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Planning Retirement Online

The "Grandest Parents" of All


Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby,  supplies a few tips for grandparents

Flying from New York to Los Angeles, I watched a delicate Chinese grandmother calm a crying baby so swiftly and gracefully.
Halfway through the flight, the infant in her arms suddenly erupted into intense crying. After a few piercing wails, the elderly woman spryly stood up, picked up her frantic travelling companion and began a whole symphony of responses.

She nestled the little girl's stomach against her shoulder; made a continuous shhhh sound in her ear; rhythmically thumped her bottom and simultaneously swayed her torso, side-to-side, like a snake working it's way up hill. In less than a minute, her tiny bundle was sound asleep.

It's tempting to believe that someone who's good at soothing babies has "the gift" but that's simply not true. Calming babies has nothing to do with special talents. It has everything to do with understanding one very simple, yet totally counterintuitive, fact about babies. They are all born 3 months too soon!

Of course, I've never convinced a woman to keep her baby inside for 3 extra
months, and that's probably a very good thing. It's tough enough coaxing a
baby out of the uterus after 9 months of pregnancy. After 12 months it
would be impossible for a baby's huge head to make it's way through the
tightly stretched cervix.

So, why do I say they are born 3 months too early? I say it because our
infants are very immature at birth. Baby horses, by comparison, are able to
run, even on their first day of life. Our newborns, on the other hand, even
need help just to burp.

Consider the first 3 months of a baby's life as the "4th trimester". That's
why our job in caring for them is to imitate the uterus. But, in order to
do that well you have to know, "What's it like inside the uterus?"

Well, first of all, it's extremely confining with very little freedom for a babies to
move their arms around. Secondly, there's lots of jiggly motion. And,
lastly, it is very loud. Studies have shown that the sound inside the
pregnant uterus is louder than a vacuum cleaner!

Most grandparents automatically rock and embrace their crying tiny grandchildren. It's an almost instinctive reaction to their fussing. But, interestingly, this doesn't work by tricking babies into thinking they are back home. It works because these sensations, when done just loud and jiggly enough, can turn on a newly discovered baby reflex called the "calming" reflex. The "calming"reflex is almost an automatic off-switch for a young baby's crying!
There are 5 different ways of turning on a baby's calming reflex. They are  the "5 S's

  1. swaddling:  hold them tight with the arms down

  2. side or stomach position:  the swaying and the pressure are comforting
    (the back is safest for sleeping but it is not the best for calming crying)

  3. loud shushing: noise helps remind of being inside the uterus

  4. swinging :  all that fine, jiggly movement again echoes prebirth experience

  5. sucking: the ultimate comfort reflex action.

Some babies only need one or two of the "S's" to get calm, but the fussiest babies need all "5 S's" simultaneously to switch on their calming reflex.

Of course, your new grandchild won't need these calming sensations forever
(although a little rocking and shushing can be calming even to a stressed
out adult). At birth they immediately go from enjoying them 24 hours a day
to receiving them for 8-12 hours a day. And, after 2-3 months, you can
gradually wean them off of to just a few hours a day.

Mimicking the "4th trimester" and turning on the calming reflex was exactly
what I observed the skillful grandmother doing so effectively to quiet her
tiny granddaughter down across the aisle from me. And watching her, I
knew I was observing a scene that had been repeated by
caring adults around the world since time began.

The Happiest Baby by Harvey Karp and Nina Montee is published by Penguin.

You can see a DVD demonstrating Harvey Karp’s approach on the web site 

To view previous articles  - see the laterlife-interest index page


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