Development FAQ: 0-6 months – Behaviour

My daughter of almost 4mths seems quite a grumpy baby and is unable to amuse herself for any length of time unlike other babies of her age

My daughter is a very grumpy baby and seems to cry more than other children I see. She is almost 17 weeks now and spends little quiet time with me or on her own. She needs quite constant attention and holding, rocking, talking, singing, playing etc. I don’t mind doing any of this as she’s my first baby and I have a lot of time to spend with her.
She goes down with small amount of fuss for naps but after ten minutes is asleep and sleeps from 6.30pm to 6.30am most nights. She loves her food so I have little to complain about.

I do get regular smiles and the rare giggle. I just want her to be happier. Am I doing something wrong or is there something else I could be doing to help? She doesn’t seem tired except at night after bath time and before feeding. She can’t be hungry as drinks she 2 8oz bottles at least as well as breast feeding.

She hates any fuss and screams when getting dressed, getting a coat and hat on, being put into a car seat or a pram. She just seems angry most of the time when other babies I see at baby massage class lie down laughing and gurgling, my daughter disrupts the class with crying and leaves her mum looking inadequate and embarrassed.
Any suggestions or help would be greatly appreciated.

My daughter breast feeds at 7am and 2.30pm and has 8-9ozs of formula at 11am and 6pm.

She naps at 8.45-9.30am and 12-2.00pm. She settles at 6.30pm and sleeps through to 6.30am.

Babies all have different temperaments, in the same way as adults. They react differently to situations. Some seem to take the world in their stride and others find it quite a bewildering and overwhelming place. If your daughter is a baby who is rather sensitive she may take longer to get used to new situations, such as a massage class. This doesn’t mean you have to stop taking her out and about to meet other babies and children but you may need to help her get used to the world. At the same time, it is a good idea if she does become more used to amusing herself for short periods of time. You can help her in this as well, by not always interacting with her but being nearby should she need you.

Start by helping her play alone for short periods. To begin with this may only be for a few minutes but, if you work on it gradually, you can build up her time. At this age it is reasonable to expect a baby to be content for 15-20 minutes without needing your attention. This is more likely with a baby who has always been allowed to have short spells alone, either under a play gym or mobile or on their tummy looking at a mirror or toys, with an adult close by but not always interacting with them.

Choose a time of day when your daughter is not getting hungry or tired. Keep your own attitude playful and light. Babies are very sensitive to adult emotions and can sense if you are tense or stressed. Lay out her play mat with two toys such as a mirror and a book of simple outlined pictures. Talk to her as you lay her down, and then sit beside her. If she starts to cry straight away don’t pick her up. Talk to her about the pictures in the book or say,” Look, can you see… [your daughter’s name]” and tap on the mirror. If she does begin to take an interest in the book or mirror quietly observe her rather than talking to her all the time. All babies need plenty of interaction but they also need time on their own to find out things for themselves. It may only be five minutes before she seems to be unhappy again. Console her for a few minutes then try again leaving her to look at herself in the mirror or look at her book. Rather than overwhelm her with different toys or amusements it is better to stay with one or two things at a time. Make the first few occasions short but gradually increase the time she will amuse herself, by looking at or holding a simple toy, without needing your interaction.

Find rattles and playthings which are suitable for her age. There is no point in giving her toys which are too old for her hoping it might encourage her to progress faster. She needs toys which will help her practise the skills she has already. If she is quite adept at holding a small light rattle in her hand then offer her that, although it may appear rather simple and lacking in excitement to you. If she is able to wave it without hitting herself in the face, bring it to her mouth to gum it and maybe even pass it from one hand to the other, she is practising a variety of skills. At some times in the day she may enjoy playing with a rattle. At others, if she is getting tired, she may prefer a quieter occupation such as looking at her reflection in a mirror. If you can find one which is a wedge shape you can encourage her to have a short time on her tummy each day. This will help her physical development and let her see her world from a different viewpoint.

There will still be plenty of times when you do need to pick up your daughter and amuse her. Don’t feel this always has to be with singing and playing. She will like the sound of your voice just talking to her about what you are doing. Over stimulating a baby can be as damaging as under stimulation. They may want to be with you to feel secure but you do not have to be a one woman entertainment centre all day long. Because you do have a lot of time to spend with your baby it is easy to always feel you should be “doing” something with her. Let her become an observer as well. Talk to her about what you see from the window, what you are going to cook for supper, what you need to write on the shopping list. The actual language may be beyond her comprehension but she will respond in her own way by beginning to babble and chat to you.

Comparing your daughter with other babies of her age is not going to help her. All babies develop at a different rate and have different temperaments and characters. Look at your daughter in her own light. She will have her own unique character. She may not be so willing to lie and gurgle when massaged but she may be able to lift her head well when on her tummy. If your daughter has never been happy to have her nappy changed or be undressed she will take a while to enjoy massage. Again, your own attitude is important as well. If you are tense and worried that she may cry when being massaged she probably will cry. Try to relax and enjoy being with other mums for their company rather than comparing your baby with theirs. If you relax, your daughter will begin to do so as well.

Handling a sensitive baby takes time and patience. Reassure your daughter by telling her what is going to happen next. You need to respect her own physical space. Although it may take longer to get her ready to go out in the car or get undressed, try talking through the process with her each time For example, when preparing her for her massage class, tell her that you are going to get her undressed and talk to her reassuringly as you go through the process. Many babies do not like the feel of air on their skin. Keep part of her covered with a muslin or small towel to see if she can relax a little more. If she needs to be picked up and cuddled during the session then do so. Gradually, as she feels more secure, she will begin to enjoy the class. Also, before changing her, tell her what you are going to do. Although it will be several months before she “talks” back to you tell her before you lift her legs, or take off her tights, as the sound of your voice will reassure her.

Your daughter will feel more secure if she is not suddenly moved from one activity to another. The more you try to help your daughter now, and allow for her rather sensitive nature the more enjoyment you will get from seeing her begin to relax and enjoy life knowing that the security of your arms is always near, should she need it.