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  Last Updated on 07/13/2018

Understanding your baby’s cries


MSNBC, January 20, 2003

New book offers tips to help parents learn how to calm fussy babies

Knowing what to do when your baby fusses and learning how to understand why he or she is upset is often a very difficult job for new parents. But there is help. In his new book, “Calming Your Fussy Baby,” pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton helps parents interpret the very first cries of an infant, and shows them how to respond in effective ways. He discusses the book and his approach on “Today.” Read an excerpt below.

How Your Baby Communicates

The most expectable question I receive as a pediatrician from new parents as they prepare to take their newborn baby home is, “How will I ever know how to nurture this baby? How will I know what she wants and needs?”

My answer is, “Learn to watch your baby. Her behavior will guide you. When she likes what you are doing, she’ll tell you with her face and her whole body. She’ll brighten, her body will wiggle, and her arms and legs will reach out. When she doesn’t, it will be just as apparent. She’ll stiffen, turn away, and begin to fuss or to cry. Babies give you clear cues, if you are watching for them.”

“But how will I know how to keep from making mistakes?”

“You won’t. Learning to parent is learning from mistakes. In fact, you learn more from your mistakes than you do from successes.”

Since every parent wants to “do it right,” my best advice is to learn the language of your baby. Her behavior is her language.

The test that I designed for new babies (the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale, NBAS; see the www.brazelton-institute.com Web site for information on the new, shorter CLNBAS) allows a newborn baby’s behavior to be “read” and shared with parents. By watching — with a trained observer — the baby’s responses to sights, sounds, and other sensations, and watching her move from sleeping to an alert state, new parents can discover many aspects of their newborn’s personality, or temperament. The baby’s amazing skills can be pointed out by a trained nurse, doctor, or other healthcare professional to help alert parents to ways of handling their new baby. With my scale, parents can watch their newborn shut out disturbing sensations, come awake, and respond to a rattle, to a red ball, and to a human face. They can learn what to expect, and what behavior they may be able to shape or not — when to feed and when to let the newborn sleep. Right from the first parents can learn to understand the way different babies respond to the world, whether a quiet, sensitive baby, a very active, driving baby, or any baby in between.

When parents get a chance to watch all of these different kinds of behavior in the newborn nursery, they can begin to understand their baby as a person. These responses in the nursery can be a model for parents when they start out at home with their newborn. Hospital stays for labor and delivery are so short these days that expectant parents might ask ahead for this kind of demonstration. New parents bring so much passion to getting to know their new baby. Soon both they and the baby begin to fall in love. Now they can start to fit their hopes and experience to the individuality of their baby as a person.




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