How To Cope When Your Baby Makes You Feel Mad

Does your baby keep pinching or hurting you? Do you feel like you are endlessly having to keep them out of harm's way? Are they crying hour after hour with no obvious reason? Does looking after your baby feel relentless and like nothing you do makes any difference? Are you exhausted? I've been there (with all my children) and I promise you two things: firstly, you are not alone and secondly, it will get better. 

Having blogged for over 10 years now I have an amazing record of some of the best and worse times in my life as a parent. I have done things I am not proud of as a parent and I have shed many tears feeling I am failing as a mum. Below is a post I wrote when my eldest was 8 months old. She kept hurting me and doing things that could end up hurting her from chewing shoes to trying to pull bookcases over.  I was finding her behaviour hard and getting through the days even harder. The post shares the advice I found on how to stop unwanted behaviour in babies and I have added 6 tips at the end on how to help you manage when your baby is driving you mad, written with the benefit of hindsight.

A sleeping baby holding on to a baby safe necklace exhausted after causing distress to her mum
Sleeping babies nearly make your forget how hard and painful looking after them can be when they are awake

My Baby Is Hurting Me And I Want Her To Stop 

(Written in 2012) On Saturday I had a bad day.  Baby M refused to go down for her morning nap until 3pm despite being grizzly and tired.  We got close a few times, but something always went wrong.

The night before we hadn't had too bad a night considering Baby M has her first tooth coming through and her nursery is the hottest room in the house.  Even so I lost count of how many times she woke up or how long she fed for.  I mostly just latched her on and went back to sleep (following safe co-sleeping advice obviously). So maybe it was because I hadn't had a lot of sleep that night, or for months, maybe there was no excuse, but I found everything she did made me feel really angry. 

My Baby Keeps Hurting Me

I love my daughter more than I can say, but I don't always like her.  Yesterday she seemed to be beating me up more than usual: pulling my hair, pinching me (she's currently perfecting the pincer grip) and head butting me. I know she's not intentionally trying to hurt me; she's either playing or upset. That doesn't always make it easy to deal with though. Every time she hurt me I got unreasonably irritated to the point that I went on strike and told my husband he had to take care of her. I needed space. I needed to get away.

It wasn't just the pain that was getting to me, but what it says about me as a mother.  I know all babies pull hair at times, but Baby M does it a lot and I can't seem to stop her. It's just one of the many things she does that I can't make her stop including: biting me while feeding and putting dirty things in her mouth. At times yesterday I had a vision of being a mum of a teenage hooligan, knowing that I tried hard and wanted the best for my child and not knowing how she grew up into the sort of person who had no respect for other people or their belongings.

Stopping Unwanted Behaviour In Babies

I try to stop Baby M doing things that could hurt her or others.  From my psychology degree I know that one of the most important parts of parenting is to be consistent. I've tried consistently setting boundaries, but it doesn't feel like I can make anything work.  So I try one approach, then another and then give up completely.

The first approach I used was "just say no".  Whether Baby M was biting me or had crawled over to try to drink from the cats' water bowl I would say "no" in a disapproving voice.  This was either completely ignored or met with a big grin.

At baby clinic I was given another piece of advice by Health Visitors.  They said that saying "no" can actually encourage playing up because the baby is getting attention, effectively rewarding the bad behaviour. They also pointed out that if you are saying no all the time then you risk "no" being their first word which isn't ideal.  Instead it was suggested that I use distraction eg take away the shoe she was eating and replace it with a toy with no big fuss.  Other suggestions were to give her a chewy toy if she was biting me, or something to play with if she was pinching. They said I should try playing with one of her toys myself in the hope that she would come and play with me.  Sometimes that worked, but on the worst days she paid no attention to me. 

The distraction or swapping method obviously does works in that she stops doing the undesired activity, but that's only because she physically can't continue it. It works particularly well in the first 6 months before object permanence kicks in: out of sight is out of mind.  Now M is mobile if she really wants to play or eat something, say the TV remote, she will keep reaching for it where ever it is moved to.  We currently have a lot of stuff balanced on high shelves in our living room out of reach.  So far this approach doesn't seem to stop the behaviour from being repeated as soon as the opportunity arises.

How To Stop Babies Biting While Breastfeeding

The advice I have read about stopping biting during nursing has followed a similar pattern.  The first approach I used was to take her off my boob, say "no" and put her down.  Many mums have claimed they only had to do this once or twice and the biting stopped.  Not for me.  Baby M either bites or doesn't, what I do seems to have little to do with it.

Similar to the distraction method I read some different advice on Kelly Mom about how to stop biting during nursing (I can't find the article now). They advised taking the baby off, giving them a teether and saying something along the lines of: "oh you aren't hungry then". This worked sometimes, but often resulted in shorter feeds and each one ending with a bite.

When I asked for advice on a baby forum about biting the general suggestion was that babies bite while feeding for two main reasons: either teething pain or for entertainment. They generally do the second type when they have had enough food and are starting to get bored.  If there is teething pain use teething gel before a feed, if boredom learn to recognise the warning signs and unlatch them before it happens.  And use lots of nipple cream.  I'm not sure that Baby M is always biting for one of these reasons as she sometimes starts biting mid feed, but it doesn't happen every feed or every day so I have followed the advice about digging out my little purple tube of magic nipple cream.

Making A Judgement Call

When I'm at my most tired I make a judgement call: just how much harm is likely to come to her from chewing that flip flop? After all I've walked on that floor in them, she's crawling on it then sticks her hands in her mouth.  Isn't that the same thing? In that example probably not: the shoe is dirtier, but you get the idea.

I know that she is gradually understanding more and more and one day I will be able to use logic and explanation to stop her doing things she shouldn't.  Until then I guess we will just have to keep taking things away and giving her toys instead, hoping that she doesn't do anything when we aren't looking that causes lasting damage.

6 Ways To Cope When Your Baby Is Driving You Mad

  1. Recognise it's difficult
    Children can be super cute, but they are also hard work. There will be moments of parenthood you don't enjoy and that's ok. Don't feel like you have to love every second.
  2. Have a break
    As a mum you are often the primary caregiver in that first year and the relentless dependence on you is hard. You need some time off. Ask for help from your partner, family or friends. Even just 5 minutes sitting in the garden to have a cup of tea without knowing you have to be on call if the baby starts crying can make a difference. 
  3. Share the burden
    Have you tried telling your partner how it feels? Were they helpful? That's great if they were, but if you are reading this post I'm guessing you found they didn't really understand. As lovely as they may be if you aren't the primary caregiver then it is really hard to empathise. There are thousands of mums out there who do understand though. Talk to your Health Visitor or mums at a baby group, join online forums, search on social media for parents with similar age children. While some parents might be finding it easy I assure you most of us struggle at times and we absolutely will understand and be ready to listen.
  4. Make a safe space
    When things are really hard you might need to put your child somewhere safe, go into another room for a few minutes and breathe, or cry, or yell, or eat a whole packet of chocolate. That's ok. If you have a safe set up then they will be fine for a couple of minutes. The safe space might be their cot, a playpen or even a jumperoo. You aren't abandoning them, you will still hear if there is a problem, but you are giving yourself a chance to reset a little. There are times I have felt my baby would be at more risk if I stayed with them than going into the next room for a few minutes. 
  5. Go outside
    Strap the baby into a pram or snuggle them up into a baby carrier and head outside. It doesn't matter if it raining or the sun is shining, being outside will give you a different perspective on things. Go for a walk and breathe in some fresh air. Worst case scenario: if it's really awful and your baby screams at the top of their lungs the whole time before doing a poonami and soaking through their clothes, at least coming home will feel like a relief.
  6. Repeat the mantra "It won't be forever"
    I can't remember the last time my babies pulled my hair, or the last time they bit me or scratched me. It's hard when you are in it, but it won't last forever and telling yourself that over and over might help get you through a particularly hard patch.
You'll get through this, things will get easier and you are doing a great job. 

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