How to have a happy baby – according to science
How do you know if your baby is going to be one of those constantly happy ones? I really do think this depends on the personality types of both yourself and your partner. And, of course, there's the possibility that your baby will take the personality type of a member of the extended family. Either way, I think it only took a few days for me to be able to tell what kind of temperment my little girl had. Yet, I do believe there's a nurture vs nature issue here because as they grow older, babies are able to learn how to manage their emotions better and that could lead to them having more balanced emotions. According to research, though, it all starts during pregnancy.
- Minimize stress while you're pregnant. Do all you can to stay calm, peaceful and above all, happy. Don't underestimate the impact of your own stress levels on your baby. Also, be more aware of the things that cause you stress. Be more cautious of your environment and the people in it and be willing to reduce contact with any factors that cause you stress.
- Children 6 months old and even younger are able to distinguish between a peaceful and a tense situation and will therefore be able to tell when there's any hostility between their parents. That's why it helps to prepare as couples psychologically for how much things will change with a new baby in the house. Especially for first time parents. See my list here on vital topics of discussion to have pre-baby. As much as possible, resolve conflicts in a rational manner and very quickly to reduce the amount of tension in the home.
- Show empathy. Babies are human beings with emotions and those emotions will be a surprise to themselves sometimes. They won't know how to handle emotions sometimes, hence tantrums. It helps them when you empathize with how they're feeling because they learn that their feelings are valid and not the end of the world. You can show you empathize by mimicking their facial expressions and giving hugs and cuddles, for example. I firmly believe that a baby can't be spoiled by cuddling or being picked up when they're crying. It only serves to help them feel more secure and if crying is something that your baby seems to love to do, worry not. They'll outgrow it. As anthropologist Melvin Konner said of people who don't want to pick up crying babies for fear of spoiling them, “Babies grow out of their undesirable behaviors...It’s good to believe in the growth process, rather than you trying to control everything.”
- Breastfeed for as long as possible. Obviously, this is entirely up to you as you know your body best and may not have been able to start breastfeeding at all for biological or health reasons. However, if you started out and intend to continue for some time, then research says you might be giving your baby the tools to a happier existence. Breastfed babies enjoy that eye contact with their mums more often than bottle-fed babies and therefore are able to discern between different kinds of facial expressions earlier. This helps with their non-verbal communication and therefore they have the non-verbal tools with which to communicate their own emotions a lot earlier. This means that their needs are met more easily as they are able to communicate those needs non-verbally more easily. This does sound logical but of course there'll be many a mother of bottle-fed babies who might argue that their little ones were able to communicate non-verbally just as early as any breastfed baby!
- Let them sleep. Now just writing that made me giggle a bit. Let them?! Come on! I wish my baby would sleep as much as I'd like her to. She's a lighter sleeper than I am and that's saying a lot. I frequently wish she was more like her father who could sleep through the roof being torn off our home! Well, science says if you let (still chuckling over here) your baby sleep as long as they want, they'll be happier because they'll be well rested, have the chance to develop properly and be in a better overall mood for it. This makes sense because it generally works that way for adults and certainly my baby has always been more cheerful immediately after her naps IF she wakes up on her own and is not rudely woken up by anything...but how many babies are truly getting a whole lot of sleep? Especially in the earlier months. And what is 'enough'? That's a post for another day.
Would you call your baby a happy baby? Did/have any of the above worked for you? And if not, what else have you tried to keep your baby in a cheerful mood all the time?