Understanding your baby
Babies’ personalities play a huge part in how they interact and, crucially, how well they settle. Baby whisperer Sharlene Poole explains how to identify what sort of baby you have.
One of my favourite things about my role is getting to know the unique personalities of all the babies I meet, and then helping parents to understand what their baby is communicating to them.
With most babies, their personality really starts to shine through at about three weeks of age. By six weeks you can get an even better sense of who they are, as around this time they are able to stay awake for longer and you’ve had more time caring for them.
However, when you’re coping with continuous changes, conflicting advice and restless sleep it can still be hard to understand the best way to keep them happy and settled. On top of that, parents often get what I call ‘square box’ advice: advice that is brilliant for the majority of babies, but not suitable for the minority. It’s why techniques that worked for family and friends might not suit your baby and her personality.
For families experiencing these issues it can be good to have someone come in who isn’t dealing with all the other factors and who is able to look, listen and observe what’s happening on a daily basis. By talking to, holding and settling a newborn I can understand quite quickly what does and doesn’t suit each individual baby, based on their personality.
This is how I describe the different personality traits I see – some babies are dominant in a singular trait, while other babies are a mix of them all.
A: The strong but quiet, visual and inquisitive baby
B: The strong but active, vocal, visual and inquisitive baby
C: The quiet and passive baby
D: The happy-go-lucky baby
The babies I meet the most are the ones who are either A or B on my list. These are the babies I call my ‘live wires’. When parents ask me how to settle a baby to sleep, nine times out of 10 the answer is: “You have a little live wire, who doesn’t know how to shut off when tired.” These babies don’t need quite as much sleep as others, but the right amount of play or stimulation is key to ensuring they are tired but not over-tired when you put them down.
For live wire babies you need to be more precise about their awake times, as putting them down 10 to 15 minutes too early or too late will affect their ability to settle or sleep well.
Parents with live wire babies also need to be conscious that these babies pick up on a lot more of their environment – sights, sounds and smells – and therefore they will struggle if they haven’t slept well overnight or during the day. It might be that they can’t cope with large shopping malls, for example, unless they’ve slept well prior to the outing.
If you think your baby might have an A or B personality, it simply means allowing yourself and your baby time to learn about each other’s tolerances. As these babies are more sensitive to their environment they do require a little more guidance. You are often best to have a routine in place so there is more repetition, almost like little reminders or boundaries, and this will also help to make you feel more confident as a parent.
Live wire babies usually smile at an earlier age and start giving you sound feedback quite early, which is so rewarding, particularly for new parents. We just have to be careful not to overload them with stimulation! These parents will usually have a better sense of confidence and understanding once their babies are six to seven months of age. At this point the days become less of a juggle as baby has the ability to stay awake for longer and cope with more in their day.
You can be more flexible with C and D babies. They usually nod off easily, whether they’re cuddling on your shoulder or sitting in a noisy room. If you have a baby who already copes well with being out and about and settles easily wherever they are, it gives you a little more freedom to carry on with life as you would normally. C and D babies are often ‘natural’ routine makers or can fit easily into a more prescribed routine, if that is what you choose to do.
During my time working in many different countries, I saw that most of the mothers I met were supported by their elders after having a baby. Through this practice, they received lots of shared knowledge and it helped the mothers to understand their baby’s needs. Similarly, by asking our parents and grandparents about their memories of what we were like as babies it can help us to recognise the same or similar personality traits in our own babies. It’s about connecting the dots, but also taking time to observe and understand our babies and how we can best meet their needs.
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