December 27th, 2009

planet

The Happiest Baby on the Block

I went to the library this week to see if there were any other new cool pregnancy books I should check out. My sister got me Our Bodies Ourselves: Pregnancy and it's been wonderful. Flipping through the other books in that section, I just wasn't caught by anything. I mostly just had this feeling like I'm past all this. Most of them have the same junk... the lists of stuff you shouldn't do is pretty tame, you can get what you need from the brochure your doctor gives you. The possible symptoms are just that, possible. Even the fun facts ("ooh it's week 16 your baby has properly positioned ear holes!") are boring now, maybe I'm too apathetic but seriously kid call me when you're a human. Well, plus the fact that when I read about where I'm at, nothing remarkable is happening, the organs are basically in place. In the next month spacefetus is going to nearly triple in weight and go from avocado size to cantaloupe size. No major "new organ" accomplishments, just... it's GROWING. Scary.

So I skipped pregnancy, moved my gaze down a shelf to the baby section, and checked out "The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer" by Harvey Karp, MD. I was interested in this book because I've already been accused of being totally wrong in my thinking that it's okay to let a baby cry it out, and also because I have a feeling my kid is going to be insane. I was not a quiet baby. Both my husband and I have voices that, well, project. We're passionate and vocal and I have a bad feeling that if any baby screams all the time, it'll be mine.

I really liked the book, it's a quick read and I learned all sorts of interesting things I didn't know. Dr. Karp's basic theory is that human babies are fairly inadequate... something I too have noticed. By that I mean we're not giving birth to horses that just need licked off and sent trotting along their way. The book says that since humans have HUGE BRAINS our babies have to be evicted from the womb very early otherwise their big heads would make childbirth impossible. A four month old baby is a baby, but a newborn is much closer to a fetus, and is totally freaked out by the outside world.

This wasn't a problem when we were hunting and gathering with our babies tied to our backs 24x7, sleeping outside in the trees. But now we expect our baby to go from a noisy jiggly snuggly uterus, where he was totally happy, to a suburban nursery. So after 1-2 weeks when they start realizing the situation, they freak out and scream and have no means to stop themselves. We call it "colic", but he spends a lot of time debunking the myth that it's some kind of digestive problem. It's just about being unable to self-calm.

So to counteract all this, the book has techniques for wrapping them up very tightly. Laying a baby down on its back with its limbs free actually triggers a falling reflex that's meant to help ape parents keep infants from plummeting through the trees, the babies tense up and freak out and prepare for the worst. He explains why it's good to carry them around on their side or stomach to calm them down before putting them on their backs to sleep.

There's a whole chapter on white noise. Apparently every culture in the world has some word with "shhhh" in it and it means the same thing everywhere, it sounds like the rushing that human babies always heard before they were born and triggers a calming reflex. Shhhh is the way we can make our own white noise. This has amused me all week because when I'm trying to calm down my wheezy guinea pig I have a tendency to hold it close and say "shhhh!" and I know now that it's not gonna work, it's a human instinct.

Then the book explains why swinging and moving help calm babies down, how they react to sucking on things, and how to combine The Five Ss (swaddling, shhhh, side position, swinging and sucking) to make some kind of baby happiness maneuver.

Reading over this entry I realize this all sounds like common sense... of course you wrap up your baby, of course you tell it "shhhh" but knowing all the evolutionary importance of it makes it all a little more clear to me. The book still has bits about when crying really is a problem and needs medical guidance, and talks about when it's okay to leave the screaming child alone and give yourself a break. But it's a list of things you can do when the doctors say "she's fine you just have to deal with some crying, you don't need sleep that bad, come on." He talks a lot about parental expectations... we think our baby will act a certain way, we think we'll be able to be strong and loving even though we're hopelessly sleep deprived and partially deafened. But don't be disappointed in yourself as a parent if you get really frustrated. So the only thing I can do is try everything out and tell you all how it works later on... stay tuned for that one.