Considering Context: What’s Really Going On Here?

Context can be defined as the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea.  Context helps us fully understand and assess a situation. Why is context important?  Because without considering context, it is really easy for a parent to jump to the wrong conclusions concerning her baby’s or child’s behavior.

A mom recently reached out to me for advice in understanding her infant.  Her baby was one month old and settling into a consistent three hour routine.  She was feeding well, learning to put herself to sleep, and taking good naps throughout the day.  All of a sudden, everything changed.  Mom explained that she fed her baby at 4 p.m. as usual and then again at 7 p.m.  The baby, very uncharacteristically, started screaming and would not go down for her nap.  The mom tried to soothe the baby but the baby continued to arch her back and was gagging and choking.  The mom removed the swaddle and after several minutes of being held, the baby finally fell asleep and then took a beautiful nap.

Was the baby showing signs of reflux?

Is there something wrong with the mother’s milk?

Did the baby not like to be swaddled anymore?

Should the mom stop swaddling her?

What was going on here?

What should this mom do?

Wanting to understand the context of the situation, I asked this mom more questions:  were they out a lot that day?  Were the baby’s feedings, waketimes, and naps consistent?  Had the baby been healthy?

The mom’s answers revealed that although the baby had eaten as usual at 4 p.m., the family had been busy with a project so the baby was not put down for her normal nap time.  Instead, the baby spent her waketime staring at fluorescent lights and being stimulated by the family’s activity so she didn’t nap at all during that cycle.  At the 7p.m. feeding, she became even more stimulated by the noise and activity in the house and was wide awake.  By 8:15 when the mom was trying to put her down for a nap, the baby started choking, gagging, and arching her back.

Was this reflux, a 4 week old telling her parents she was done with the swaddle, or was it something else? Context revealed that this little one was exhausted. She was busy staring at fluorescent lights on and off from 4-7. She was over-stimulated, and her regular routine wasn’t working because she hadn’t had a normal eat-wake-sleep cycle.

Is it possible that as parents we sometimes forget the obvious: the baby was awake too long and therefore couldn’t settle herself?  Considering context prevents us from jumping to the more elaborate conclusions that she now hates the swaddle and has reflux. We need to be cautious and look at what we are asking of our little ones and how consistent we are being with their routines.  Remember they are very, very little and are counting on us to help them establish order and routine in their lives. When problems arise, look closely at their day, consider context, and ask yourself, “What is really going on here?”


Patricia Lentz has been married to Tim for 39 years. They have 5 children and 6 grandchildren. Patricia and her husband have been using and teaching GFI material for over 25 years. She spends her days counseling young moms, writing, and traveling to spend time with her grandchildren.


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