Of course, we all know that some people are much more sensitive than others. One person can sleep with the TV on while another is annoyed by any little sound. Some newborns also show signs of being extra sensitive, such as jumping when the telephone rings, grimacing at the taste of lanolin on your nipple, or turning her head to the smell of your breast.
Sensitive babies are wide-eyed and super-alert; their reactions to the world are as transparent and pure as crystal. But like crystal, sensitive infants are often fragile and require extra care. They are so open to everything around them they can easily become overloaded. That’s why these babies have such a hard time settling themselves when they’re left to cry it out. In other words, they can go bonkers from being bonkers!
If your newborn has a sensitive temperament, she may occasionally look away from you during her feeding or playtime. This is called “gaze aversion.” Gaze aversion occurs when you get a little too close to your baby’s eyes. Imagine a ten-foot face suddenly coming right in front of your nose. You, too, might need to look away or pull back a bit and check it out from a more comfortable distance! Don’t mistake this for a sign that she doesn’t like you or want to look at you. Just move back a foot or two and allow her to have slightly more space between her eyes and your face.
Intense Babies: A Cross Between Passionate … and Explosive
Throughout your baby’s normal waking cycles, he’s bound to experience tiny flashes of frustration, annoyance, and discomfort. Calm babies handle these with hardly a fuss, but intense babies handle these intensely. It’s as if the “sparks” of everyday distress fall onto the “dynamite” of their volatile temperament, and “Kapow!” they explode. When babies lose control like that, they may get so carried away that they can’t stop screaming even when they’re given exactly what they want.
This intense crying was what Jackie experienced when she tried to feed her hungry—and passionate—baby. Two-month-old Jeffrey often began his feedings like this:
“He would let out a shriek that sounded like, ‘Feed me or I’m gonna die!’ I would leap off the sofa, take out my breast, and insert it into his cavernous mouth. However, rather than gratefully taking it, he would often shake his head from side to side and wail around my dripping boob as if he were blind and didn’t even know it was there. At times I worried that he thought my breast was a hand trying to silence him rather than my loving attempt to come to his rescue.
“Fortunately, I had already figured out that Jeffrey couldn’t stop himself from reacting that way. So, despite his protests, I kept offering him my breast until he realized what I was trying to do. Eventually, he would latch on and start suckling. And then, lo and behold, he’d eat as if I hadn’t fed him for months.”
Jackie was smart. She realized Jeffrey wasn’t intentionally ignoring her gift of food; he was just a little bitty baby trying to deal with his great big personality. Like a rookie cowboy on a rodeo bull, he was trying so hard to hold on that he didn’t notice she was right there next to him, ready to help.
Does a Baby’s Temperament Last a Lifetime?
As babies grow up, they don’t get less intense or sensitive, but they do develop other skills to help themselves control their temperaments and better cope with the world. By three months they begin to smile, coo, roll, grab, and chew. And shortly thereafter they add the extraordinarily effective self-calming techniques of laughter, mouthing objects, and moving about.
What’s Your Baby’s Temperament?
Even on the first days of your baby’s life, you can get glimpses of his budding temperament. The answers to these questions may help you determine if your child’s temperament is more placid or passionate:
1. Do bright lights, wet diapers, or cold air make your baby lightly whimper or full-out scream?
2. When you lay him down on his back, do his arms usually rest serenely at his sides or flail about?
3. Does he startle easily at loud noises and sudden movements?
4. When he’s hungry, does he slowly get fussier and fussier or does he accelerate immediately into strong wailing?
5. When he’s eating, is he like a little wine taster (calmly taking sips) or an all-you-can-eater (slurping the milk down with speedy precision)?
6. Once he works himself into a vigorous cry, how hard is it for you to get his attention? How long does it take to get him to settle back down?
These hints can’t perfectly predict your child’s lifelong temperament, but they can help you begin the exciting journey of getting to know and respect his uniqueness.
With time infants develop enough control over their immature bodies to allow them to direct the same zest that used to spill out into their shrieks into giggles and belly laughs. Passionate infants often turn into kids who are the biggest laughers and most talkative members of the family. (“Hey, Mom, look! Look! It’s incredible!”) And sensitive infants often grow into compassionate and perceptive children. (“No, Mom, it’s not purple. It’s lavender.”)
So if you have a challenging baby, don’t lose heart. These kids often become the sweetest and most enthusiastic children on the block!