Learning how to read your baby's signals

Beth Anderson Health Guide
  • A new reality show premiered the other day. The Baby Borrowers on NBC is about five teen couples who believe that they are ready to start families. Instead of giving them an egg, a bag of flour or a doll that cries, the producers give them real babies.


    One of the promos for the show was a clip of a baby puking and the teens almost losing their lunch at the sight. Baby barf on prime time? This I have to see! The promo also said this reality show doubles as birth control. My kids are 17 and 20 and a few of their friends are starting to have babies. My foster son just had a baby so that makes me an honorary grandma! Yikes, I'm too young!

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    Watching the show brought back nightmares. One of the main things I noticed about the teens is that they were not very good at figuring out what the babies needed.

    I'm so incredibly grateful that my first baby was easy to "read." I always knew what he wanted. Yes, his hungry cry sounded like he was being murdered, but at least I knew exactly what to do. He even had a certain cry when his diapers were wet - sort of a whiny, annoying cry.


    It was much harder with my little GERD-ling. Her signals were so confusing. No matter what I did, she would cry and arch. Occasionally, she would feed like a greedy pig, but it would only last a few seconds before she started to shriek again.


    It was scary to watch the teens on The Baby Borrowers try to figure out what to do. The parents were next door watching on the cameras that were mounted in every room. And trained nannies were standing near the teens to keep the babies safe. But some of these teens were getting very frustrated. And the babies who were part of this experiment were not particularly difficult or fussy.


    Some of the teens were experienced babysitters and they did a lot better with the babies. But it was even hard for them to figure out what their borrowed babies needed. A few times, the real parents would come next door and try to help the teens. One dad was great in his approach. He pointed out that his daughter was acting frustrated because the teens were holding her too much and she wanted to get down on the floor and explore. He demonstrated by putting his daughter on the floor on her back and watching her turn over. He pointed out very nicely to the teens how to read his baby's cues.


    I am a big fan of "hands-on" learning. But hands-on is not the same thing as throwing somebody in the deep end and hoping they figure out how to swim.


    Hands-on caretaking means hanging out with an experienced mom for several hours before flying solo. Hands-on means watching somebody take care of THIS baby in THIS environment. Hands-on means the experienced caregiver keeps up a play-by-play explanation of what they are going and why BEFORE they expect the new caretaker to it out.


    I still remember the first time I tried to change a baby's diaper. I set her down with her head to the right, and I must have used a dozen wipes and 5 minutes to get her clean.  I was probably 15 and babysitting an infant for the first time. My mom laughed and showed me the simpler way. First of all, I'm right handed so setting the baby with her bottom toward my left hand was foolish. And I immediately saw the wisdom in using the old diaper to scrape the baby's bottom mostly clean. Fumbling around just made me feel stupid. Getting a constant play-by-play might have felt stupid except that my mom didn't critique my methods (horrible!), she just demonstrated hers. She also gave me a gracious way of accepting help. She told me she was teaching me a faster method (not a better one) so there was less chance of me throwing up during a diaper change.


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    Even experienced moms can learn from other experienced moms. My son was a barrel of energy and diaper changes were a huge challenge. Then a friend pointed out that playing "chase the runaway baby" just before a diaper change was probably not my best plan. My son just continued the game and kept trying to escape during the diaper change.


    So how does this all relate to acid reflux? There are tons of secrets to caring for a child with reflux. Instead of reinventing the wheel, learn as many as you can from other parents.


    You can learn a lot of tricks for caring for your child with reflux by reading the practical chapters in The Reflux Book. If you know another mom who had a GERD-ling, ask her to take care of your baby for an hour while you watch. See if you can figure out why her techniques are working. Maybe she does everything exactly the way you do but your baby stops crying. The lesson in this is that your baby is able to ignore her pain better when she has somebody new and different to look at. Maybe the solution is to go to the park and let the other moms there hold your baby and talk to her.


    There is one other resource for parents who need help reading their baby's cues. Doulas are mothers who are specially trained to come to your house and help you learn everything from basic parenting skills like baths, to advanced skills like feeding a baby who isn't thrilled about eating. Most doulas have lots of experience with reflux. Geri Levrini who runs Mother and Baby Matters in Reston, Virginia tells me that many of their clients call for help because their babies have reflux. As with any homecare workers, be sure your doula is trained and insured.

Published On: July 01, 2008