Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wearing Out My Whingy Baby

I think I have a difficult baby.  I don't really like to label her that way, but I think you know what I mean.  A spirited baby.  A baby that requires perhaps a little more intensive parenting than the average baby her age.

Her separation anxiety and fear of strangers started at 6 months and does not seem to have eased.  She gets upset if I disappear from view even for a moment, and there are only a couple of people she'll tolerate being passed to instead.  She whinges endlessly if she's bored, if she can't reach the object she's after, if I put her down and attempt to do the dishes even if she is at my feet.   If she wakes 5 times a night, that's a pretty good night, and if she wakes 3 times that's a rare and blissful event.  She refuses to let anyone spoon feed her 90% of the time, and once she's had enough of whatever fingerfood we give her she yells and yells until we get her out of the highchair.  She refuses bottles.  She refuses EBM or formula from a cup - although curiously, will drink water.

She has now started to reach the age that I can't substitute another object for the one she's interested in - it no longer distracts her, she just looks around for the original object and gets cranky.  She is also fairly mobile for her age, not only crawling everywhere but climbing up onto objects at least half her height - which would be fine if only she could get down safely again.  It doesn't help that she has also been teething continuously for two months, and has started biting (sometimes on the boob), or that she is mastering her pincer grip, which she likes to practice on my arm and which means she can get very small objects in her mouth.

Pincer grip practice - usually during bfeeding, when it is difficult to reach her arms to stop her.

It's at times like these that I start hearing all those little voices saying that I just have to be firmer with her, I just have to put her down and ignore her if she whinges - that I have created this problem for myself.  Even though there is no evidence that being attentive creates a clingier baby, there are certainly people around me who are very happy to murmur their conclusions on why Bethany is acting this way.

I have to remind myself that this is within the spectrum of normal baby behaviour, and that many of these undesirable behaviours are actually the start of good qualities in an older child / adult, that I do not want to stamp out.  I want her to communicate with me when she is upset, and I know she's too young to distinguish between what is an important or unimportant concern, or to go around solving all her problems in sensible ways.  I want her to be aware of her own hunger cues and to eat because she's hungry, not because the food is there or there is social pressure to eat / not eat.  I'm not worried about her long-term independence because I think at this age she still views me as an extension of herself.

Here is an interesting article from Scientific American about the tests they use to determine that babies start to form a mental image of themselves and a sense of self around 18-24 months of age.   Basically, a mark or post-it note or similar is surreptitiously placed on a baby's forehead (or nose), and they are then given the opportunity to look at themselves in a mirror.  Before 18 months, babies will try and respond to their reflection as though it is another person (albeit a very entertaining one), but around 18 months they see the post-it note and immediately reach for their own foreheads to remove it, having realised that the person in their mirror is themselves, and that the image's forehead corresponds with their own forehead (or nose).

For a more in-depth perspective on the stages of the development of self-awareness during early childhood, see this article - but be warned, it is not a light read.

It is fascinating that the mirror test not only reveals that babies develop the capacity to have a mental self image around a certain stage of development, but that the kind of sense of self acquired varies depending on social expectations.  In Western societies where babies are encouraged to be very individualistic, the children often respond to the mirror with delight or shyness, whereas in non-Western cultures the children respond to their reflection by 'freezing'.  These cultures, which tend to co-sleep, carry their babies constantly, and not leave their children to whinge or cry raise their children to view themselves as an interdependent part of a group, rather than an individual, and they are not used to seeing an image of themselves, as this experience emphasises their individuality rather than commonality with the group.

This casts a whole different perspective on what you are teaching a child when you pick them up / put them down.  We tend to think of what we are teaching as revolving around their behaviour - so when we pick them up we are teaching them we respond to their whinging, or when we don't we are teaching them to entertain themselves etc.  But it seems that what we are also teaching them is a 'sense of separateness', and that being an individual is more important than being part of a group.  This, presumably, has flow-on effects leading to more individual-oriented behaviour rather than group-oriented behaviour as they get older.  This would lead to the ironic outcome that early behaviour management may actually teach the thinking which leads to the very kind of behaviours it is supposed to prevent - particularly when it conditions a child to respond to punishments and rewards and so ignore other people's feelings as irrelevant (except when these are backed up by punishments / rewards).  This is a big and complicated topic, and I'm not expressing a view, except to say that there is more than one view.  It is food for thought that Japanese babies / toddlers are kept close and rarely punished, and that they develop a much stronger sense of empathy, as shown by this study.

For these reasons, I'm not keen on just leaving Bethany to whinge on the floor until she gets over it.  But I was finding the almost constant need to be carried a giant pain in the butt.  I'm also not keen on standing over her cot for fifteen to forty minutes to pat her off to sleep.  The obvious alternative, it has seemed, is to put her in a sling so that I can have my hands free to do the washing / cooking / vacuuming / read a book etc.

It was a big learning curve to work out how to get her on my back without assistance, but once I had it mastered... oh, so liberating.  Even my husband has started strapping Bethany on his back, just because it is SO effective at reducing the amount of whinging.  And it is a much more convenient way to settle her than standing over her cot.

Because I live in Darwin, it has taken some time to track down the best slings for the hot weather.  The only sling that's really sold in Darwin is the Baby Bjorn, so I found these interstate or online.

I already had an Ergobaby carrier (the Sport version), which is available at lots of large baby stores or online.  This is a shaped and padded baby carrier and is reasonably pricy (well over $100).  I hadn't used it very much because a newborn requires the newborn insert, which is like a padded blanket and was too hot for Darwin.  Then once she got older, she didn't want to be strapped on my front.  It was only recently that I decided to brave trying to get her onto my back.  I consulted this video:

Then I practiced in front of the mirror until I could do it.  The tricky thing is shifting the baby from your side to your back without the contraption falling off your shoulders and getting tangled.

Bethany on my back in an Ergo

The next thing I tried was a wrap - a Bali Breeze by Wrapsody, which is a very thin light-weight woven wrap, almost like muslin, but stronger.  I was a bit hesitant about getting a wrap because I thought it would be too difficult, but once you've got the hang of it I reckon it's actually a bit easier than the Ergo and more versatile.  With the Ergo, you have to kind of thread your baby's legs through the straps, whereas wrapping round your baby is a bit easier.  You just have to master shifting them onto your back.  I found this video really helpful - and I can do it in my Size B (4.6m) Bali Breeze.

This wasn't too hard to do in a general way, but hard to do well.  Here are my very poor examples as a new baby wrapper (baby is way too low - you have to adjust and tighten as you wrap in order to keep them up high), which Bethany nevertheless liked and which I was very proud of at the time.  Hey, you have to start somewhere!

And here is the slightly different 'piggyback carry' shown in the Wrapsody instructions:

And here I put her in front cross carry a little like the basic Hug-a-bub style, and even managed a hands free breastfeed this way!

I ought to mention that the difference between a Bali Breeze and a Hug-A-Bub is that the Bali Breeze is a woven wrap and so is not stretchy.  You can't use a stretchy wrap for a back carry because there is a risk the baby can flip out.  The Bali Breeze is also wider and a lighter fabric.  A Hug-A-Bub is really only for a newborn and I found it a bit warm for Darwin, whereas I think when I have another baby I will be able to use the Bali Breeze from the outset.

I also have a Baby Rock Comfy Carry sling, which is basically a fancier padded ring sling with a mesh body that clips up and was designed for tropical Queensland.  You can carry a little baby sideways or an older baby sitting on your hip.

Bethany at about 6 weeks in the Baby Rock sling.

From about 3 months I could carry her like this.

It distributes the weight across your shoulders better than just having the baby on your hip, and you can at least in theory have both hands free, although I find my right hand always just wraps around the baby.  You can't put the baby behind you in one of these slings, but I still use it because it is so quick to get on and off.  It's great if I'm getting in and out of the car a lot or just making a short trip.  When she was little, I had to be careful that her little toes didn't get caught in the holes of the mesh, and usually used a muslin wrap around where her feet were.

I have also got two more wraps on order, and I'll post reviews on here when I get them.  The first is a Vatanai, which is still quite a light woven wrap but a bit thicker than the Bali Breeze, so I will be able to do a simple rucksack wrap like this one:

I figure it won't matter it's a bit thicker (and hence warmer) because it only has to go round her body once.  I have also ordered a Mei Tai style wrap made out of Solarveil from Keoni Slings.  Solarveil is a thin, breathable fabric that offers a fair bit of UV protection.  The company that made it no longer exists, or no longer makes the fabric, but some people have stocks they will make into slings for you.  A Mei Tai wrap is one where there is basically a large square which the baby sits in, then shoulder and waist straps that you tie - it is kind of half way between a wrap and an Ergo.

On the plus side, all this babywearing is finally doing what my (somewhat sporadic) dieting has been unable to achieve - I am finally getting out and going for walks and losing some weight.  I bought a large Bunnings umbrella so that I can walk with her regardless of whether it is brightly sunny or raining, since it is almost certainly one or the other in Darwin, and it was becoming an excuse not to walk at all.  But if I can, I go for an umbrella free walk at sunset, which is actually very pleasant.

The sunset at East Point is just lovely:


  1. Just think, although you might find her personality to be hard work as a baby, you will be grateful for her "spirited" personality when she is older and going out in the big bad world ;)
    I never have managed to breast feed in a carrier, just can't make it work!!

  2. Hey darl you haven't done anything wrong. It's a very normal part of development and my daughter outgrew it (mostly) without any changes on my part. Just one thing that sometimes worked for me was sitting and playing with her toys with her for as long as possible then she would be more likely to let me do something while she continued playing.

  3. Thanks guys!

    @The Mother Experiment - that suggestion works well if we're out somewhere new and exciting, but at home she seldom lasts more than a minute once I get up off the floor.

  4. Hi Caroline, Ava is exactly the same in regards to the whinging and whining at home. I can't leave her to play for more than a couple of minutes before she cracks it and wants to be picked up. Once she is picked up she's fine. As soon as you put her back down - she shrieks or whines. The playstation doesn't cut it anymore either. A piece of fruit in her bumbo while I'm in the kitchen may keep her happy for a few minutes tops. Unlike Bethany, Ava is not at all mobile, so if she wants something that is even 50 cm away and can't reach it, she throws her hands up in the air in frustration and protests VERY LOUDLY. I think her squeal could cut glass. It is very hard to pack a house with this going on. Getting out of the house is the only thing that will keep her happy and quiet, so we go for a walk at 7.15 in the morning and again at about 6pm. But yes, the weather is def an issue.
    Teething is not helping the situation with us either. It is making her a lot more irritable than she would ordinarily be. Biting down hard on her fingers and crying out.
    Thankfully Ava sleeps well and settles fine. So that's the chance I get to do the dishes, laundry, bottles, make the bed, check facebook, tidy the house, and make ME something to eat! But then she's up again, and I think "Shit, why didn't I get off the computer and have a shower and shave my legs while I had time"!
    I'm thinking of getting one of those back pack carriers for Ava. It would be good for travelling/walks but may also be useful around the house. We have a Baby Bjorn but now need something for the back that is comfortable and sturdy.
    Anyway, must go pack....!

  5. I'm really glad you blogged about the baby wraps for the heat. My friend in VIC can't recommend baby wrapping highly enough and I loved how her baby girl responded to the wrapping - very calmly and content! but I was worried about the heat factor here in Darwin. I will hunt out those wraps you were talking about. Are there any baby wrapping courses in Darwin?

  6. I'm not aware of any baby wrapping courses, Nicole. I learned what I could off videos. After I posted this I learned a lot more about how to get the wraps tighter, which works a lot better than I'm demonstrating in these photos. How old's your baby? My favourite ended up being a solarveil mei-tai wrap that was made for me by Keoni Slings, but you could really only use this from about 4 months at the earliest. For a very little baby I would use the Bali breeze or find a very light ring sling. My baby was a little bit unusual in that for the first few months she never liked being held in the position that a ring sling puts them in - she had to have her head up on my shoulder. I know now that there are ways of tying a wrap that holds them up in that position. I wish I knew that earlier. Wraps seem so daunting, but they are so much more versatile. If you want to see a baby-wearing information session in Darwin, your best bet would probably be to contact the Childbirth Education Association up here and see if they would be interested in organising one.

  7. Just a note: Baby is way too low in the back carry with the bali breeze. In a wrap they should always be high enough to see over your shoulder. Awesome blog though :)

  8. Yeah Jaded, I realised that about a month after I wrote it. I was very new to wrapping at the time, and a Bali Breeze is not a very easy wrap to learn on, particularly when you are teaching yourself! Glad you liked the blog :)