Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 36, Tuesday April 18, 2006




Cute, cuddly and oh so adorable

Having a baby is like a ritual. Right after word gets around about the arrival of the newcomer, over-enthusiastic family members materialise by the hospital bed like bees, geared up with cameras, sweets, and gifts for the baby. Cameras flash every split second. The baby is bounced from one lap to another like a ping-pong ball. Senior members of the family shower the new mother with advice and the offering of sweets among each other continues. These elaborate 'rites' continue for several weeks.

Babies can't talk but that does not mean they can't feel. If they could talk, in a situation like this, they'd probably all be saying, “Oh please lord, let me get back into my mother's womb!”

Face it people, we all love babies. They are cute, cuddly and simply adorable. They cry when you want them to be quiet and they sleep when you want to show them off. They make funny faces while they sleep. They dribble all over you and you still cannot resist pampering them or simply holding them, dissolving into unintelligible nonsense like goo goo gaa gaa. No wonder a baby is called a bundle of joy. The truth is, they bring a world of happiness for many.

Is that all babies bring for us? Apparently they make us worry; add hundreds of questions to our minds and additional duties in our lives not to mention many sleepless nights. So what are these worries and queries that come along with a bundle of joy?

The worries and queries
Sleepless nights, worn-out mornings, drowsy days at work are the stories that come along with every newborn. Many parents experience sleepless nights for months, filled with on and off crying fits - their baby's and their own! Most parents worry thinking that there must be something wrong with the baby.

The thing is that it is absolutely normal for breast fed babies to wake up several times during the night.

Babies were 'designed' to wake up often at night to feed and cuddle. Some babies go back to sleep on their own, but others cry, and wake up their parents.

Newborn babies sleep a lot. But they follow a little-and-often, never-at-the-same-time-twice schedule. So although the average newborn baby has about 16 to 18 hours of sleep in every 24 hours, they are likely to do it in bouts of two, three or four hours throughout the night and day. As babies grow they need less sleep and take more of it at night and in bigger chunks. Some mature earlier, others later. Most babies learn to sleep all night during the first year.

Babies take whatever sleep they need. So while your baby's sleep pattern (or lack of one) may be a problem for you, it will not be a problem for him/her. Your baby will sleep through the night when s/he is ready. Until then there is no use crying about it. Which brings us to our next issue, the crying babies. Not only do babies wake up at night, they cry too and endlessly.

Did you know that at eighty to eighty-five decibels, a baby's cry is one of the nature's loudest sounds? Crying of a baby can drive the parents crazy no matter how adorable they are. In most cases parents think that crying is always a sign of something bad.

So why do babies cry? Crying is the baby's first 'language' and mothers soon begin to understand what the cry means. It may mean 'I'm hungry', 'I'm wet and cold', 'I'm hurting', or 'Please pick me up, I want a cuddle', 'I'm bored' and so on. So crying can be good too.

But does this mean you don't have to worry at all? Well of course not. Worrying is one thing that parents are good at. Crying may mean that the baby wants more time with mom; or it could be a sign of illness, the baby may be uncomfortable with the living arrangements, it may mean development advances like learning to turn over, teething, crawling or talking.

If you have a newborn you must have noticed by now that the baby sucks his/her fingers and hands as though it is a lollypop. Parents often raise questions about this and pull the finger out of the baby's mouth. The common question is does this mean the baby is not eating enough? The thought literally causes wrinkles to appear in the faces of many young couples. The following information is sure to bring back their peace of mind.

First advice that doctors usually give is never to stop the baby from doing the one amazing task that he/she loves most. Sucking brings pleasure to a baby. This is a strong need in babies this age. Being able to suck his fingers and hands means he can make himself feel good on his own. Sucking helps babies feel happy and calm.

A baby often sucks his/her fingers or pacifier while watching and learning about the world. When something grabs their attention, they may stop sucking for a moment to watch. They will then start to suck again. However sometimes sucking fingers can also be a sign of hunger.

This brings us to our next issue, hunger and over-eager parents who feed their babies a little too much. Parents, while socialising, must talk about their babies. In the end the conversation always takes the same direction. How their babies won't eat and how skinny they are. When babies won't eat what do parents usually do? The answer is obvious. They force-feed them. An entire fleet is usually deployed. Mothers and Ayahs run around with bowls of all the healthy foods all day long trying to prove ceaselessly how yummy they are (babies probably think otherwise or else why wouldn't they eat?)

Doctors say force-feeding causes rejection and in some cases an obese child. They say that babies should be fed when they show the sign of hunger. A happy baby is a healthy baby. If the baby is lively and playful then being skinny does not pose a problem.

The myths
There are hundreds of myths about babies. Every culture has them. In our culture the most popular myths are….

If the baby sleeps during the day then he/she will stay wake at night. So parents try everything possible to keep them awake even when they are sleepy. Baby's body clock and sleep pattern is not like adults. All babies need daytime naps, which actually help them have easier nighttime sleep. Nap deprivation causes night waking.

Opposite to this some parents think if you keep your baby awake late into the evening, s/he will sleep better at night. Keeping baby awake in the evening, after s/he has shown even minor signs of tiredness, will only give you a crying baby late at night. It may help develop a 'hyper-alert' state in the baby, making nighttime sleep even more difficult. A wired baby may be a tired baby.

Some parents think it is normal for some babies to wake up grumpy. Babies who wake up appearing fussy or grumpy did not get enough quality sleep. Well-rested babies wake up cheerful and alert.

Parents think feeding the baby more at bedtime, through cereal in the bottle or large quantities of milk, will help the baby sleep better. Babies do not sleep better after large evening meals. Excessive food right before sleep will cause the baby's digestive system to work overtime during the night, which may disrupt sleep. Besides, parents are not that lucky. It doesn't always work the way they planned it.

There is a common fear that men are not capable of handling the newborn. This causes unnecessary anxiety for new mothers. Men are often alleged to be clumsy around babies. Moms often fret when fathers hold them. Recent study however shows that all these are mere myths. Study shows that a father can also be a child's primary care giver. Parenting is learned on the job by everyone, both moms and dads. If you spend time with your baby, you'll become sensitive to his/her needs. A father can play very important role in a baby's life. Being with the father can also be comforting and soothing for the baby. Holding and rocking the baby creates special bond. Taking over as care giver also gives the mother a chance to recoup her energy.

The most silly
Keeping the windows closed for weeks after a baby is born. Refraining from going out until the baby is three months old, fearing that evil eyes will give bad luck to the baby or cause illness. Bringing a match along whenever going out with the baby. These may sound ludicrous, but such superstitious acts are still practiced in Bangladesh.

There is more, mothers often refrain from breast feeding if she is ill. It is a sheer misconception. Breast feeding should be stopped only if the mother is being treated for cancer, has AIDS or Hepatitis-B. Mothers with Hepatitis-B are allowed to breast feed after they had vaccinated the baby.

Mothers refraining from eating beef if their baby is allergic, mothers not eating daal if the baby has diarrhoea, mothers refraining from taking a shower if their child has a cold, are all practices based on superstition rather than medical fact. As we've said earlier having a baby is like a ritual. If you do it right it pays off real well.

By Shahnaz Parveen

Acknowledgment: Dr Tahmina Begum, Senior Consultant, Paediatrics Department, Dhaka Medical Collage Hospital.
Model: Aria


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