"Shutting Down": A Baby's First "Words"


Little Ying was nearly to her birthday. By that I mean she was a few days away from reaching the day she was due to be born. However, she and her twin brother were born six weeks early, and Ying had struggled to grow into her due date.

As a tiny newborn, Ying would easily "shut down" (www.hugyourbaby.com). Routine baby care -- changing diapers, moving her from the crib to the bassinet, and feeding her -- would seem to overwhelm Ying. Mom wondered if her daughter were "bored." With a bit of stimulation Ying would look like she'd had a long night of partying; she'd get drowsy and lethargic. Mom was still trying to nurse Ying and was frequently confused about what Ying was saying with her body.

It just didn't make sense that Mom should need to comfort Ying more in order to wake her up. But that's what Ying's body language was saying: "I'm overloaded...It's too much for me!...Can't I just check out for a L-O-N-G nap?"

Ying's mom became increasingly sensitive to her daughter's special way of communicating. Mom would look carefully at Ying when she would appear sleepy. If Ying had a relaxed, settled face with slow, relaxed breathing and relaxed arms and legs, then Ying was ready to drift off to sleep. But if Ying looked sleepy -- accompanied by a closing in of her eyebrows, a forced closing of her eyes, and a tightening of her face muscles -- then Ying was "saying" I'm really having an SOS (Sign of Over-Stimulation - http://www.hugyourbaby.com/skills.html), and I'm checking out.

Ying's mom became a great baby detective! She learned to notice this behavior as an SOS and to respond by swaddling Ying or holding her hand against her chest. A gentle sway, or even encouraging Ying to suck her pacifier, would help Ying wake up and get to the Ready Zone to eat or play.

Two-year-old Ying is now thriving. She loves the special Chinese rattle grandma brought her from Beijing. But now she bangs it like a drumstick to get her brother's attention. She chases her brother around the house and can't stop talking -- both English and Chinese. Those days of being a fragile, tiny newborn are far behind, possibly because her mom learned to see Ying's "shutting down" as just the first "words" her Ying learned to say!