MEET THE EXPERT: Myla Kabat-Zinn, mum of three and co-author of Everyday Blessings: Mindfulness for Parents (£14.99, Piatkus).
Increasing numbers of mums are turning to mindfulness, a form of meditation that focuses on awareness and openness, to help them and their baby work through the stress of tears.
‘Mindful parenting is not about being the perfect parent,’ says mindfulness expert Myla Kabat-Zinn. ‘It’s about being more aware, present in the moment and open-hearted. That makes a huge difference to our children and how we respond to them.’
‘When your baby cries, you get stressed,’ she continues. ‘This is a very natural response to make us respond – that’s how babies survive.’
But that stress can be difficult for us to deal with. Many of us shut down our emotions in the face of it. ‘But by being a little more mindful, you can respond with kindness and clarity in difficult moments,’ says Myla. The next time your baby cries, try these techniques and see for yourself…
Be mindful of the conditions that are around you
‘We’re not always going to be able to stop our babies from crying,’ says Myla. ‘But we can attune to them and think about the conditions that may have led to the crying.’ By tuning in to how your baby sees the world, and understanding why he might be crying, you’ll be better able to help.
‘There are so many things we can bring awareness to – how do the clothes your baby is wearing feel to him? Is it time to take your baby to a quiet place because he’s been overstimulated in a busy environment?’ says Myla. ‘Some babies love to be swaddled and held closely, but some babies can’t stand it!’
Be aware of the reasons why you are feeling stressed
Listening to your little one crying is upsetting, especially when you’re unable to settle him.
But this could be less to do with your baby and more to do with you. ‘Sometimes your reaction to your baby crying has more to do with your own experience of being a child and not necessarily what is happening in the moment,’ says Myla. ‘If you didn’t feel nurtured, when your baby cries, you may get extremely distressed.’
Look at your expectations
Does it sometimes feel as if it’s only your baby who cries all the time? Or if this is your second child, are you at a loss as to why he cries more than your first did?
‘Look at your expectations, and you might realise you’re expecting your baby to behave like another, and you’re experiencing frustration or anger,’ says Myla. ‘Open yourself
to the possibility that your baby is different and ask yourself how you can work with him.’
Accept that babies cry
‘The first nine months is almost like a fourth trimester,’ says Myla. ‘It’s a huge transition from being inside to outside. So it’s normal for babies to cry, this is just the way it is. Don’t beat yourself up about it.’
Even if you understand why your baby is crying, there’s not always a lot you can do about it. ‘A lot of babies hate having their nappy changed,’ says Myla. ‘Are you going to be tense and anxious about his crying when you change his nappy? Or can you accept the crying, calm yourself down, relax into your body, and have a little empathy with your baby
Bring some kindness
Babies always cry for a reason, but you won’t always understand what that reason is. And you may feel as if you’ve failed your baby if you can’t soothe him and stop him crying. ‘This couldn’t be further from the truth,’ says Myla.
‘If you can’t figure out why he’s crying, and nothing you’re doing is working, just try bringing a little kindness to the moment. Pick him up, hold him, and try to imagine what it feels like to be a baby. If you couldn’t talk yet, and perhaps even you didn’t know why you’re upset, what might you want? You would probably simply want to be held with some gentleness.’
Try different ways to soothe your baby and find out what is helpful to him. He might be comforted if you try to recreate a whooshing sound, like he heard in your womb, or by movement. Some babies are soothed by a trip in the car, some by the sound of the vacuum cleaner, others love to have you sing to them.
‘But remember what works today might not work tomorrow, or even the next moment,’ says Myla. ‘Be open to what helps in the present moment.’
Accept the fact that you can’t solve everything
So what happens if your baby is crying persistently, and nothing you are doing calms him? ‘Accept the situation as it is,’ says Myla.
‘Say to yourself, “This is what is happening, he is crying, this is difficult. I may not be able to stop him crying but I can change how I am in relation to it all.”’