During the first 2–3 months of life, infants usually expected to accomplish the following basic developmental tasks:
- Developing a basic capacity for self-regulation and
- Becoming oriented to the external world, particularly the human world represented by caregivers.
- Between 1 and 3 months, the baby becomes more alert and more organized.
- Compared to the neonatal period, he is awake for longer periods and is getting more interested in his environment. He is also learning how to regulate internal emotions.
Infants at birth do not have regular patterns of sleeping, eating, or eliminating. Gradually, with parents’ help, they develop a regular pattern, which provides a beginning sense of predictability to their experience. For example, a newborn sleeps about 16 hours a day, with the same proportion of sleep and wakefulness during the day and night. By about 6 weeks, the infant is sleeping primarily at night, with well defined nap periods during the day. This change is encouraged by the parents’ own sleep–wake cycles. Young infants gradually develop self-soothing techniques.
Moreover, the infant begins to eat primarily during the day. By responding to the infant’s signs of hunger and at the same time establishing a general schedule of feeding times, the parent helps shape the infant’s experience of hunger, feeding, and sanitation into a regular pattern. As caregivers respond to the baby’s needs as well as shape his experience, the baby feels a sense of regularity and predictability. Parents now can interpret their infant’s facial expressions and body states, and have learned to distinguish between types of crying due to hunger, discomfort or pain, alarm, or fretfulness related to tiredness or lack of regulation.
How to respond to “difficult” infants?
As the infant becomes more regulated and more social, the amount of fussy crying diminishes. By 3–4 months normal infants cry much less because of improved self-regulation. However, some infants remain fussier, harder to comfort, and more irritable. These babies have been described as having “difficult” temperament style. Difficult temperament can be influenced by biological and/or environmental factors. However can persist if caregivers are unable to help calm and contain the baby or if their responses actually reinforce the baby’s lack of regulation. Many parents with “difficult” infants find ways to reduce their irritability. Some find that containing techniques, such as holding the baby a great deal or swaddling him tightly in blankets, reduces irritability and increases security. Others discover that their “difficult” infant is hypersensitive to stimuli and, in response, take steps to reduce new stimuli or slow the pace of events in the infant’s environment. Such parents have observed their baby and learned through trial and error what works. Some parents with a difficult infant, on the other hand, respond with frustration, irritation, or anxiety to the infant’s constant fussiness. The parents may also blame
themselves or the baby. These parents may not respond adaptively and instead express anger, handle the baby roughly or abruptly, or emotionally withdraw and leave the baby to “cry it out.” Suchcases exacerbatethe infant’s temperamental tendencies toward irritability, and hypersensitivity.