Does diapering stress your baby? Do you race to make that change in record time? You may not know it yet but you can slow down and intentionally diaper with comfort and care to reduce pain and avoid stressing baby.
Babies have an uncanny knack of being able to pick up the emotional “temperature” of a room. When parents are distracted, bickering or upset, your baby may sense it and feel stressed. Studies show babies can even tell the difference between happy and angry body language.
Whether you realize it, your baby is “reading” you every time you change their diaper. How you act, touch, talk and care for baby during this time has an effect on baby’s health and wellbeing.
Calming Comfort during Diapering
For some babies, diapering is stressful. They don’t like lying flat on their backs; they don’t like having their legs moved. They don’t always cooperate with dressing. They squirm; they fuss. Are they stressed? In pain? Hard to tell unless you know how to read your baby’s signals and cues.
Since babies aren’t born speaking our preferred language, they communicate through facial expressions, body movements and sounds like cooing or crying. It’s frustrating when you want to help but don’t know how. Being sensitive to and aware of your baby’s cues is a terrific first step in responding.
Your baby gives you a chance to master their likes, dislikes and tendencies with every diaper change. If your baby tends to fuss during a diaper change, you can respond in physical and reassuring ways that will help them feel better about your time together.
Babies also love routine—diapering rituals, like making funny faces and sounds, hugging your baby and ending your changing session with some snuggle time can teach baby that diapering can be an expected and rewarding interaction.
Protective Powers of Physical Affection to Avoid Stressing Baby
Researchers have found that physical affection has protective powers. Your hug, cuddle and caresses have protective effects. Just keep in mind not all babies like the same kind of touch or attention—your job as a parent is to learn your baby’s preferences.
If baby is particularly fussy, skin-to-skin contact can help them relax by slowing and calming their breathing, for example. You might try rocking your baby or using a cradle or swing. Young babies particularly like to be swaddled; take time to learn the proper technique if your baby is comforted by this snuggly wrap. Carrying your baby close while walking around has been shown to increase calm and reduce crying in fussy babies.
Does your baby put their fingers in their mouth? Suck on a beloved toy? Suck with an air-lock grip on a beloved binky? All babies are born with a strong suck reflex—in fact, they began practicing this reflex right at the beginning of the third trimester, which is important for getting all the nutrition they need.
But it’s not always about food, say experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Babies practice what experts call “non-nutritive” (not food) sucking because it helps them relax, manage their emotions, focus their attention, create feelings of comfort and security, and frankly, fight boredom, say the kids docs. Most babies and toddlers will use sucking as a comfort measure up through their 2nd birthday.
Watch your little one during diaper time; are they trying to calm themselves with some type of sucking? Offer a favorite toy or pacifier for this time after breastfeeding is going well (typically after baby’s 3rd or 4th week).
Manage Your Mood—and Baby’s
While no one is happy and bubbly all of the time, if you’re more so stressed than not, it’s important for your health, and baby’s, to find ways to manage your stress. Ask your partner, or a relative or friend to lend a hand. Consider counseling and make any needed changes in your life to reduce what creates your stress.
Learn how to distinguish stress from pain in your little one, too. They may look similar, but baby will offer up clues to help you sleuth the differences. Stress in babies typically looks like:
- a change in skin color, from pale to red-faced or vice versa
- grimacing or scowling
- waving arms
- baby’s body suddenly going stiff or floppy
- refusing to make eye contact; intentionally avoiding or breaking eye contact
Your baby may avoid eye contact because they feel overwhelmed or overstimulated. Give them time to regroup. Hold, comfort, and reassure them and then smile and re-engage with them when they turns back to look at you.
Cues that your baby is experiencing pain may include:
- crying that starts suddenly and is louder and longer than when baby typically cries because they’re hungry
- increases in breathing or heart rate
- posturing, such as arching his back
- quickly withdrawing from the painful situation or thing
Respond to baby’s pain-related cries with comfort and touch even as you figure out and alleviate what’s creating baby’s discomfort. During stress or pain, comfort your baby by offering your fingers to grasp, keep your voice and your movements slow and calm, and draw baby’s arms and legs in toward their chest, and move their hands together over their trunk. Place one of your hands on their head and one over their hands. You can also draw baby close into you and hold them tucked in this position as you’re a human swaddle. If baby will rest against you try skin-to-skin care and offer a pacifier, toy or your clean fingers to suck.
With a mindful approach to diapering and comforting your baby, you’ll gain your baby’s trust and dependency their needs—and that’s a healthy boost for you both!
Diapering that Nurtures Your Baby
Your baby benefits from every diaper change when you practice these 5 habits shown in research to benefit baby’s growth and development:
- Create a calm and clean diapering environment through good hygiene and supplies at the ready
- Change and check baby regularly, such as every 1–3 hours during the day and at every feeding
- Comfort baby by moving slowly through the diaper change to minimize any stress or discomfort
- Champion sleep by practicing skin-to-skin care at bedtime and using diapers with wetness indicators to avoid disturbing baby’s snoozing
- Cherish confidence and closeness that come from learning your baby’s cues and responding to baby’s needs, such as for a clean, dry diaper
Source: Adapted from Huggies® Every Change Matters: A Guide to Developmental Diapering Care
Pointers for Preemies
Most babies spend between 37- 41 weeks in the womb. Babies who reach 37+ weeks have spent time developing strong muscles by pushing up against the wall of the womb—moms feel some of those kicks and pushes! Premature babies born before 37 weeks miss out on some of this physical development. Premature babies’ muscles aren’t as strong, but research shows you can help baby gain strength and grow well.
Ask your nurses which positions are best for your preemie as certain positions are shown in research to enhance feelings of calmness and security, reduce stress, protect baby’s delicate skin, help increase muscle strength, minimize heat loss and evenly distribute pressure on different parts of baby’s body.
If your baby was in the NICU, they likely experienced some painful or stressful procedures. Before going home, ask the nurses to show you how to best position your baby for tasks like diaper changes. As you get to know your baby, you’ll also get a feel for what they like best.
Just like full-term babies, preemies crave sucking on their hands, fingers, or a pacifier. You can also try what experts call “facilitated tucking,” which is a safe and effective method to reduce pain and stress in preemies. Practice facilitated tucking by holding your baby’s arms and legs close to their trunk. Gently bring baby’s hands together on their tummy and place your hand there as well.