The Integrative Approach to Autism part 8: What about Crying

Feb 04 2013

This post continues THE 3-STEP Integrative Approach to Autism series, developed over 18 years of research, experience and collaboration. Today Part 8: BEHAVIORAL requirements for growth: What about Crying

Is it “normal” for babies to cry?

One of the traditions that new mothers hear about is that when the baby needs something she will tell you in her own way. She will cry and you’ll know whether it is diapers or feeding or otherwise. This is a good tradition to help anxious first-time mothers find some anchorage in this new and scary world of caring for a helpless baby. This is not the best parenting method when it comes to sensitive babies. By the time the baby has to cry to get the mother’s attention the stress has reached a critical level in the baby’s mind. Parenting of sensitive babies is admittedly more difficult than many parents would like it to be. The goal is to develop an anticipatory sense of the baby’s needs so she does not have to cry to draw attention. This is very important for a sensitive baby and helps them tremendously in their ability to handle stress later in life. Waiting for the baby to cry amounts to withholding the paycheck of a working adult for as long as it takes, until she cannot buy her next dinner. No adult can live this way and no baby should be subjected to this deprivation either.

Anticipating and fulfilling the baby’s needs before she starts crying is what sensitive babies require. During the invaluable first six months of life, there isn’t much anticipation a mother needs to do. During this phase, the baby needs to be cleaned, fed, burped and hugged. If as a mother you know your baby cries if she is not fed every three hours, feed her every two-and-a-half hours instead. This saves her the stress and saves you the heartbreak and agitation. It is perfectly understandable that a baby feeding more frequently may eat less per meal. There is no problem here. The more frequently we eat, the less we are expected to eat per incidence. The same scheme can be applied to all the other needs of the baby. However, when this scheme is applied it has to be applied consistently at least for the first six months of life.

Breaking consistency of care for any reason can leave emotional scars with the baby and weaken her ability to handle challenges later in life. Some scientists believe that exposing babies to some mildly pleasant stress early in life may help them develop strategies for handling stress later in life. This should not interfere with the paradigm of consistency in care. Exposing children in the first six months of life to mild stress should come in the form of sparingly introducing strangers to the baby’s life. It should not come in the form of sporadically withholding the mother’s care.

Let us expand on this concept. A first-time mother is feeling the pressure of a new dependent soul in her life and is not getting enough sleep, so she invites her mother to stay with her for a few weeks. Now grandma comes in, she is naturally attracted to the cute baby and promptly proceeds into assuming some of the care of the baby. This could not be more devastating to a sensitive baby. All of a sudden, the touch and style have changed, and there is a new person who seems well intentioned but does not really know what she is doing. Now the baby is flustered, frustrated and cries even more. The ideal attitude here is to introduce grandma gradually to the baby [by itself stressful], but not allow her to partake in the direct care of the baby. She could help along with emotional support or in household chores but she should not become a secondary caregiver or a replacement mother. The mother should remain the primary caregiver for the baby for the first six months of life. Grandma can be there for carrying the baby and kissing the baby after the baby’s needs have been met. However, she should not be whom the baby sees first when she wakes up or when it is time for a bath and so on. It is very important for the consistency of care that the same person always handles the baby in the first six months of life. A spouse or other household members should be in a similar position as the grandma in our example. They can all help along but they cannot replace the mother, not even temporarily.

Another example brings up an old tradition where everyone wants to come see the new mother and the baby. Well, this could become extremely overwhelming for the infant. Everyone the parents know is a stranger to the baby. Multiple people showing up at once and wanting to carry the baby is definitely a bad idea in the case of a sensitive child. Periodically, the parents should allow one person to be introduced to the baby until the first six months are over. After that, parents can introduce strangers more frequently but still preferably in singletons and not in crowds.

Rami Serhan, MD
Author, Psyche-Smart Autism; Integrative Medicine Consultant
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