Thursday, February 9, 2012
I read lots of stuff about baby-rearing the first time around; however, although I tried to fit a routine into my second baby, it didn't quite fit. It seemed that most parenting books focused on the first-time mum - as if anyone who has ever had a baby will automatically go to the top of the class for knowing-it-all as soon as they experience the first bout of morning sickness.
Imagine the sheer audacity of absolute knowledge of all-things-baby in a second-timer; compared to the wilderness of know-how for a first-time parent. It couldn't be easier to fit a baby into the packed, busy life of a mum with a child, work, and family life to juggle, can it? What could be simpler than trying to feed a baby at set times, in between taking their older sibling to preschool/school, or picking them up from after-school clubs or play-dates at their friends on the other side of town? How effortless it is to be able to do the school-run, go shopping, feed the baby, do the housework; and prepare a family meal at the height of the "witching hour" of colic between 5 and 8 every evening, whilst fitting in some quality time with the older child, helping them with homework, bathing them and putting them to bed; then settling down for the evening for some grown-up time with their partner, for some scintillating, intelligent conversation. All on 3 hours of broken sleep, with a big, beaming smile on your face, clean, ironed clothes which don't have any stains from milky vomit, or felt-tip pen marks from a fearsome colouring-in session at the table with the older child (one handed, naturally, as the other arm is occupied with holding and feeding your baby). The second-time mum knows Everything There Is To Know About Routine, right?
Well, not me, anyway.
I am not going to name names as far as baby-rearing books go, but generally, there are two camps to choose from. In my first pregnancy, the books I looked at from the first camp were laughed over and thrown away within two chapters, as it was so rigidly prescriptive, I couldn't imagine ever trying to raise a baby with the suggestions put forward; the second was better and helped me to establish myself later on, when my daughter was a few months old, and had naturally settled into a routine of her own. It was this book I tried to follow after my son was born, but I put it down and ignored it within a couple of days as it just did not fit my routine at all. Why? Because I was taking cues from my son, and letting him show me the way.
Baby-led, or demand feeding is the ideal way to breastfeed your baby. Your baby knows when he or she is hungry. He knows that something doesn't feel quite right, and learns quickly that if he suckles on his mummy's breast, he will get something warm, comforting and tasty as a result. Your baby knows that the breast is a source of survival, and she will tell you when she needs it. Amazingly, your baby is working alongside your body so that your milk production is just at the right pace for that particular day, hour, or feed.
Your body has been preparing itself for breastfeeding for several months before your baby came along. When your baby is born, your brain switches on the hormones that make milk. This means that any stimulation to the breast (sucking, licking, pulling at the nipples during skin-to-skin contact) will trigger milk manufacture. So after your baby has been born, even if you don't attach her to the breast straight away, the movements and nuzzling at the breast is enough to get things going. The more the baby does this, and the more the baby attaches and suckles at the breast, the more the hormones (oxytocin, which is the hormone that causes the "let-down" where milk is released from the breast's milk ducts, and is the hormone which makes you feel that devotion and love towards your baby; and prolactin, which stimulates the milk ducts to make milk) are released. More frequent feeding will release more hormones, which make and release more milk. Your baby will want to feed frequently for several days after birth, so allowing that process will result in several things:
Your baby will feel comforted and satisfied
Your body will be ramping up the milk-making process
You will be full of oxytocin, which induces feelings of love, and with the bonding process between you and your baby
Your body will be working hard to get back to its pre-pregnant state. Oxytocin helps to shrink the uterus back down again (some women feel "let-down" pains in the early days during breastfeeding, due to the oxytocin release, which can be painful for some, but do settle down)
So how can demand-feeding a baby be possible when there are lots of other factors to take into consideration (for example, an older child)?
Well, it may not be easy to start, but in the long run, you may find it works better than trying to slot a feed into a space where your baby doesn't want to; or worse, try to do other stuff whilst your baby is hungry, but as far as you're concerned isn't "due" a feed. This goes for night-feeding, too.
Try to invest in a good quality sling (please read this guide to buying slings before you buy one). Slings are great because they keep your baby close to you. Your baby wants to be near you in those early weeks. They want to feel your warmth, they want to hear your voice, your heartbeat, and they want to feel safe. They have their security and comfort with you, because that was all they knew, until they were born. You are not "spoiling" your child by having them close to you, and they won't learn bad habits. If anything, they will feel safe and calm and be more settled, than if you are trying to get them to go to sleep in a cold moses basket, away from you. Also, when you are happy with breastfeeding, you can feed them in the sling whilst you play with your child. Or go shopping (just be careful if you have to reach shelves above head height, to avoid slurping noises, followed by accidental breast exposure, shocked onlookers and a cross baby. Not that I'm talking from experience, or anything...).Or when you're making dinner. My son loves watching me cook, chop and stir, which I attribute to his observations in the sling when he was a baby, because he wanted to be near me whilst I cooked the evening meal. I can safely say that it cut down on the witching hour aggro considerably, and probably prevented me from going bonkers.
This form of parenting takes a little getting used to, and some patience. But I found that it revolutionised my own routine because as soon as I accepted that I couldn't squeeze my son's feeding regime into convenient blocks of time around the rest of my life, a weight was removed from my shoulders. I fed him whenever and wherever he needed to be fed. I even attached him whilst in the sling, on my way up the hill for the school run. Nobody knew. He'd had his fill and fallen asleep by the time I got to the gates, the result of which was one happy boy, one happy girl who had a bit of time with mummy before her baby brother woke for his next feed, and one guilt-free mum who wasn't beating herself up over how inadequate she was at not being there for both her children when they needed her.
Here is some information about baby-led feeding, including recognising when your baby is asking for a feed.
Here is some information about biological nurturing, or laid-back feeding, which you may find helpful.
Please note that I am supportive of breastfeeding, but skin to skin contact and slings are just as helpful for babies who aren't breastfed, too, it's just that you may need to be a bit more resourceful when it comes to feeding and looking after older children. I don't judge, just offer a different option!
- Nikki Harman
- I am a mum to two children, a registered nurse, a trainee breastfeeding counsellor, reiki practitioner, photographer, and generally into keeping things natural. Going back to the basics in life, respecting nature, the planet, and each other. Teaching this to my children and others who are interested. This blog comes from a good place, and is intended to give the reader an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective, and make an informed choice. I welcome constructive comments and would like it if you could share (acknowledging me as the source) and follow the blog. Many thanks!