One thing I have felt across-the-board with all the stories about breast and bottle feeding is that we are all doing the very best we can. We can all agree that the experience of parenting an infant is not easy, whether it’s your first or fifth child. There are extreme highs and lows (usually depending upon how much sleep you’ve had), from ecstasy to hopelessness. I have been there. We make choices based on philosophy, convenience, conventional wisdom, and instinct.
At the end of the day, everyone is trying to be the best parent possible, and that’s why I have so much empathy for those that feel judged. I have felt judged. Oh, boy, have I felt judged (see Big Bad Mama). But I do think we should be as well-informed about parenting choices as possible before deciding what works for us.
I believe the idea that babies are best comforted by keeping a nipple (of any kind) in their mouths is a misconception that can make breastfeeding needlessly daunting. We are all so afraid of the tears. I agree they go straight to the heart and are impossible to hear, but how is a baby ever going feel comfortable with his feelings if his parents aren’t?
There’s a reason I was able to breastfeed 3 children and give them one-on-one time while I nursed: I allowed them to cry sometimes. When they were uncomfortable for reasons besides hunger, I tried to find out what they needed. Sometimes they just needed the release of crying. I didn’t run off and leave them. I stayed with them, but tried to calm myself and allow them to cry when they seemed to need that. If an older child wanted me for something while I was nursing the baby, they had to wait. Sometimes they cried, but they knew they would get focused time with me later.
I also allowed my babies time to move freely in a safe cozy place while I watched them, did chores, or just took a break. I learned that infants need lots of time and space to initiate their own activities and think their own thoughts. They need time to stretch, explore their hands and feet, twist, gaze at shadows or whatever else they choose, and reach for simple toys we place near them. Infants want to begin exploring the world on their terms, not always be a passenger to whatever parents are doing. Watching what they do, discovering and appreciating their unique personalities are rewards for our hard work.
Babies get used to whatever we do with them, so if they are used to our constant carrying, then they don’t know what they are missing, and they just want more carrying. If I carried and fed a baby all day for comfort; if I showed babies my world all the time rather than allowing them to discover theirs, I would have to multi-task while I fed, I suppose.
I may be an idealist, but I’m no martyr. In fact, I’m quite lazy. I just believe in different priorities for babies (and for moms, too). I’ve seen that babies are capable of exploring, thinking, having their own interests, self-learning, and expressing their feelings just like adults. They also deserve a loved one’s attention when they are physically close, just the way adults do.
I present this point-of-view as an option to be considered. It is time-tested and research-supported. It isn’t always easier in the short term, but it is much easier in the long-term. It makes life easier for parent and child because it helps your baby becomes the secure, inner-directed, emotionally expressive, capable, and self-confident person he or she was born to be. But there are lots of good ways to raise babies. Let’s continue to share what we know and support each other.
For more context, please read Beyond Bottles And Breasts – The Key To Whole Baby Nourishment, especially the Comments section.