Thursday, April 10, 2008

Things I wish I had known about: white noise & backrubs

I keep finding out about wonderful baby calming techniques -- and since we've now spent 10 long months with a spaz baby, I often kick myself that I didn't discover them earlier.

So, here's your chance to learn earlier what I learned nearly too late!

We were in the cry room at church several months ago and there was a woman there with a newborn. The little girl was crying fitfully the whole time, and the mother kept bicycling the baby's legs for her, murmuring to me about how much gas her baby had. I doubted her but couldn't figure out a nice way to tell the mother that she was full of hot air herself and should really try out...The Happiest Baby on the Block techniques! We put this book on hold at the library when Mikko was a month or two old, but it's so popular that we got it when he was almost four months old. It's a book that's most helpful in the first three months -- oops.

I really, really wanted to pick up this woman's baby and try out the five Ss on her:

1. Swaddle. This was the only S that never worked for us, because by 3-plus months, Mikko was too big and strong for even our largest swaddle blanket. Right after he was born, the nurses would come in and burrito-roll him, and within minutes he would have escaped like a newborn Houdini. Even now, he gets very upset if you put any sort of blanket on his legs as he's trying to fall asleep -- he's just gotta be free, I guess! But I do see how whipping his hands and legs around is not conducive to falling asleep (more on our most recent find below).
2. Put the baby on her side.
3. Bounce (or, to match the S theme, swing) her.
4. Make a calming but, to some adults, intimidating-sounding loud shushing sound in her ear.
5. The last S is suck, which can be a finger or pacifier, or nursing if you're flexible (and the mother, not some crazy baby-hijacking lady at church).

Anyway, I didn't steal this woman's baby, or even suggest these techniques. Because what I do is blog about what I should have said instead of going through all the trouble of actually doing something in real time. But, we were talking with some friends who are not yet parents the other day, and I was able to show them, on our tremendously large 10-month-old, how to apply the 5 Ss, in the hopes that they'll remember when it comes time for them to cope with those first foggy newborn months.

Incidentally, Mikko thought being tipped on his side, bounced, and having me Ssshhhhh... in his ear was hilarious, showing that even at 10 months old, this technique can make him literally the happiest baby on the block!

In addition to reading the book, I recommend the DVD (link above on the left) for seeing the techniques and some FAQ-type clips in action, and the CD (link to the right) -- oh, my, the CD!

The Happiest Baby on the Block Super Soothing Sounds has white noise sounds on it, which is so basic but so helpful, still at 10 months. Our library carried all three components, and there are other options for the CD if you don't want to shell out for a five-track white-noise favorites album. Sometimes libraries have other sound-effects CDs that feature white-noise sounds. You could make your own mix tape! You could also record your own -- engine noises, vacuum, hair dryer -- whatever soothes your particular baby.

We were fortunate that, while traveling, our sister-in-law gifted us with a HoMedics (does that sound hilariously dirty to anyone else?) white-noise machine her own daughter had finally outgrown. (It looks more old-school but is the same brand as the picture on the left there, and the description sounds like the same basic setup.) "Ocean waves" is our favorite setting, and Sam & I have grown just as fond of it as Mikko for sleeping to. You might be able to find a cheap one in a thrift shop (which was where my sister-in-law's was originally bound for), or you can buy your favorite new. I recommend compact, able to stay on all night (some are exclusively on a timer and turn off after 30 or 45 minutes, which I wouldn't find useful for keeping Mikko asleep, or soothing him back to sleep during the night, although the one we have does have a timer option), and able to plug into an outlet so you don't speed through your battery stash.

Besides the Happiest Baby S techniques and the white noise, we've recently found a way to calm our baby's flailing muscles down when he's tired but just can't settle: infant massage.

Infant massage sounds like you'd need some fancy techniques, and I sort of thought you did. We have a VHS tape on the subject that's been sitting in our living room since just after Mikko's birth and is still in its shrinkwrapping, and my other sister-in-law, who's a nanny, was asking me questions about which direction to rub the tummy to aid digestion, and different nmemonic techniques to help remember such things -- she had seen the tape and inaccurately thought I knew something. All this scared me into thinking that there were right and wrong ways to give your baby a backrub (or leg rub, tummy rub, face rub, etc.). The other day, I just started giving Mikko a backrub the same way I would give Sam one, only more gently, and it was like someone had flipped a switch. Mikko stopped, bent his head down, and just...enjoyed. For some of the longest, quietest moments we've experienced outside of sleep for the past 10 months.

Since then, I found a website that has a good rundown of a good rubdown:

It says what I found out just by trying: Do what would feel good to you or another adult, only maybe a little more gently. Now, this site recommends pushing only as hard as would be comfortable on your eyelid, but I find I can press harder than that to access the muscles under his skin, and Mikko seems fine with it. I would guess you'd just have to test and see what works for your baby.

Speaking of which, whenever I preach a particular sure-fire technique for calming babies, my nanny sister-in-law always says, "Yes, that's something that works for certain babies..." or some such "simmer down now" phrase. I take this to mean, your mileage may vary. What works for my baby might not work for yours. But I will say that these techniques have worked -- and in many cases, are still working -- like gangbusters for my boy, and they're not difficult or expensive to try. So, if you've tried breastfeeding, tried walking, tried singing lullabies, whatever, and your little one's exhausted with the effort not to sleep -- give these a shot! I know I'm rereading my recommendations once we have another newborn (if we ever decide that would be a good idea...).

Just a note about the Amazon affiliate links -- they're just examples and added color and a way to give you good research links for product info and reviews. You don't have to buy them through my site or anything! You can, because I would theoretically get a (minuscule) percentage (it's never, ever happened), but I didn't want you to think I'm writing the post just to generate affiliate links. Like I've said, personally I always check books and discs out of the library and scrounge other freebies off my rich relations...

I feel like adding one more caveat -- I think our culture idolizes sleep to an unhealthy level, and perhaps attachment parents idolize not crying. By this I mean, the mainstream culture thinks that a baby who won't sleep a certain amount or length is "bad," and the attachment culture thinks that a baby who's crying is in distress. Combined, this can put a lot of pressure on parents to have "the happiest baby on the block," and that might not always be realistic. If you can be zen about the whole thing and let your baby sleep or cry or whatever when it's truly needed, that might be just fine for you and your family. I would love to write more on this in the future, but I'll keep it at that for now. I offer these tips only for when you do think your baby needs or wants to calm down to sleep and is having trouble switching off. Happy peace to you all, whether it's external or internal!


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