A new study about childcare and motherhood shows that the type of childhood a mother had influences the way she responds to her baby's crying.
The study was a collaboration between researchers from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Fuller Theological Seminary and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It was published in the September 2014 issue of the journal Child Development.
The team studied 259 mothers who had never given birth before, and tracked them from the time of their pregnancy to when their children were six months old. The researchers found that the mothers in the study who had a good relationship with their caretakers during childhood, and mothers who had grown to accept their negative experiences with caretakers, were more receptive to videos of crying infants. These mothers also were more tuned in to their own children when they cried, the study found.
However, the study found that mothers who were prone to depression or who experienced uncontrolled stress or emotional pain when they watched the videos of babies crying were less responsive to the babies in the video. The mothers tended to focus on themselves rather than the child. These mothers also tended to respond less to their infant crying in real life.
"Responding sensitively to infant crying is a difficult yet important task," said Esther Leerkes, the lead author of the study. "Some mothers may need help controlling their own distress and interpreting babies' crying as an attempt to communicate need or discomfort."
Leerkes works as a a professor of human development and family studies at the University of North Carolina.
What can mothers do to come to terms with their negative feelings from their own childhoods, and learn to focus more on their own babies? Leerkes said that parenting classes might be helpful for mothers-to-be who feel unbearably stressed at the thought of dealing with a newborn. Parenting classes teach coping methods for stress, and can teach parents how to be comfortable with their children.
Infants may cry because they are hungry, because they need to burped, because they are tired or for many other reasons. Parents can try to calm a crying baby by playing soothing music, and making sure the baby's needs are taken care of. Read more about infants, why they cry, and how to respond to a newborn's crying here at the National Institutes of Health website.