Caring for a Crying Baby Can Elicit Stress
Babies feel what their mothers feel, both in and out of the womb. Caring for a crying baby can elicit stress in the baby’s parent or caregiver. What if these trying moments are actually an invitation? An invitation for you to ground yourself by using a simple meditation technique; bringing attention to this moment, focusing deeply into your body, letting yourself feel like a tree that is deeply rooted in the ground, and consciously relaxing your body.
Tension and Fear
When your baby cries and doesn’t respond to your efforts to quiet him, you begin to feel stress and frustration. Our brains are programmed to hear that high-pitched squealing and respond. For parents and for babies, where there is pain, there is tension, and that tension creates more pain. Underneath tension is its root — fear.
Fears and worries assail us at every point along the path of parenting. Fear hardens us as we try to hold on to the familiar. If we are fearful, we want to stop the flow of time and change. But the cessation of change is death. Acting out of fear, our inner “juice” slowly dries up and, like a dead tree, we are easily broken; we are more likely to lose control. Relaxation — yielding to the flow of change — is essential for life. If we wish to continue to be full of life, we must learn to relax and yield, to flow. Like the young tree, we will be flexible and strong, ever growing, with abundant youthful energy. If we cannot relax, we cannot listen to and truly hear our babies, and we miss their messages to us, misinterpret their needs and wants, and lose touch with who they are.
Grounding meditation can help you calm yourself so you can listen more deeply to the crying and sense whether it is due to needs not being met or a need for emotional release. For 37 years, this has been a part of my organization’s (International Association of Infant Massage — IAIM) parent-baby classes and our instructor training; learning to ground yourself and truly listen to your baby. We teach parents how to allow their babies to cry in arms to release stress. One parent educator says, “Some babies may need to cry to release stress. Holding a crying baby in loving arms is totally different from leaving a baby alone to cry.”
Cry it Out?
There is a chapter on this in my book, Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents. When I began talking about this, it was a foreign concept; parents knew of the “cry it out” philosophy. Many of us received that type of care, and the first thing we want to do when we hear our babies cry is to hush that baby — the infant self that carries memories of crying-it-out. What I discovered has nothing to do with “crying it out.” Babies are subject to a lot of stress — physical pain from an underdeveloped gastrointestinal system — or being uncomfortable from many sources: frustration with feeding, diaper changing, bath time, being too hot or cold (all of these things are new experiences).
First: Breathe deeply and relax each part of your body. Let your baby cry for a minute, sit down, close your eyes, breathe, ground into the earth, and relax.
Second: Find out if there is an immediate problem; hunger, a diaper needs changing, etc.
Third: Respond; go to your baby with a relaxed state of mind and body and respond lovingly, listening empathically and talking to your baby. Make eye contact if you can. Try to reflect what you sense is causing distress. For example, “Oh, I’m so sorry you are feeling sad. Tell me about it. . . not sad? Mad? It’s so hard sometimes, isn’t it? . . .”
When it becomes clear that the baby is releasing pent-up emotional stress, grounding meditation, slow, rhythmic bouncing and patting, singing, and even crying WITH your baby helps your baby to know you care and then your baby doesn’t feel alone. A relaxed response helps your baby release. If the crying continues, a warm bath followed by a massage will bring your baby back into alignment and help her relax and go to sleep.
Massage Your Baby
Because infants grow so rapidly, there is often a lot of tension in their little bodies. They work so hard to develop muscle coordination that occasionally they may ache and feel out of sorts. When your body aches, a massage feels both good and uncomfortable at the same time. Your muscles are sore, and even a gentle touch can bring some discomfort. Still, being massaged is so relaxing, and getting blood circulating through your sore muscles is so healing, that your grunts and grimaces may mean either pain or pleasure. Often a massage can remind you of aches you never knew you had, but afterward the feelings of relief and release you experience are well worth it. Think about a baby’s perspective — everything is new and thus stressful. The only way to communicate and “talk about” these feelings is to cry.
A Negative Reaction?
Babies who had a difficult or traumatic birth, who had difficulties afterward for which they needed medical intervention, or who have just come from foster homes or orphanages, tend to have more negative reactions to being massaged at first. For example, babies who have received routine heel sticks for blood testing often cry when their feet are massaged, even several months later. If your baby seems to be reacting negatively to particular parts of the massage, you can use Touch Relaxation techniques first, gradually introducing massage strokes as they are accepted.
If you attended childbirth preparation classes, you may remember how you consciously rehearsed relaxing each part of your body, often accompanied by touch from your partner. You will use a similar routine with your baby, calling her attention to an area, showing her how to relax it, then giving her positive feedback as she learns. For example, let’s say you are beginning to massage your baby’s leg, and it appears stiff and tense. Take the leg gently in your hands, encompassing and molding your hand to your baby’s leg. Feel a heavy relaxation in your hand as it conforms to your baby’s skin. Gently bounce the leg, repeating in a soft voice, “Reeee-laaaaax.” As soon as you feel any relaxation in the muscles, give the baby some feedback, saying, “Wonderful! You relaxed your leg.” Make eye contact, give a kiss.
Controlled Belly Breathing
1. Sit in a chair and place your hands over your navel. Relax your body as much as possible.
2. Blow out as much of the air in your lungs as possible, and imagine your tension going with it.
3. Slowly breathe in through your nose, counting 1-and-2-and-3-and-4, feeling your belly rise as air goes to the very depth of your lungs, expanding your diaphragm.
4. Slowly breathe out through your mouth, again counting 1-and-2-and-3-and-4. Let your whole body relax; imagine expelling tension.
I suggest you use Controlled Belly Breathing every day, upon waking and right before going to sleep. Then you can practice under duress: during a traffic jam, a long elevator ride, waiting in the dentist’s office, on the subway, when your baby begins to cry.
After you have mastered and assimilated the technique, begin using it when you feel your emotional temperature rising. You can excuse yourself (I like to go into the bathroom) or do it right there. You will feel Plan A turning to Plan B; you’ll calm down, center and focus your energies, and automatically use better parenting and partnering skills.
When faced with a child who is testing your resolve, relax and yield in the manner of water. Absorb the child’s energy without moving. Sink your strength into the earth with the relaxing breath. Allow the child to bounce off your energy, discovering without harm that nature of your power.
Let everything you have — mind and body, thoughts and reactions, plans and avoidance of plans — sink with gravity into your feet to beneath the earth. Relax your intention. Put everything underground where it can support you. Strewn anxiously through your body, it can only distract you.
The Ancient Taoist Master Liao said:
“The only condition for allowing your internal energy to develop, grow, and become strong is that you must relax yourself and yield to the universe. When you become soft and pliable, your internal energy will gradually begin to develop and accumulate. Eventually you will have the ability to become extremely hard and strong
when it is necessary to do so.”
© 2014 Vimala McClure