When you have a baby, everything about life changes. The love of your child may hit you like a ton of bricks. Or, like other love relationships, it may creep up on you slowly. Some parents take the coming baby experience with a laissez faire attitude. They trust they will get through childbirth and child raising by the seat of their pants. Others plan everything, like a military expedition, trying to think of every possibility and plan for every outcome. Others take a middle of the road attitude. Whatever the personal style of the parents, they will be bombarded with all sorts of advice and warnings. Some of it will be useful, and a lot of it, not.
If the parents are “researchers,” they may discover many opposing viewpoints on almost every issue. The “planners” may find this frustrating and overwhelming and make a firm commitment to adopt a viewpoint that causes issues within their relationship with each other and the baby. The “flyers” may find themselves validated when everything goes smoothly or be able to adjust to any bumps in the road they encounter. The key is having two parents on the same wave length – which often doesn’t happen! It’s a good idea for parents to discuss these things before baby comes and be prepared to change strategies if they find that the planned one is not working for them and their baby.
The truth is, babies need love, comfort, security, food, and warmth. Breastfeeding provides that very first connection that simultaneously provides all of a baby’s needs with one activity. The challenge comes in providing those needs for the baby while caring for the mother and father. Here is where family and community support becomes vital.
If you are a laissez faire sort of person, consider the possibility that childbirth may not go in a predictable pattern. It helps to have supportive folks in the wings ready to step in and give a hand if you need it. Have the conversation with family and friends so they understand your point of view, but can plan to be available in case you need a little help with coping in the first days. If you are a researcher or a planner, try to accept that there unforeseen events may occur and contingency plans may be required. Give yourself room to breathe and try not to set impossible goals as a measure of success.
Babies are non-stop needy. They go from having their needs supplied without any effort on their part before birth to a world that is cold, bright, hard and must be engaged to get anything that they need. Babies have massive brains (compared to other animals) but few connections established. Everything must be learned from scratch. Primitive reflexes such as suck, swallow, breathe that are essential to survival are present but baby must associate those with actions that bring food and satiation together. Those associations build over time. Connections between the brain and mouth and neck become more secure by 5-8 weeks. This becomes obvious to parents when baby begins to smile in response to interaction with other humans. In these early days, babies need to be near their mothers, enjoying skin to skin contact and free access to mother’s breasts for nourishment and comfort. Interestingly, this time when baby is mainly reflex-driven is also the time when mother’s milk supply is built and established. Frequent and unrestricted access to breastfeeding has been shown to increase milk supply better than scheduled and limited feeds. Frequent breastfeeding helps to increase hormone levels and sensitivity of lactation tissue to hormones of milk production. For mom to be available, it helps to have household and toddler assistance (if needed) during this early period. Slings and wraps that keep baby close to mom can help reduce stress.
Sometimes parents are tempted to use artificial carriers such as car seats, Rock ‘n Plays, swings and other devices that put baby in a semi-upright position and provide movement and/or noise like the uterine environment. The thought is that these devices will give parents a break and are harmless. Studies, however, show that babies who spend too much time in these are more likely to develop acquired torticollis, reflux and plagiocephaly. Here’s an article that gives more information about one product. By age 3 months, babies have progressed and gained more head and neck control and can use these products without some of the side effects.
As babies grow and mature, they become more sociable. Stomachs grow and babies can take more milk in at a session and sometimes go longer between feedings. Feedings can also be shorter at times. The unique personality of your baby becomes more obvious as time goes on. Your relationship grows and develops. Most moms find that after 3 months, breastfeeding becomes easy – and so much easier than all the work it takes to bottle-feed a baby. Breastfeeding becomes more than just a way of transferring nourishment to your child – it is a communication tool, a way of comforting, and a way of teaching about relationship.
In most non-Western cultures, breastfeeding to 2 years and beyond is the normal pattern. Of course, older babies do not nurse as frequently as newborns and some sessions may last only a couple of minutes. Extended breastfeeding (breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months and thereafter as long as the child desires) is associated with better development of facial structures, reducing the need for orthodontics in children nursed over 18 months. Family-friendly solid foods can be introduced starting at 6 months of age. For more information on introducing solid foods to older babies, check out this website:
Whatever your parenting style, know that it is possible to grow and adapt as time goes by. You are not committed to one style of parenting forever. You can compromise and change as you need to. Love, after all, is the most important gift that you will ever give your child.