Baby behaviour Q&As answered by our health visitor

Whether you’re struggling to get your little one to sleep, or just can’t cope with any more crying, our health visitor answers your baby behaviour problems

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Q. I feel like a bad mum as I can’t stand my baby’s cries and I’m not able to comfort him. What can I do?

A. Many new mums feel like you do, some more often than others. A baby’s cries are designed to get his mum responding and trying to work out how to help – he’s not trying to make you feel bad, he just has no other option. At times when you’re tired, hungry, or fed up this can be overwhelming so talk to your health visitor or doctor, as it may be that you’re experiencing post-natal depression. And remember, they’re there to help you, not judge.

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Q. My 3-week-old baby cries a lot and I’m having a difficult time settling her – is this normal?

A. It’s not unusual for some babies to cry for long periods, without an obvious reason, but it’s worth remembering that a newborn baby normally increases the amount of crying she does between two and six weeks. This is because during this time, she’s developing her level of trust that someone is there trying to help her.

At the same time as she’s learning something new, you – as a new mum – are learning what you can do to soothe her. Just try to relax and trust that things will start to improve from around six weeks.

In the meantime though, stick with working through your list of reasons as to why she might be crying. Is she hungry? Or does she need winding, a change of nappy or simply a cuddle?

Make sure you take regular breaks and sleep as much as you can, and see your doctor if the crying is excessive.

Q. My baby is really clingy and just screams if anyone else other than me tries to hold her. Is this normal behaviour?

A. It probably feels like she’s the only baby behaving this way, but believe me this is completely normal. At around 8 months, babies begin to realise that their mum isn’t magically joined to them, and it can really throw them into confusion. If she can’t see you, to her it’s as if you’ve gone away. Even worse, she has no concept that you’ll be back, even if you’ve said something soothing to her. So babies have to learn by experience that just because you’re out of sight doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten her or gone for good. This is more quickly reinforced by gentle reassurance, keeping her close to you and not insisting she goes to others if she’s not comfortable. In a few months it will pass, and in the meantime, playing games like peek-a-boo – hiding behind a blanket to quickly reveal yourself again – will help her learn that even though she can’t see someone, they’re still there.

Q: My newborn makes noises in her sleep and sometimes seems not to breathe for a few seconds. I’m so worried I can’t drop off myself. Is this normal?

A: It’s certainly not unusual for a new mum to be constantly checking her baby when she’s sleeping. Research indicates that having your little one sleep in the same room as you helps reduce the likelihood of cot death, but it can also disturb your own sleep until you get used to it. Babies make a variety of noises during their sleep cycle, and breathing patterns vary and will sometimes stop for 5-10 seconds. This is perfectly normal, and as long as your baby’s colour isn’t blue, grey or very pale and she’s breathing with ease, it’s nothing to worry about. Take steps to further reduce any risk, such as putting your baby to sleep on her back with her feet towards the base of the cot, not letting her overheat, and keeping her away from smoky environments. Keep her cot next to you as well, and have a night light on so you can check her through the night. In time, your confidence will grow.

Q: My baby was born 6 weeks early. She cries a lot and I feel she doesn’t like me. What can I do?

A: It sounds as if you and your baby have had a lot to cope with. Being born early can come as a huge shock and the uncertainty can dent your confidence as a new mum. Babies may also experience some of these feelings and you’ll both need time to adjust.

Her crying is actually an attempt to keep you near – you’re the one she wants and needs to comfort and reassure her.

Talk through your worries. It’s normal to feel like this, so share your thoughts with your family and friends, health visitor or doctor. Keep your baby near and carry her in a sling if you can. Join a baby massage class so you can learn some techniques and get to know each other. In time she’ll settle and your confidence will grow.

Q. My 7-month-old baby will only go to sleep in my arms, and wakes regularly in the night. I’m exhausted, how can I get her to sleep better?

A. Some small changes to how your baby settles to sleep will really help here. The main thing you need to change is the fact she falls asleep in your arms. She needs to be put down to sleep where she’ll wake up (i.e. in her cot) so that when she begins to wake at night, she’s in a familiar place. Changing her routine won’t be a quick fix but you can start tonight. Begin with a night-time routine of bath, feed, quiet time for a book, song or music and then put her into her cot while she’s getting sleepy, but still awake. Go back to her at five-minute intervals, and check she’s OK. Avoid too much fuss, say very little, try not to pick her up and leave the room again – then repeat this as needed. It may take some time for the first few nights, but persistence is crucial. If it really isn’t working an alternative is to sit quietly near the cot, touching or stroking her.

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Q: My baby won’t settle when I put her down on her back, so sometimes I put her on her side, but is she more at risk of cot death?

A: I can understand your worry – putting babies to sleep on their backs is a good way to reduce cot death risk. From around 5 to 6 months most babies start to roll over, but it’s not something that needs to be corrected after this age. Persist in encouraging her to sleep on her back, as the more you do it, the more likely she is to get used to it and settle which will also put your mind at rest. To help reduce the risk of cot death further, keep your baby in a smoke free atmosphere; put her to sleep in her own cot, with her feet touching the bottom of the crib, in your room for the first six months; never put her in bed with your if you or your partner have been drinking alcohol, using drugs, smoking or are exceptionally tired; don’t even fall asleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair; don’t let her get too hot – 18 ˚C is a safe room temperature. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of cot death.

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