Babies Communicate! The Importance of the "Stop Hand"

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Sweet baby Captain telling me very clearly that I was being too loud.

When my husband and I discovered we were pregnant back in 2007, we were thrilled and appropriately nervous.  How could two people who had been living alone in a remote cabin in the forest, miles from town or other people, who had absolutely NO experience with kids, have a baby and raise it together in a healthy, happy and safe way? We had the most basic components: love, healthy relationships and excitement to welcome a new life into our family, but here were so many things to learn!  I would like to share one of the things that was very clear, easy to respond to, and helped us tremendously to listen to our baby before she was able to use words, or other gestures, to tell us what was going on.  We called it the “stop hand”.

I spent a lot of my pregnancy in the mountains, without a lot of interaction with other people, while my husband was working during the days.  I was not alone however!  I was in the good company of 4 dogs, 2 cats, a load of chickens, and 2 beautiful geese named Ping and Vail.  The male goose, Ping, was my constant companion, as I sat in camp chairs outside reading.  He would honk at my big tummy and try to get my attention as I poured through birth and baby books.  Someone had given me a copy ofAttachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child by Katie Allison Granju, Betsy Kennedy and William Sears, for which I will always be grateful.  The ideas presented really rang true for me, and just seemed like the right thing to do.  Co-sleeping, baby wearing, breastfeeding and elimination communication, among other things, were not hard practices to want to do.  Every parent makes different choices, these were just ones that struck an instant chord for us.  I plan to share our personal experience in elimination communication, and other natural parenting choices we made, at a different time.

Listening to our baby’s cues and doing our best in general got us through a far from ideal birth experience, both mine and my husband’s postpartum depression, and endless sleepless nights.  What I want to focus on in this post is a specific cue that our daughter gave us as a baby, without words, to communicate that something was bothering her, before she started to fuss and cry.  It was the “stop hand”.  As you can see in the photo, Captain had her hand, palm out, open and nestled against her cheek. She was telling us “please stop”.  She would do this while awake, or asleep, to tell us if a noise was too loud, a movement or environment was making her uncomfortable, she didn’t want to be touched a certain way, or it she generally just wanted something to stop.  If we acknowledged this cue and stopped whatever it was that she didn’t like immediately, she was fine and would continue to sleep or go about her baby business.  If not, she would crinkle up like a piece of pink tissue paper and cry.

My husband and I started noticing the “stop hand” being used by other babies on our trips to town.  Once, we were picking up Grandma from the airport and saw a family with a tiny, brand new baby in a car seat carrier. The baby’s parents were hugging the grandparents, and we could see how hard it was for them all to say goodbye. The baby started to fuss in his sleep.  His mom suddenly

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