Just consider these two infants; both are from the same family, both are girls:
- The first baby is calm and quiet, and is happy to play by herself. She is aware of her surroundings and everything that happens around her, but hardly demands attention for herself. Left to herself, she sleeps for longish periods and feeds infrequently.
- The second infant is fussy and gets startled easily. She moves almost constantly both when awake and asleep, thrashes her arms and legs. Where most newborns sleep for about 14 hours a day, she sleeps for only 10, and awakens even if there’s the slightest activity around her. She seems to be in a hurry to do everything at once, even eats quickly, gulping her feeds and swallowing a lot of air and because of that she needs frequent burping.
It might come as a surprise to know that both these infants are absolutely normal and healthy. None of them is “better” than the other, but because their personalities are so very different from each other, the two will be treated differently, right from their birth.
Just like these babies, your infant too will demonstrate many personality traits that are unique right from the early weeks of life. Discovering these unique traits is one of the most exciting parts of having a baby. Do you find her very active and intense, or is she relatively slow-going? Is she docile and timid in a new situation, like when the baby is first given a bath, or does she enjoy it? You’ll be excited to find clues to her personality in whatever she does, from crying to falling asleep. The more attentive you are to these signs and sooner you learn how to respond according to her unique personality, the calmer your life will be in the coming months.
Most of these early character traits are a part of the baby’s hereditary makeup, but sometimes their appearance may get delayed in case of premature babies. Premature babies do not express their needs (hunger, fatigue, or discomfort) as clearly as full term babies. They may have extra sensitivity to light, sound and touch for many months. Sometimes even a playful conversation may be too intense for them and they might become fussy and look away. It is up to the parent to stop at such times and wait until the baby is ready for more attention. As time passes, most of these early reactions will go away, and the baby’s own personality traits will become more prominent.
Even full term babies who are underweight or less than 2.5 kg at birth, also may be less responsive as compared to other newborns. At first they may not seem very alert and just keep sleeping. After a few weeks they seem to become more alert, staying awake for longer, eating eagerly but still might remain irritable and sensitive to any stimulation between feedings. This irritability will go when they grow and mature further.
Your baby’s temperament will influence the way you treat her and even feel about her from the very early days. If you had any specific ideas about child rearing beforehand, you might want to re-evaluate them now to see if they’re really in tune with her personality. You might want to re-evaluate the expert advice (from books/ articles/ especially from well-meaning relatives or friends) about the “correct way” to raise a child. There is no right way of parenting and that’s the truth. Every child is different. There is no one method of child rearing that works for every child. You have to trust your instincts based on your child’s unique temperament, your personal beliefs, and your family circumstances. The most important thing is to respond to your baby’s individual personality. Don’t try to tackle her according to some previously set parenting pattern. Respecting your baby’s uniqueness as her strength right from the early days will help lay a strong foundation for her high self esteem and for her loving relationships with others in the future.