The baby you have been waiting for has finally arrived: an adorable tiny human, those little toes, ears, and fingers waiting to join the world. It’s amazing how quickly that lovely joy can grow stale after weeks of endless crying.
It seems like the baby is never happy. He will not sleep for more than 10 minutes alone; she squirms and yelps at every possible opportunity, leaving the parents to try and figure out what the poor child wants. She is crying, so obviously something specific is wrong: the question is what?
There are several theories about what to do during the harrowing first weeks of parenting. There is the opinion that something is definitely wrong with baby, and your job as a parent is to be nurturing, figure out what’s wrong, and find a solution. Sometimes it is impossible to find out what’s wrong, in which case, you are supposed to be supportive, compassionate, and attentive to the little one.
The other school of thought sees babies as creatures who need to learn how to adapt to life on planet Earth. If this includes crying, so be it. They do not need to be coddled or spoiled, and the best way to make them adapt to sleeping or lying alone is to do it quickly. It does not mean one needs to be callous or uncaring, but the parents must keep a steady course towards getting the baby to sleep alone.
This involves a fair amount of crying, which makes it unpalatable to some parents, who are sure that something must be wrong with an approach that causes their perfect child to scream uncontrollably. Check out a nice summary of this theory, pioneered by Dr. Ferber, on this site.
In the same line of thought, there are parents who prefer to have their newborns in the stroller or a crib while resting, while more “attachment-oriented” parents prefer a sling, wrap, or hammock-type crib.
As a parent, I have come to the conclusion that it all boils down to one unfortunate fact: for the first few months (or even longer, with some) that babies are alive, they are simply unhappy to be out here in the open air. They are disappointed at having to be part of the buzzing, active, unfamiliar world, which is still so new to them.
True, there may be the occasional baby who is calm from day one, or who is cuddly and relaxed, but on the whole, it simply takes time for newborns to get used to being uncurled, dealing with the complexity of digestion, eating, and mom and dad’s precious attention.
Accordingly, there is not always something specific wrong with baby, and one should not spend days, weeks, and months tearing one’s hair out in search of the perfect soothing recording, walking, or nursing baby to sleep on the long path to the illusory solution. What will happen is that baby will simply settle with time and a bit of encouragement. To my mind, the most important factor here is the mother (or parents, if they are equally sharing responsibilities).
Is she rested and happy? Would it be helpful to her to let the baby cry a little bit in order for her to accomplish a few things? If you are a loving and dedicated parent, nothing negative will happen to a baby who is left to cry for a few minutes here and there. The critical aspect is your approach: if you are not mean and neglectful, this will show in the long run. If you simply don’t care, the baby will pick up on this too.
In short, accept that babies cry, and then decide your approach according to your needs. A rested, and patient parent will be much more helpful to a demanding baby than one who has been up all night answering each whimper that baby makes. Don’t sweat the small waves of early parenthood: in the big picture, it’s the approach that counts.