes, my sister's baby started enjoying pushing a doll's buggy around when she was learning to walk. She would reach up above her head and hold onto the handles, and walk around with it for ages. She loved it. Then she was bought a toy she could push along but that also had things on it she could play with, like bits she could move and different things would happen. She loves that as well.

The book says for the baby who isn't quite walking, they can be encouraged to try if enticing objects are put just up out of their reach, so they have to pull themselves up and move along a bit to get them.

Oh yes, my sister said when her baby was just learning to walk, she'd walk a few steps between her and her husband and back again for practise. First, my sister could tell she was thinking about whether she'd be able to make the distance. Then she'd take a few steps, and fling herself the rest of the way at the person she was nearest.

The book says babies love to climb up steps and over things. We can let them, within reason, but we should always be there to supervise them when they do in case they look as if they might fall.

A baby who isn't particularly lively might be encouraged to be more active by a playful parent getting down on the floor with them and crawling off, encouraging the baby to catch them, or playfully chasing them in a way that'll make the baby laugh and want to move.

A timid child might be reluctant to do anything adventurous. A parent can encourage them to be a bit bolder by giving moral and physical support at first, for instance going up and down a slide with the baby until they're happy to go on their own. They should never be pressured into doing anything, since that might put them off more. But they can be encouraged to go at their own pace. A lot of babies won't be confident about walking on their own at first. A parent can walk with them holding their hand or both their hands to begin with.

The book says it's nice to get a baby interested in the world by taking them out to entertaining places. They can be taken around parks, and even around museums. The book says toddlers are often fascinated by paintings and statues. It says there are even children's museums in some areas. It suggests we could take the baby around shopping centres where there are lots of interesting things in shop windows to look at, and maybe sometimes to restaurants that let babies in. Pet shops might be nice places to go. It even suggests taking them around toy shops. They'd have to be too young to start demanding we buy toys for them!

Another thing that can provide a lot of enjoyment for babies of around a year old is scribbling with crayons. The book says taping the paper to the table, the floor or something else to stop it sliding around can be a good idea, and the baby can be taught not to scribble with the crayons where they're not supposed to by having the crayons confiscated if we say no but they carry on. We can take them away if they chew them as well.

It says we shouldn't give them pens or pencils to play with at that age, except under close supervision, since if they wave them near their eyes, the sharp points could seriously injure their eyes.

It says some toddlers love finger painting, though some don't like their hands getting dirty.

Babies will often enjoy making music, playing around with things that make interesting sounds. Tapping a teaspoon on cups with different amounts of water in them can sometimes make different notes, for example. If we demonstrate, we could then encourage the baby to do the same.

Most babies also enjoy putting things in and taking them out.

Oh yes, my sister's baby loves pulling books and CD's off shelves. She likes to take them all out so they're all over the floor. She hasn't learned how to put them back in though.

The book suggests we could either buy toys where a baby takes things out of something and puts them in, or we could use ordinary things around the house, such as boxes and cups. We could fill a basket or box with lots of small things, though not small enough to fit in the baby's mouth and be a choking hazard, and then they could have fun taking them all out. We might have to help them put them in at first.

It says babies often love pouring things from a jug to a bowl or a small cup to a big cup and that kind of thing. Things like sand, uncooked rice or water. We could only set that kind of thing up for them to play with in the bath or their high chair perhaps, unless they're outside. We'll need to supervise them to make sure nothing bad happens.

Babies can really enjoy toys with a lot of things on them that do things like make noises or reveal pictures when turned or pushed and pulled. A parent might have to show them several times how to do some of the things before they get the hang of it, but when they have, it could absorb them for some time.

We could play good games with them without toys. One is a follow the leader game, where one of the people in the room does an action, everyone else does it one by one, then the baby's encouraged to do it. It might often be daddy doing something first, then mummy, then baby. For instance, at first it could be clapping, then waving the arms in the air, then making a funny face, and so on. At first, the baby will have to be prompted to do the actions, but eventually they'll work out that they're supposed to do them themselves after the person before them. When they've got the hang of the game, they could even be the leader sometimes. It could be fun.

Reading a book

Most babies will also be interested in books and magazines with pictures in them. We could show them all kinds of interesting things, pictures of animals and flowers and so on. The book recommends we read to the baby several times a day, showing them the pictures in what we're reading. They might seem to get bored quickly, but that's just because small children have a short attention span. A few minutes of enjoyable reading several times a day could make for someone who likes reading later. There are lots of fun children's books around.

I know my sister reads books to her baby that have got pictures of animals and things with raised bits on them. For instance, if it mentions fur on an animal, it has a bit that feels furry.

The book What to Expect the First Year says all kinds of things could be transformed in a toddler's imagination into other things for a 'Let's pretend' game. Toy dishes and pretend food could be played with, the toddler imagining they were real. We wouldn't even have to have things like that. We could just ask them to imagine certain situations when they're old enough to communicate with us.

That reminds me. When my brother was little, he one day imagined someone kept being sick, and their sick gradually rose to the level of a swimming pool, there was so much of it. He didn't have anything to help him imagine such a thing, he just enjoyed doing it all by himself. My sister's older daughter liked to imagine she was a baby. She would pretend to cry. My brother said he was puzzled about why toddlers would have just grown out of that stage and then want to go through all the pain of being a baby again! But I'm sure playing doesn't feel that bad. I used to play games with her she used to enjoy. One that made her laugh was a game where I pretended to put a baby bottle in a microwave and turn it on and then forget about it and then imagine it was an hour later and I was horrified it had been in there that long, so I put another one in there and this time didn't put it in for long enough. We didn't use a bottle or a microwave, just our imaginations.

Another thing that used to make her laugh was when I used to take a jumper off, saying I was too hot, and then I'd say, "Oh no, it's too cold! It's too cold!" and pretend to shiver, and put it back on again. Then I'd say, "Oh no, it's too hot! I'm too hot now! I need to take it off!" Then I'd take it off and say I was too cold and quickly put it on. I'd put it on and take it off several times in a row, and it always made her laugh.

My brother's little boy can be a good actor. Once, he was sitting on a stool, and my mum told him he ought to be careful or he'd fall off and hurt himself. He got off the stool, lay down and started pretending to cry. It was so realistic my brother rushed into the room wondering what was wrong.

The book says a child just beginning to reach toddlerhood might not have the attention span to concentrate on anything for long. It's best to just be patient and tolerate that, rather than risking aggravating them by pushing them to do something they don't want to do.

It says giving them a bit of applause when they've mastered a new skill can encourage them to achieve new things and make them happy, but it's best not to give too much, or they'll come to rely on it and not want to do anything demanding unless they're getting encouragement and recognition for it.

Teaching Babies to Play on Their Own

Tiny babies won't want to play at all, but there will come a time when they want to explore the world around them, deciding what they want to play with.

When Babies Are Under Six Weeks

At that age, feeding and sleeping are all we can expect from a baby - that's all they'll be able to manage to do. While they're feeding, it can be good to talk softly to them to keep them awake. If we manage to keep them up for 15 minutes after their feed it can be good because it can help them learn that feeding times are times to stay awake. But if they do fall asleep during their feed it doesn't matter; some babies can only stay awake for five minutes at a time at first, but they'll be able to stay awake for longer and longer as time goes on.


We don't have to worry about toys at that stage; what they really want in the first weeks of life is to see our face and those of others around us. A big thing for an only-recently born baby is a trip to granny's, or to be shown things around the house. It can be a good thing to give the baby a running commentary as if they understand what's being said, since even at that age, they understand tone of voice and they'll like being engaged with by a friendly face and voice. Also, they can be put near a window so they can see what's going on outside.

When the Baby's Between Six and Twelve Weeks Old

A baby can play or amuse themselves for about 15 minutes on their own then, but it's best if they don't have too much going on around them, since they can easily be over-stimulated. Calmly sitting still and looking at their surroundings can be nice. It's best not to sit them in front of the television, since that can be too much to take in at once. Letting them sit near us wherever we go and observe us can be nice for them, especially if we chat to them about what we're doing from time to time, though it is best if they have some time amusing themselves on their own, because otherwise, it's possible they might become dependent on us for their amusement, and that could be awkward later, because it'll mean they'll keep wanting our attention and we won't get so much time free to do what we want, and they might feel a bit anxious without us. Still, it's nice to show them things and do things they enjoy with them. And there will be time enough for weaning them away from us later. They'll be bound to develop new interests as they grow older, and will likely just develop a liking for playing on their own naturally.

That reminds me. When my sister's baby was a few weeks old, her older daughter used to sit her in front of the computer with her and play a song on YouTube. It had the words in green going across the screen. The baby enjoyed it, and they soon started calling it her tune.

As for babies playing on their own, I remember my brother's wife saying her little boy started playing more on his own after he went to nursery school, where he played on his own sometimes. Before then, she'd taught him quite a lot of things. He could write his name and count to quite a high number, and talk well. He could say all the letters of the alphabet before he was 2.

Still, I heard a couple of my young relatives discussing how one of them had been taught to read earlier than most children, and the other one hadn't learned till she was about seven, but there was no difference in intelligence between them. And I once heard that Einstein was a late developer. At least late learning to walk.

Still, I've read that babies' brains can become more developed when parents spend time showing them things, teaching them things, talking to them and playing with them, and the results can be seen years later when they're compared to kids who didn't get much at all of that when they were babies.

When a Baby's Between Three and Six Months

The book The Baby Whisperer says A baby that age will probably be able to play for about 20 minutes on their own before getting fretful. When they do, we could put them in their cot to calm down, since after all, it'll soon be their nap time.

It'll still be important not to over-stimulate them, watching out for cues they're getting tired. They'll start responding to us and those around us, smiling and laughing when we smile at them and make funny faces and so on. But suddenly they might get fed up and start crying. They'll be telling us they're a bit tired and want to be left alone or put to bed.


They won't just be lying there any more, but will likely be more active, reaching out for things. But because they're not yet that good at knowing how the body works, they might do things that hurt them, like sticking their hand right in their mouth as if they want to eat it and gagging on it, pulling their own ears or scratching their hands with their own fingernails. The book says all babies poke themselves. It says parents tend to panic, suddenly rushing to them and scooping them up in their arms. But they often do it so quickly it frightens the baby, as if they think something must be seriously wrong. So a better thing to do can be to sympathise a bit but at the same time making light of it and smiling in a friendly way, such as saying something like, "Silly Billy! You've just hurt yourself; ouch!"

When a Baby's Between Six and Nine Months Old

The baby will probably be able to amuse themselves for about half an hour, though it'll be nice to change their position, such as from sitting in a baby chair to lying on their back in their cot looking up at a mobile. They'll be interested in playing with more stimulating toys, and they might think it's fun to be sung nursery rhymes, especially ones with actions.

There's no need to pick them up every time they cry after having done five minutes or so of an activity; reassuring them we're there for them and distracting them with another toy can sometimes be best, especially since if we pick them up every time, they might learn that crying gets them picked up and do it more often, and then they might not be so good at playing on their own. That might mean they want to be held so much of the time we don't get as much housework as we want to done.

But of course, we'll have to try to make sure they're not crying because of discomfort, such as if they're tired or because they feel daunted because too much is going on around them, such as older children playing lively games, someone using a loud vacuum cleaner near them, and so on. If we think they're being disturbed because too much is going on, we could take them somewhere quiet to calm down. That could be somewhere indoors, or we could take them for a walk somewhere peaceful outside if we can, maybe talking to them gently about the things around us. A walk in the fresh air can be refreshing.

The book What to Expect the First Year says picking up on the baby's cues, paying attention to what they're trying to communicate, for instance calming things down when they're over-excited and livening things up when they're bored and so on, is more valuable than the advice of any expert on how to play with them. If they seem tired of something, it'll just put them off more if we continue to try to interest them in it. Or if they want to look at one thing, it's best not to try to pull them away to play with something we were planning for them to play with, but instead to be interested in it with them. Babies only have short attention spans anyway. That means that if we do interest them in something but they quickly lose interest, it won't mean they're snubbing us, but that they can't concentrate for longer.

When they're playing, it's best not to hover over them as if we're worried they're not safe, or they might get the impression something's wrong. It'll also keep them looking to us for attention instead of finding out there are lots of interesting things around them to pay attention to, such as any nearby toys, the sound of a fire engine outside, the feel of their fingers and toes, and so on. Babies like to explore the world independently to some extent, but they like to be reassured someone's there for them when they want them, so we ought to let them crawl into our laps when they want to.

It can be nice for children to go to a play group with their mothers. They don't play with other children at that age, but they like to observe them, and the more they're around other children, the more confident they'll often feel around them.

When a Baby's Between Nine Months and a Year Old

Jumping in leaves

A baby might well be able to play on its own for 45 minutes by this age, doing more complicated things than before. Playing with sand or water can be fun. If they've learned to be happy playing on their own, they'll be more trusting that if we're gone, we will come back.

They might well want new and more complicated toys. If they're bored of their old toys, they'll be more likely to rely on grown-ups for their entertainment unless they're given new things to play with.

Something that can make teaching a toddler to do new things like dressing and going to the toilet on their own easier is if we try to make a game out of it so they enjoy it, or at least make it a likeable experience for them. If they don't enjoy learning, they're much more likely to be slower to learn and whiny, and neither of us will enjoy the experience.

Part Five
The Importance of Talking to the Baby and What It's Worth Saying

Even before the baby can understand what we say, they'll still like it if we're willing to communicate with them, looking into their eyes and chatting with them in response to any sounds they make as if we are having a conversation. That way, they'll pick up the sounds parts of words make that'll help them learn to talk; and they'll feel more as if they're part of the family and like the attention.


Long before they show they can understand what's being said, babies can understand individual words. And before they can do that, they can learn them more quickly if we repeat them a lot. That'll be helpful because for one thing, we can tell them it's time for certain things and they'll learn to know what's coming. For instance, if we say, "Let's put the toys away now; it's nearly bath time", they'll come to understand why we're putting their toys away.

It'll also help give them warning of things once they get to learn and understand. So it can be worth telling them we're about to do things to them so they get to understand that we're not just manhandling them when we move their limbs or something. For instance, we could say, "I'm going to lift your legs up and put your nappy on now", or, "We're going to the park now and it's cold out there so I'm going to put your winter coat on".

Even if they can't understand a word we're saying, they'll be able to pick some things up from our tone of voice just as pets can. They'll know if we're saying something angrily or comfortingly and so on. So talking to them could soothe them even if they don't understand our words. For instance, if we're at the doctor's and we say to the baby calmly, "Don't worry; the doctor needs to examine you, that's all. I'll be right here by your side", they might not understand our words, but if we sound soothing and they trust us, they'll be reassured things are allright.

Also, talking to babies helps them learn individual sounds words make. The book What to Expect the First Year says it can even be good to explain to them everything we're doing while they're watching us throughout the day, since it'll help them pick up word sounds and get us talking to them, which can encourage them to practice talking. Before they understand words, they'll be practising individual syllables.

The book says studies show that talking with babies helps them learn to talk earlier than just talking to them; so that would mean saying something to them and pausing afterwards as if we expect an answer from them before carrying on. As they learn to babble, they might start doing that in the pauses. And one day, they'll learn to say yes or no. So, for instance, we could sometimes say, "Shall we change your nappy now?" and then pause for a few seconds, and then say something like, "Yes let's. Come on."

And when they coo and babble, we can imitate them. Some babies like that. Some of their babbling is really practising to say words. So the more words they hear from us, and the more we show we're listening to them talking baby language and imitating them, the more they'll think about it. Another reason they like being imitated is because it seems to please them that what they say matters.

Babies also often love to be sung to. We could sing our favourite songs to music, or nursery rhymes sometimes.

My sister's baby loves to be sung a song from a telephone advert.

The book says babies love it when we do actions to the songs.

Oh yes, my brother sings his little boy that "Row, row, row your boat" song with actions. It always makes the boy laugh.

The book says though it's important to talk to a baby, we need to watch out for cues they want a bit of peace and quiet. They won't want constant talking all day. When they stop paying attention or start fussing, it might mean they want a rest from it.

It recommends that while a baby's just getting familiar with words, we refer to ourselves as Mummy and the baby's daddy as Daddy and so on, because it's easier for a baby to learn who we're talking about than if we use words like 'you', 'your' and 'I', which refer to different people at different times so it could be confusing for a baby for a while.

My sister's always talked to her baby girl. When her baby was a year old or so, she understood a few words and would respond to them. When my sister said it was time for food, the baby would go in the kitchen. When my sister said it was bath time, she would go to the bathroom. It was funny one day; my sister was at our parents' house. The baby might have been a bit bored because there wasn't much going on. Our mum asked my sister if she'd like her to get some toys down from upstairs. My sister said no because they were going soon. Her baby got up and ran to the front door; she understood the word 'going'. Perhaps she was longing to go and do something more fun.

At the moment, my sister's teaching her some new words. She says, "Show me your legs" and the baby points to her legs. She says "Show me your ear" and the baby can show her where her ears are. The other day, she'd just eaten something in her high chair and my sister asked her to give her her hand so she could clean it. The baby gave her her hand. Then my sister asked her to give her her other hand. She gave her the same one. It seems she doesn't know what the word "other" means yet. But she probably will soon enough. It's more of a difficult concept to grasp than a word that means something like a body part; it's more abstract.


This article is written slightly differently from most articles. All the information in each article in this series is written as if by someone finding out a lot of helpful information for the first time, just learning about it. That person themselves isn't real; they're just a representative of a lot of others suffering the same thing. Any little anecdotes they tell about their personal lives or those of people they know almost always have really happened though, usually either to the author or to someone else known to the author. The article comes with a very short story about them to set the scene, and presents all the self-help information as if it's what they're finding out and what they think of it.

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The Story


Mary has just had a baby a few days ago, but she's beginning to feel quite discouraged about looking after it - the prospect seems so daunting, and she knows her life is going to change a lot and she won't have the freedoms she once did and will miss her former workmates and the fun times they sometimes had. She wouldn't feel nearly so bad, but she's tired and grumpy from being kept up half the night by the baby's crying. She doesn't know how to stop it, and thinks that if this is what it'll be like for the next couple of years, she doesn't know how she'll be able to bear it. She wouldn't feel so bad, but her husband isn't very supportive, and she's feeling unhappy because they've been arguing quite a bit over the past months.

She's also scared by the prospect of looking after a baby, because her parents aren't living nearby to help her, and there are so many things she's unsure about. She begins to feel isolated and anxious. She knows one or two people who've had babies fairly recently and has spoken to them about it a bit, but she feels she can't keep bothering them for advice, especially since they don't live nearby.

She decides to find a couple of self-help books about looking after babies to give her some good advice. She hopes she'll become more confident with a bit of good advice and some practice.

She finds the books helpful, although she thinks she'll take the advice she likes the sound of and skip the rest. As she reads, she gets some good ideas, and her mind is put at ease quite a bit because she feels she's getting quite a bit of the help she needs. She thinks through what she's reading as she's going along.

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