Many years ago no-one talked about cued care, parents simply just looked after their baby. Families were larger and the majority of mothers were stay-at-home caregivers which meant baby care was synchronised around other siblings and a pattern of sensible responsiveness was used to meet baby’s needs. Being a stay-at-home parent is not relevant for all of these days but that in itself does not rule out cued care which is simply the intention to respond. It does not mean you should expect to drop everything to attend to your baby’s every grizzle or for your baby to be happy and contented all of the time. You are modelling cued care when you are doing your best to communicate with your baby in the blur of confusion and crying and this will mean your baby will feel protected.
The current infant care culture revolves around deliberately delaying responses and teaching your baby to ‘self-settle’ as soon as possible. The intent here is to prevent baby requiring parental assistance to get to sleep or to get back to sleep. Using this method, intervening to assist your baby to sleep can leave you worried that you are creating bad habits such as baby relying on your help to get to sleep. When teaching your baby to ‘self-settle’ fails to work, parents often seek out a pre-defined schedule to guide their parenting and entrench ‘self-settling’. Unfortunately, babies are not all programmed to follow an identical pattern because they are all unique, and by trying to follow a schedule you may end up feeling more lost than ever.
Some people are of the belief that babies do not feel pain or have emotions. I do not share this belief! Let me explain this controversial matter. Babies do suffer pain and emotion but there is a communication barrier. Cued care aims to break down that barrier by letting them know you are responding to what communication they can give. Babies have a biological drive to survive and commonly will cry because they are hungry. Feeling ‘Hangry’ is a real for them and this can be a painful and stressful experience especially if establishing breastfeeding has not been a smooth ride or if their cues have not been regularly responded to. Studies show that babies produce less of the hormone cholecystokinin (a hormone that signals satiation and satisfaction) so even if all is going well with feeding, babies just simply do not feel as contented after eating as the rest of us.
Some of you may be reading this and thinking that cued care sounds fab but seems unattainable. Well, read on because I have a couple suggestions of how to make cued care easier.
Study your baby instead of your phone:
Cell phones and internet-connected devices are a huge part of modern life with a baby and connect us with the outside world. It is rightly said that this may reduce the feeling of isolation and protects parents’ mental health. However, these devices may also be a barrier to attachment and bonding with your baby. We may be oblivious to the amount of time we spend on them accessing social media, internet and other applications, especially if those are being used to try find the cure to poor sleep! In truth, the answer is right in front of you. Be mindful about how much time we are spending on devices that could be taking your attention away from your baby and as a consequence missing your baby’s cues. Limiting screen time for parents will mean that you are more in tune with your baby and will also mean you that you can get on with parenting the way that you want to rather than listening to and reading articles that go against intuitive parenting. Balance is something many of us struggle with but is so important. When you are meeting up with a friend for a playdate – leave your phone in the car! You can return missed calls later and scroll news feeds during down time. Relax and enjoy the playdate.
Stop hurrying, hustling and stressing:
Have you ever wondered why your baby grizzles more than usual when you are in the company of others?
Being a parent today is about being everywhere and doing everything. We teach by doing and if you want to nurture calm then you need to slow down. Scale back the number of activities so you don’t need to be somewhere in particular at every moment of the day - you will find that you will have more time and energy to connect with your baby and pick up on their subtle communications. This will make you more capable of keeping your baby’s stress responses dialled down by creating an example of calmness. Babies are like sponges and they pick up on our stress and worry, likewise they will pick up on calm and relaxed behaviour. Try not to let stress and worry steal the joy of being a parent. It is worth noting though there is no need to avoid outings just because they fall around nap times. If you do rush home for nap time, your baby will be picking up on this chaotic frenzy and respond in a similar fashion.
If you are finding it challenging to look after a baby and get the housework done and dinner prepared, don’t feel ashamed to take a friend up on the offer of help or use some of the paid services that are available to accommodate our busy lives.
One of the main things parents do stress about is their baby not getting enough sleep to support their development. Average sleep requirements are just guides with a broad distribution, the truth is that sleep needs vary greatly between babies. Let this reassurance give you the permission to make the change starting today. Love grows brains and nurtures development, talk, sing and read to bubs from day one.
My hope is that one day soon no-one will talk about cued care at all, it will just be the default mode of parenting. For now we need the term to educate parents and begin to change infant care practices that have become so embedded in society. We are well educated about maternal anxiety and depression, and now acknowledge paternal depression. Childhood anxiety is on the increase and I wonder if we are overlooking infant mental health? Take me back to the days where the term cued care didn’t exist it was just what was done. This could be the answer to better mental health for the whole family.
Denaye Barahona, simplefamilies.com
Possums conference, Brisbane 2017, possums-au.breastfeedingconferences.com.au/index.php
Amy and Elspeth