Thanks to my own experiences, I feel extremely confident saying that all parents are worried about everything when they bring home that tiny bundle of baby-love-mush. It's hard to know what advice to take and what advice to throw out. It's hard to know what's "right" and what isn't. Honestly, it's just hard to know anything when you're that exhausted and overwhelmed. Even though I'm a seasoned mo of three, I can't tell a new parent what to do. I can, however, tell you about the tiny thing you can do for your newborn that'll actually affect the rest of their life. If you do nothing else, do this.
What is it, you ask? Well, I doubt you'll be surprised that it's really quite simple. Of all the things you should do for the tiny human being you're now responsible for, I truly believe the most important is to pick them up when they cry.
At the beginning of their very delicate lives, crying is the only method they have to communicate with you.
Now, before anyone starts screaming about attachment parenting being judgmental and made up of unrealistic expectations for the modern age, please just stop and listen. I'm not advocating for any certain type of parenting style. Personally, I'm of the mind that all parenting "styles" are unrealistic and judgmental. I'm only saying if, within the first year of life, you pick your baby up when they cry it will actually affect them forever.
Contrary to popular belief, babies cry not to manipulate their parents but to communicate their needs. At the beginning of their very delicate lives, crying is the only method they have to communicate with you.
My first newborn had colic. She was obviously trying to communicate something to me. Now she's 7 years old and I'm still not sure what her newborn message was. Still, as her parents, isn't our job to be with our kids through the big emotions? Assuring our little ones that even if we don't understand them, and can't fix the pain, we will be there in it with them?
If I'm being honest I have to admit I didn't always pick her up when she cried because she cried all the time. I only had unpaid maternity leave available to me, so I had to return to work at six weeks postpartum or risk homelessness. Then there was the week-long period of hell when my partner and I allowed her pediatrician to convince us to try Cry It Out (CIO). I have absolutely no judgment for parents who use this sleep training method. If it worked for you, congratulations! And more power to you. But it didn't work for us.
...when I listened to others about what I should be doing with my baby I stopped trusting myself
What I came to realize, through the struggle of trying to bond to my first infant, was that when I listened to others about what I should be doing with my baby, I stopped trusting myself. As a new parent, it makes complete sense that I would turn to the experts to tell me what worked and what didn't. The problem, however, was that all the experts disagreed with each other or had juxtaposing positions. So no matter what I was doing, someone was going to tell me I was wrong.
Sure, there were some other things going on with my first baby. For example, almost immediately she started exhibiting signs of sensory processing integration challenges that made healthy attachment and natural bonding difficult. But what I know now is that I let my child and myself down when I ignored my mama-gut. My mama-gut never said anything that would've hurt my child. My mama-gut mostly told me to pick that baby up when they cried. Ignoring that internal feeling harmed my relationship with my eldest child, and continues to contribute to attachment difficulty today. I didn't ignore it with my second two children, and our relationships are more healthy for it.
I didn't ignore it with my second two children and our relationships are more healthy for it
Yes, all children are different. However, it doesn't feel coincidental that my second and third children (the ones I picked up when they cried) have generally secure attachment. When I tune in to my mama-gut it is peaceful with them, whereas with my first it still squirms with guilt around this piece.
New research out of the University of Notre Dame's Psychology Department agrees with my mama-gut, and encourages mothers to pick up their newborns all the time. As a trauma therapist, and what I know about attachment and how traumatic experience forms, the brain also tells me that new babies were designed to be picked up when they cry. Successful completion of this developmental learning helps the developing brain orient to trusting that the world is a place where one's needs will be met.
It breaks my heart to know that, in many ways, my eldest child's foundation is a constant questioning of whether or not her needs will be met
According to renowned developmental psychologist Erik Erickson's psychosocial stages of development, learning that the world is a safe place where their needs will be met is essential for the successful resolution of the first stage, or Trust versus Mistrust stage, of development for any human being. It's upon this foundation that the rest of the newborn's development is formed.
It breaks my heart to know that, in many ways, my eldest child's foundation is a constant questioning of whether or not her needs will be met. She does not inherently trust that they will. Whereas, my second child has no doubt.
What Erickson's theory tells us, and what has been played out in my family, is that children whose foundation is built on trust (i.e. their needs were met) work harder and are more independent because they know that it is safe to do so. On the other hand ,children who learn mistrust can develop what's known as learned helplessness. That is, they learn that nothing they do has any impact on whether or not their needs are met. They start to believe that they're either so inherently bad that they don't deserve to have their needs for security and comfort met, or their needs being met or not is completely random so why bother to try and influence the outcome.
Picking up newborns is a really tiny thing that, as I've said, can affect them forever. If picking up my newborn when they cry helps me follow my mother instinct and helps my children avoid a lifetime of unpacking insecure attachment, I'd say, by comparison, picking up my newborn when they cry is quite literally the least I can do.