Everyone knows that people can be moved to tears, but many parents are learning that their babies can also be moved to happiness. Here are a few babies who calmed once their parents got a little mojo happening:
When baby Noah began to cry, David tried burping him by hoisting Noah onto his shoulder and lightly patting his back. Despite David’s loving attempts to get a burp out, Noah continued to wail.
Perhaps out of frustration or from some ancient instinct, David started patting Noah harder. He thumped him like a tom-tom drum, with a cupped hand, at about two pats per second.
Almost instantly, Noah quieted. His body melted into his dad’s arms and a few minutes later he fell asleep. “I was surprised to see how firmly he liked to be patted. But he relaxed so fast and so deeply that I knew it was right.”
When Margie and Barbara’s son, Michael, was six weeks old, he screamed so loudly at night that their downstairs neighbor would often bang on the ceiling.
Margie tried to placate him with gentle rocking and soothing songs, but nothing worked until she discovered what she called the “Native war dance.” She clutched Michael to her chest, his stomach pressed against her and her arms around him like a straitjacket, and shouted, “HA-ja ja ja, HA-ja ja ja.” With each loud “HA” she doubled over and bent at the knees, making Michael feel as if he’d fallen through a trapdoor. With each “ja” she thumped him on the back and ratcheted her body partway back up. By the third “ja” she was standing straight again, ready for the next “HA.”
Margie said that at three A.M., the vigor of the rhythm and the loudness of the chant were essential. Usually, within ten minutes or so Michael was snoozing again.
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Suck, and be satisfied.
If mixing all the “S’s” together is like baking a cake, then sucking is the icing on the cake. This last sweet nudge allows babies to settle down, let go, and fall asleep.
A baby’s survival outside the womb depends on her ability to suck. Like an actor rehearsing for a starring role, your baby began practicing sucking on her fingers long before birth. (Ultrasound photos of fetuses show them sucking on their hands as early as three months before their due date.) It was easy for your fetus to suck her fingers, because the soft walls of your womb kept her hands conveniently right in front of her mouth. Likewise, once she reaches four months of age and has enough muscle control to park her thumb in her mouth anytime she wants, it will again become a breeze for her to suck her fingers.
However, during your baby’s fourth trimester she’ll spend very little time sucking her fingers. It’s not that she doesn’t want to—she’d probably slurp on them twenty-four hours a day if she could. But for a newborn, getting a finger into the mouth and keeping it there is almost a Herculean feat. Even when your baby concentrates hard, drooling in anticipation of her success, her poor coordination usually causes her hands to fly right by their target, like cookies narrowly missing a hungry toddler’s mouth!
Why is sucking such a sweet experience for babies? What does it do that gives them so much pleasure?