Baby Signals are Grandchildren’s Signals Forever and Not Just About Feeding A Hungry Baby

well-family-babyWhen I read the New York Times article on June 19, 2017, “Cranky Baby? Feeding Isn’t the Only Answer,” by Dr. Perri Klass, that “[f]eeding a hungry baby can seem like one of the most basic tasks of parenthood, but right from the beginning, the way an individual baby eats, gains weight and grows is a complicated parent-child mix of behavior and biology,” and that there is a study, the Insight Study, to examine the effects of helping parents learn strategies to read their babies’ signals, I realized that we grandmas did not need a study to give us such insight.

From birth, our youngest smiled and demanded her way.  I realized early as a parent that our babies’ temperaments were visible at birth and I could and needed to adapt my parenting style to that apparent temperament.  As parents, we were the ‘hands-on’ caregivers, and, in our generation, most of us had the luxury of caring for our babies full time longer than today’s parents.  In our grandchildren’s generation, the parents of our grandchildren are likely to be working soon after the grandchildren are born.  They may not have the luxury of time for examining and tuning into temperament so easily.  So, now we have studies.

This Grandma did her own study of temperament and signals with each grandchild, spending several weeks to after birth with each and spending time with them once a month as babies.  I wanted them to know me but I also wanted to know them.  New studies helped us grandmas too.  Yes, I am so happy that the studies about holding babies and not spoiling them came out when I became a new grandmother.  I was able to hold the newborns for hours at end.

Just recently spending a lot of time with our soon to be ten year old grandson, I was able to tell him that he was tired.   He asked how I knew.  I told him, that since birth, when he is tired, he ever so slightly purses his lips and moves his lips as if sucking.  He was so surprised and I laughed.  Yes, he agreed that I know when he is tired.  He does this instinctively and does not realize that he does it.  Until now.  By holding him for hours as a newborn, I could identify not only his temperament and adjust how to care for him, I could identify his unique ‘signals’ and share those with his working parents.  Now, I can share the signals with the grandchild himself.

If you are able as a grandma, try to spend a period of time, a few weeks with the newborn grandchild, and then another few weeks after a month or two.  See the baby grandchild for a few days a month thereafter.  It is amazing what we can learn from newborns and babies.  Yes, with grandmas historically rising to the role of caretaker of grandchildren, grandmas must have for generations been doing such studies of her individual grandchildren!

Now back to Dr. Klass’ reporting on the study by “Dr. Ian Paul, a professor of pediatrics and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, is one of the leaders of the Insight Study, an intervention which started in 2011 to look at the effects of helping parents learn “responsive parenting” strategies that help them read their babies’ signals. “Many people tell mothers to feed on demand, but they never define what ‘on demand’ is,” he said.”

The study included strategies for soothing babies, and teaching parents to recognize whether a baby was actually hungry and needed to be fed or crying for other reasons.  Dr. Paul mentioned feeding a baby a sweet liquid to see if the baby is hungry, as a baby who is not hungry, but distressed, will calm down.  He said this is not a good idea.  Of course, not.  Our insight precedes his “Insight Study.” We grandmas know that is why we give a pacifier to a newborn.  There are so many articles about the pros and cons of a pacifier.  However, the articles always talk about the three year old walking around with a pacifier in his or her mouth.   As a grandma, and watching the baby nurse with four grandchildren, I learned that a pacifier helped with the sucking needs of the newborn.  The baby nurse was quick to remove the baby from the mother’s breast when she said the baby was ‘patsying’ which, according to her, meant just exercising sucking needs.  She taught us that all that was going to happen if the baby was allowed to remain on the breast just sucking was bleeding nipples.  She grabbed the pacifier and we grandmas know to do that too.

When to take away a pacifier from a baby is another topic of many articles.  This grandma has found, from experience, that about three months is when the pacifier can disappear, with some crying but not too much drama or trauma.  That is when this Grandma recommends substituting a soothing stuffed animal or soothing blanket.  Yes, you guessed it.  Those soothing items are the subject of many more articles of when to remove.  Our youngest daughter had the best idea.  She used a few different soothing blankets, so when one could not be found, the baby was happy with another.  I was not so smart, and spent much time searching for the one soothing blanket when no other would serve the crying baby.

In the intervention provided by his Insight Study, he said that parents learn to recognize what is actually hunger, since hungry babies, of course, need to be fed, and they also learn alternative strategies for soothing babies who are crying for other reasons. In the study, Dr. Paul taught the parents to “try to calm a crying infant using strategies other than feeding, including swaddling, re-positioning, playing white noise, and rocking, and they are also given information about how much crying is normal for babies at a given age.”  My mother, GG (great grandmother) taught me how to swaddle with our first child.  She said it was the “European way.”  Now we know it is the best way to calm the newborn, who is used to being in tight quarters.  I still cringe when I see a newborn not swaddled.  I know that the parent of the newborn could use Dr. Paul’s training.  Yes, GG taught me “the European way’ to take a infant receiving blanket and roll it up lengthwise to let the baby re-position almost on a side.  Yes, GG taught me soothing song and rocking, but our children, and even our grandchildren, as soon as they are able, ask me to stop singing.  Somehow, I think the rocking motion we grandmas automatically make holding a newborn is also instinct.  White noise is something that this Grandma is not familiar with and was not taught by GG, but all of the other techniques, again, grandmas worldwide seem to have mastered over generations.

The rest of the New York Times article seemed to be about obesity and how it is a world problem.  The results from the study showed that, after training of their parents, babies slept better and were less likely to be overweight.  It seemed that ‘signals” took a back seat to training parents so babies are not overweight? GG’s babies were heavy at birth and tended to be on the heavy side, but neither my brother or I had weight problems, until later adulthood.  Can we blame our mother today at age 70 for that?  There is another baby and eating study mentioned in the New York Times article, “The Gemini study in Britain, which has been tracking 2,400 sets of twins born in Britain in 2007, offers useful insights on differences in appetite.”  If you are interested in this study and more about feeding and obesity in babies and beyond, read the entire New York Times article.

This Grandma is most interested in Dr. Paul’s training on “responsive parenting guidance,” as it goes into how to read one’s newborn and how to care for each unique baby.  He said it is not necessarily provided as part of standard well baby care, as safety training is.   He said pediatricians tell new parents to feed newborns every three hours but do not tell them when to stop doing that.  That is where grandma comes in.

I liked the quotes in the New York Times article from Dr. Julie Lumeng, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan, not focusing on the obesity part of Dr. Paul’s study which she said “shed important light on feeding dynamics in early life,” but focusing on recognizing the unique temperament and knowing each unique newborn and baby.

She is quoted in the article:

“Different babies may make different demands on their parents. “A lot of my research is on what is the infant bringing to the table.”

“Babies are born with different temperaments and I don’t think it’s crazy to say that some babies are voracious eaters and some are not and they require different kinds of parenting.”

We grandmas know that some newborns are just easy.  We grandmas know that some newborns are just hard.  We know the most exhausted parents of newborns are those who have the hard babies, who are most demanding of their time and energy.  I can remember saying and hearing often, “if I had this baby first, there would not be a second.”  It is a joy when a new parent has an easy baby, so there is more time to appreciate and learn the baby’s signals.  Learning a hard baby’s signals similarly eases parenting.

We grandmas are the experts.  We know the soothing techniques that Dr. Paul considers part of “responsive parenting” training.  It is nice to be validated by Dr. Lumeng that each newborn and baby is unique and we should concentrate on knowing each baby’s “signals.”

We grandmas have the luxury of time to help the parents of our grandchildren. They may not know about the Insight Study and that newborns and babies have distinctive signals to help us give them what they want or need.  We are calmer with experience, but we are more knowledgeable too with experience. Yes, we have to be delicate with any advice, but demonstration is the best method.  We can share what we learned from our mothers that worked, and we can share what “signals” we learn after holding our precious grandchildren for hours. After all, we want that second, and third, and fourth grandchild.

And, it is helpful to know when our grandchild is tired or hungry, at any age.





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