Friday, September 28, 2007

5 Bizarre Baby Behaviors Explained

You can check out all of these articles (and other articles about parenting and the like) at Why do babies bite?
Edward Christophersen, clinical psychologist

Is it possible that he's

? Some babies bite not out of spite but because it soothes their irritated gums. If this is the case, try giving him a frozen bagel or cold teething ring to chew on. If teething isn't the cause and your child doesn't seem particularly anxious about something (which can sometimes be behind biting), try to nip this behavior in the bud now, before it becomes a habit. Be sure that no one laughs when your child bites and that no one, including older siblings, treats biting as a game or ever gives your baby a "love bite." Also never use your child's biting as an excuse to give in to his demands. Make sure that
daycare providers
understand yo
ur approach and are willing to follow it.

Head banging Reviewed by Nancy Showens, M.D. Why does my baby bang his head against his crib? Head banging and body rocking are normal self-comforting behaviors in babies. The rhythmic back-and-forth movements may soothe your baby and help him drift off to sleep, in the same way being rocked in a rocking chair does. Strangely enough, your baby may also bang his head to distract himself from pain — if he's teething or has an ear infection, for example. Head banging is surprisingly common. Up to 20 percent of babies and toddlers bang their head on purpose, although boys are three times more likely to do it than girls. Head banging often starts in the second half of the first year and peaks between 18 and 24 months of age. Your baby's head-banging habit may last for several months, or even years, though most children outgrow it by age 3. Some babies bang their forehead or the back of their head against the headboard of their crib, while others are partial to the crib railings. Other babies roll their heads from side to side while lying on their backs — often resulting in a bald spot on the back of the head. What can I do about it? Head banging in babies is rarely a sign of a developmental or emotional problem. But if your baby does it, go ahead and mention it to his doctor. In rare instances — especially if your baby has developmental delays — it signals a problem. Most likely, though, your baby's behavior — while upsetting to watch — is harmless. Your baby won't get hurt banging his head. The only precautionary measure you should take is to tighten the screws and bolts on his crib regularly, as all the motion may work them loose. Don't put pillows or blankets in his crib to soften the surroundings, because these are a suffocation hazard. And if you use crib bumpers, make sure they're thin, firm (not puffy), and securely tied to the crib railings, so your baby can't get his head between the bumper and the railing. If the sound of your baby banging his head bothers you, try moving the crib away from the wall. Since your baby is probably trying to comfort himself, give him a hand. Make his sleeping environment peaceful. Help him unwind with a warm bath before bed, give him a gentle massage, or spend extra time rocking him to sleep. Some babies find soft music or the steady rhythm of a ticking metronome soothing at bedtime.

Teeth grinding Reviewed by Nancy Showens, M.D.

Why does my baby grind his teeth? Your baby may just be getting used to the feeling of having those little chicklets in his mouth. Teeth grinding (or bruxism, as dentists call it) isn't uncommon among babies who are getting their first teeth, beginning at around 6 months of age. Other possible triggers include pain — from teething or an earache, for example — and breathing problems, from a stuffy nose or allergies. And there's some evidence that pinworms are sometimes the culprit. Children who grind their teeth usually begin at around 3 1/2 years of age and stop when they're about 6 years old, although teeth grinding is also common among children who are starting to get their permanent teeth (at around 5 years of age). In older children, stress or anxiety is often thought to be to blame. Your child is a bit more likely to grind his teeth if you do. He's also more likely to grind his teeth if he drools or talks in his sleep. Almost all teeth grinding happens at night.

Is it bad for him? In most cases, teeth grinding sounds worse than it is. It's very likely that your baby isn't doing any damage to his teeth and he'll soon outgrow the habit. Mention your baby's grinding to his dentist, though, so she can check his teeth for wear and any resulting problems, like pulp exposure, cavities, or fractures. (Your baby's first dentist visit should happen around the time he turns 1.)

Can I do anything to help him stop? Although the sound is probably disconcerting, you'll probably just have to wait for your baby to grow out of the habit. If your baby is teething or has an ear infection, ask your doctor about giving him the proper dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease the discomfort.

Nursing Strike by Natalie Walker Whitlock

What is it? A baby who refuses to breastfeed, and is not in the process of being weaned, is said to be on a "nursing strike." A nursing strike is your baby's way of telling you that something's wrong. And it'll probably take a little detective work to figure out the problem.

What causes it? According to the La Leche League International, some of the most common reasons for a nursing strike include:

• Mouth pain from teething, a cold sore, or an infection (such as thrush).

• In an older baby, the baby is afraid Mom will scream. This is common when your teething baby bites and you react by yelling.

• An ear infection, which causes pressure or pain while nursing.

• A cold or stuffy nose, which makes breathing difficult while nursing.

• Too many bottles or overuse of a pacifier, resulting in a reduced milk supply.

• A major disruption in your baby's routine, such as you returning to work.

• An unusually long separation from you. Other causes include food sensitivity or allergy (most likely to occur in the early months), a cream or perfumed product applied on or near your breasts, or a change in the taste of your milk caused by a vitamin, a drug, or certain foods.

Separation anxiety Reviewed by Paul Young, M.D.

Do all babies experience separation anxiety? Yes, to a degree. At certain stages, most babies or toddlers will show true anxiety and be upset at the prospect — or reality — of being separated from a parent. If you think about separation anxiety in evolutionary terms, it makes sense: A defenseless baby would naturally get upset at being separated from the person who protects and cares for him. In many ways, attitudes about babies and separations are cultural. Western countries tend to stress autonomy from a very early age. But in many other cultures, infants are rarely separated from their mother in the first year of life. Regardless of the origins of this normal developmental stage, it's frustrating for babies and parents. The good news is that separation anxiety will pass and there are ways to make it more manageable. And in the meantime, enjoy the sweetness of knowing that to your child, you're number one.

When does it most commonly occur? Babies can show signs of separation anxiety as early as 6 or 7 months, but the crisis age for most babies is between 12 to 18 months. Most commonly, separation anxiety strikes when you or your spouse leaves your child to go to work or run an errand. Babies can also experience separation anxiety at night, safely tucked in their cribs with Mom and Dad in the next room.

How can I help my baby through it? Several options are available to parents:

Option I Minimize separations as much as possible and take your baby along if he seems to feel anxious. With this option, you're basically waiting for your baby to outgrow this stage. Option II If you have to leave your baby — for example, to return to work — try leaving him with people who are familiar, like his father, grandmother, or aunt. Your baby may still protest, but he might adjust more easily to your absence when surrounded by well-known faces. Option III If you need to leave your child with someone he doesn't know, give him a chance to get to know his caregiver while you're still around.

How should I prepare my baby for separations? As with any transition, give your baby an opportunity to gradually get used to the idea. Whether you're leaving him with a family member or a paid childcare provider, try the following suggestions:

Let your baby get comfortable. Ask a new sitter to visit and play with your baby several times before leaving them alone for the first time. For your first real outing, ask the sitter to arrive about 30 minutes before you depart so that she and the baby can be well engaged before you step out the door. Employ the same approach at a daycare center or at your nursery, church, or health club.

Always say goodbye. Kiss and hug your baby when you leave and tell him where you're going and when you'll be back, but don't prolong your goodbyes.

Always say goodbye: Part 2. Resist the urge to sneak out the back door. Your baby will only become more upset if he thinks you've disappeared into thin air.

Keep it light. Your baby is quite tuned in to how you feel, so show your warmth and enthusiasm for the caregiver you've chosen. And don't cry or act upset if your baby starts crying — at least not while he can see you. You'll both get through this. The caregiver will probably tell you later that your baby's tears stopped before you were even out of the driveway.

Once you leave, leave. Repeated trips back into the house or daycare center to calm your baby will make it harder on you, your child, and the caregiver.

Try a trial at first. Limit the first night (or afternoon) out to no more than an hour. As you and baby become more familiar with the sitter or the surroundings of a childcare setting, you can extend your outings.

How should we handle nighttime separation anxiety? Your baby's fear of being separated from you at night is very real for him, so you'll want to do your best to keep the hours preceding bedtime as nurturing and peaceful (and fun) as possible. In addition:

• Spend some extra cuddle time with your baby before bed by reading, snuggling, and softly singing together.

• If your baby cries for you after you've put him to bed, it's fine to go to him — both to reassure him and to reassure yourself that he's okay. But make your visits "brief and boring," and he'll learn to fall back to sleep without a lot of help from you. Eventually, he'll be able to fall asleep on his own.

What if nothing seems to work? Babies have different personalities, so some will experience more severe bouts of separation anxiety than others. If your child can't be comforted using simple measures, it's time to reevaluate.

• Take a second look at your sitter or daycare center. The person or center may be a mismatch for your baby if he continues to become anxious and weepy when you leave.

• Leave your baby with a relative or someone he knows well for 15-minute periods, working your way up to one hour. Your baby can then learn that when you leave you'll return, without having the added stress of being with someone unfamiliar.

• Reevaluate your goodbye pattern. Do you sneak out when your baby isn't looking? Do you make it seem like you're going off to war? Do you slowly back down the walk waving and crying until your baby's out of sight? A simple "see you later, alligator" followed by a quick hug and a kiss can do wonders for an anxious child. Your actions show your baby that leaving isn't big deal, and that you'll be home again soon.

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