When Pud was an infant he had three homes. This is not unlike my clients; children have two parents which means two different homes plus the babysitter or grandparents’ home. This set up makes it difficult for the baby to bond and attach to a specific person while in a vital developmental stage. It also affects feeding, engagement, and brain growth in those first few months. A baby is indeed happy with whom every is holding and rocking them; however, when one parent is attentive and another not as attentive it stresses out the baby and you have a whiny baby.
The baby may seem hard to handle and cranky. Infants like consistency, held, rocked, or bundled up. When his bottles, formula, or changes in the routine they become agitated. This may result in a hypervigilant and stressed infant which will cause the cranky baby to refuse to eat, sleep, and cry.
Knowing how to help the infant adapt to the changes is important and could make a big difference in how he handles the changes in his environment. Research tells us attachment is important to the child’s sense of security, a healthy and secure attachment will allow the child the tools to change environments and manage his emotions in most situations.
With this in mind; having on the primary caregiver will help your child build healthy attachments. Following the primary caregiver’s lead will help to settle and comfort the child. This would mean all parties use the same formula or food, bottles, and sleeping routine.
Early on Pud began to cry in his sleep, he would sweat and fuss. He was not hungry and would refuse to open his eyes. At one point they thought it might be hypoglycemia but ruled that out. He would fuss and cry like he was in pain. When picked up, he would refuse a bottle but enjoy held. Once given the bottle, he would only eat enough to satisfy his hunger but not eat enough to gain weight. He stayed in the 10th- 20th percentile for a year.
Given all the challenges he faced Pud grew and developed on track. He was still behind in weight but on track for height. He also was within normal limits for all developmental stages- he was on the later side but still within normal limits. Early we noticed he loved bright colors; red, orange, and blues. He also enjoyed touch, feeling everything that was in his reach and did not put them in his mouth. He loved music but hated loud sounds, he also loved watching fast paces videos like Baby Einstein or Baby Genius. Black and while musicals were one of his favorite things to watch. He would climb and pound on everything he could reach.
Eating was still a major problem and concern with all the caregivers. He drank pediaSure for extra nutrition at 9 months. He loved all the flavors, so he had two a day one for lunch and before bed. He loved to see his father and would cry when picked up by his mother. This was again parenting styles as dad would come in and spend a few minutes before taking him home. Mom would run it, grab him, and run out.
Parenting styles can cause stress in the child and their brain will blood with adrenaline or cortisol. When a parent comes in calm and ready to engage with the child, that child will feel the parent’s emotions and energy. When a parent is anxious, hyper, and moving quickly- grabbing the baby, talking quickly, or running around, the child will feel that anxiety and may become stressed. Now, the child may be crying and seemly rejecting the parent. In turn, the parent feels rejection and becomes more anxious and tense. They may speak harshly to the child or caregiver. These first few minutes with the parent can dictate how their evening will play out.
Signs of Stress in your baby: according to the March of Dimes
1. Babies can be affected by parents’ moods – and sense how they are feeling as early as 3 months old.
“This means that when parents experience ongoing, significant stress, babies absorb it. They pick up on their caregivers’ facial expressions and tone of voice—whether they are sad, angry, or happy—right from the start, and react accordingly.”
Pud would begin to react to his surroundings at an early age, by 3 months he was noticed to be super vigilant. Upon waking up, he would look around to see where he was. He would react to the environment according to what he sensed was happening. His older sister would bring him to his caregiver when their home was stressful and unhealthy for him. He would calm down when he saw his primary caregiver and begin to react positively.
2. Babies have big feelings
“Babies can begin feeling sadness and fear as early as 3-5 months of age. Our research revealed that 42% of parents believe babies begin experiencing these feelings in one year or older. But the fact is that way before they can say their first words, as early as 3 to 5 months old, babies experience a whole range of emotions including sadness, anger, and fear. A critical factor in nurturing healthy development is parents’ ability to read and respond to their baby’s cues about how they are feeling and what they need to feel safe and secure.”
Pud’s reaction to different people, places, sounds, and smells show he was very aware of his surroundings and the people who were in his world. He began to show anger, fear, and sadness. This affected his eating, playing, and eventually health. One of my clients reported their child had shown signs of ‘failure to thrive’ due to the stress and activity in the home.
3. Babies figure out what’s going on in the world by watching parents’ reactions.
“They read the facial expressions and actions of their trusted caregivers to figure out the meaning of a situation—such as whether they are safe or should be wary or afraid…If a parent finds himself consumed with anger or worry, it is important to be aware of the impact on the child, and be mindful to try not to communicate these feelings in front of the child.”
Pud’s reaction to his mother and stepmother was different than his reaction to his father and caregiver. He would read their faces and body language which told him their stress level, emotional state, and temperature of his time with them. He would investigate their face to see what reaction he received. He would try to make them engage when they would give him a cold stare or nonresponsive look. He tried to engage until frustrated and would begin to cry, hit, or withdraw.
When you are stressed the body produces hormones for flight, fight, or freeze. Baby’s brains work the same way as adults. One thing to note is if flooded with stress hormone it is difficult to develop other parts of the brain. The child is in a hyper-vigilant mode so the social part of the brain may not develop. It is also hard to think properly when you are always worried or fearful. This social part of your brain helps with empathy and understanding people and holds memories of fear. It’s reported children who cannot talk still remember abuse and stress. Memories in this part of the brain could hold the answers.
The Anterior cingulate cortex is complex and only develops around 18 months. When a child is fearful or stressed this part of the brain will not go into action. The fear takes place and parts of the brain will shut down. When this happens, the brain floods with stress hormones.
A child who lives with continued stress and anxiety will struggle in many areas of their life. Teaching parents to understand how their stress, past or current abuse, parenting style, and lifestyle affect their child may help with growth, positive interactions, and secure attachment.