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Beating the System by Busting Free of the Culture

So, apparently, it’s true. I’d always done significant eye rolling about this “baseless” propaganda, but a new study by researchers from the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex and Oxford University that surveyed a whopping 10,419 children confirmed what all the infant-scheduling books have been saying for years: Mothers who demand feed are more exhausted and grumpy than mothers who feed their babies according to schedules. The researchers found something else, too, though, something that demand-feeding advocates have implied for years in their own propaganda: Demand-fed babies grow up to do better in school, score higher on standardized tests, and have slightly higher IQ’s than babies fed on a schedule. (You can read a news report here, but be forewarned, gentlemen lurking on my girly blog, there’s a breastfeeding picture.)

So, the mudslingers on both sides are right. Feeding on a schedule is genuinely better for the mother. But feeding on demand (I prefer the term “on cue,” but I’m using the ISER researchers’ term here) is genuinely better for the baby. Both sides have done a rather spectacular job of justifying the sacrifice they expected one party or the other to make for the good of the party of preference, whether the mother or the baby, and have downplayed very real stresses.

Having to respond to your baby twenty-four hours a day is draining, unpredictable, and overwhelming, so enter the noble schedule, and voila, instant breaks, a free pass NOT to respond during certain predetermined times. “At 3:00, you can let your baby cry because it is her scheduled nap time. You should not feed her until 4:30, because that is three hours from her last feeding, and we say she only needs to eat every three hours, even if she cries. It might be hard for her, but you are teaching her that she is not the center of the universe, that she must obey, and that there are other people that she needs to consider.” Never mind that you are actually depriving your baby of the full amount of nutrition and responsiveness that she needs for optimum brain development.

On the other hand, being abandoned at regular intervals and ignored when hungry is stressful for the baby, it destroys trust, deprives her of the some of the calories and nutrients she needs to grow, and leaves her potentially lonely and afraid, so enter around-the-clock demand feeding, and voila, instant access to Mommy, a free pass for love and attention any time of the day or night. “Snuggle your baby whenever she wants it. Nurse her every time she’s hungry. Never leave her alone when she’s crying. It might be hard for you, but you’ll teach her that there is love in the world, that someone cares about her, and that her early attempts at communication are heard and understood.” Never mind that mom is run ragged, never sleeps more than a couple of hours at a time, and can’t figure out how to get dinner made let alone schedule any appointments, ever.

But does there really have to be this dichotomy? Is it possible to have BOTH a well-rested, happy mother, and a baby who’s getting everything she needs? I believe it is. At least it was at our house. I went from the bewildered, exhausted, completely boggled slave of a mother all the scheduling books prophesy to being well-rested in body and spirit WITHOUT switching from demand feeding to schedule feeding. I am sure there’s more than one way to do it, but I want to share what worked for me.

When I first started demand feeding, I had all these cultural expectations of what a “normal” baby’s life was supposed to be like. “Babies spend their days happily in bouncy seats and swings.” “Babies sleep in cribs.” “Babies eat every two to three hours.” But babies often aren’t anything like this. Mine sure haven’t been. But in the beginning, I was attempting to organize my life around these expectations, and my attempts blew up in my face. My baby cried all the time, and I was left in a puddle of despair.

But as I’ve thrown out my cultural expectations one by one and gotten a new view of “normal,” the stress has disappeared. I can sleep all night long and get my work done easily (as easily as any mother of five can get her work done in between finding out who left the Sharpies where the toddler could reach them and who took the stuffed horse from whom and why), and I don’t worry at all about scheduling appointments or shopping trips.

What does my new “normal” look like? Here’s what I’ve learned in no particular order.

Babies were designed to be carried.

In my early days of demand feeding, I thought I was going to nurse my baby and then put her down for a couple of hours. Guess what? She cried. Every time. I thought my life was over. WHAT was wrong? Did she have colic? Was she not getting enough milk? A schedule provides a lot of comfort in this sort of situation because it tells you “why” your baby is crying. “If she cries between 3:00 and 4:30, it’s because she’s tired. Leave her in her crib. If she cries at 4:30, it’s because she’s hungry. Feed her.” This alleviates heaps of maternal worry and frustration (goodbye grumpiness), but sometimes the schedule is wrong. And in the case of babies who cry whenever you put them down, schedules usually aren’t any help at all.

It turns out that babies’ little bodies were designed to be the most comfortable in their parents’ arms. Over the course of the first year, a baby’s spine changes from a “C” shape at birth to an elongated “S” shape necessary for the baby to learn to walk. All of the containers we have devised to put our babies in–car seats, bouncy chairs, swings, and especially flat surfaces like cribs and stroller–put pressure on our babies’ little spines and fight against the development of adult curvature. Is it any wonder so many of them hate sitting for long periods of time in these things? If I had to spend all day in chairs that hurt my back, I think I might complain about it, too. The best position for a baby’s spine is upright with her knees bent, pulled up, and spread just like a little froggy. This is exactly the position a newborn assumes when you pick her up and let her sit on your arm. (See this article for a thorough discussion of the physiology of baby gear. I have to admit that the typos annoy me, but the research is solid, and I can’t find an alternate article with as much scope as this one.)

The problem with saying, “Oh just carry your baby ALL the time” is that it’s hard! How are you supposed to get anything done that way? What about YOUR back and your arms and your wrists? (De Quervain tendonitis anyone? Can I get an amen?) That’s why there are daddies and siblings and especially baby carriers. There are dozens of styles out there. Some don’t keep babies in the “froggy” position and should be avoided, and some aren’t going to fit your body right and should also be avoided. But rather than trying to get my babies to learn to sit happily in their car seats and swings for hours (and fretting when they don’t), I’ve spent time finding the carriers that fit us and allow me to carry my babies relatively stress free for hours. Expecting to carry my baby most of the time has alleviated most of the daytime chaos and uncertainty and given me the ability to plan my life, giving me some of the biggest benefits of a schedule without a schedule. My babies stay comfortable and content most of the time. They fall asleep when they’re tired without my ever having to worry about being home at certain times to put them in their cribs (if we had cribs). I have my hands free to garden, type, sew, or grocery shop. If my baby needs something, I know right away. And most importantly, since I’m not trying to make them fit my old concept, I’m not worrying. I don’t wonder about milk supply or colic or WHY my baby isn’t “normal.” Life goes on, and we’re both happy.

Babies sleep best with their mothers.

The number one hardest thing about demand feeding may very well be nighttimes. First there’s the sleep deprivation, the bleary-eyed staggering to your baby’s room eighteen times a night for yet another nursing session, followed often by the desperation and panic when your baby does not want to go back to sleep in her crib but makes it very clear that she’d rather stay snuggled up with you. This alone can cause total exhaustion and grumpiness a million times over. But the problem isn’t demand feeding. It’s our cultural beliefs about where babies should sleep.

Our culture tells us our babies will sleep peacefully in their adorable nurseries we painted just the right color back when our bellies were big and our due dates were circled in red. The truth is babies want their mothers at night. Co-sleeping babies cry four times less frequently than babies who sleep alone and are also at a four times lower risk for SIDS. Their temperatures and heart rates are more stable, and they have fewer long pauses in breathing (see here for references for all these). They also nurse more. Co-sleeping babies nurse twice as often and have three times the total nightly duration of nursing compared to babies who sleep alone (see here). “But wait!” I can hear you saying, “I don’t want my baby to nurse more. I want her to nurse less so I can sleep more!” But what if your baby actually needs that extra milk? Is it possible for her to get it AND for you to sleep more?

A lot of mothers, my early mothering self included, put considerable blood, sweat, and tears into trying to get their babies to sleep longer between feedings and even to go eight or twelve hours without nursing. Some of them try co-sleeping for a little while and find they can’t do it. They’re uncomfortable, or they have to wake up to nurse anyway, etc. And while co-sleeping should always be left a personal choice, it’s worth considering that sometimes the amount of effort needed to sleep train the mother to sleep comfortably while nursing is MUCH less than the amount needed to sleep train a baby to go without her mother and her mother’s milk for a full night. It sure was for me. It took a few weeks for me to learn, and I had to experiment a bunch with positions (the angle of my pillow turned out to be key), but now that I know what I’m doing, I get a full night’s sleep from almost day one. When well-meaning strangers ask cheerfully if my baby is sleeping through the night, I always smile and say, “Well, I sleep through the night. She nurses whenever she wants.”

Newborns don’t nurse at regular intervals.

Everyone says that new babies nurse every two to three hours. That’s only sort of true. It’s actually an average of an average. Over the course of a day, an average baby will nurse a bunch of times, and if you average the space between nursing sessions, you’ll get something around two to three hours. But if you plan your day around an average, you’ll wind up with a crying hungry baby right when you’re trying to make dinner because what usually happens in reality is that babies go longer in the morning and cluster nurse in the evenings (right when you’re starving and desperately trying to get some veggies made to go with the casserole you froze before the birth). When I first encountered this ravenous, almost continuous evening nursing, I worried that my baby wasn’t getting enough milk. I also thought I might never do anything but nurse ever again. The expectation that nursing sessions should be evenly spaced sets us up for frustration and bewilderment when they aren’t and can lead to wanting to ditch demand feeding so life will be as predictable as we were hoping. But you can get the same predictability if you just realize that your baby will probably be more content in the morning and hungrier in the evening. In the new “normal,” I try to get as much done as I possibly can in the morning, and then in the evening I get to cuddle up and nurse while reading, surfing the web, blogging, etc. I look forward to cluster nursing as a fun break time.

If you read all this, wrinkle up your nose, and say it sounds horrible, then maybe it isn’t for you. This certainly isn’t the only way to be a good mother. It’s just the way that I’ve found that lets me beat the system and feed my baby’s brain without losing my mind.

26 comments to Beating the System by Busting Free of the Culture

  • Tracie

    Thanks so much for posting this. I’m going to be a first-time mom in April and this was simply great for me to read. Well supported, calm, logical, realistic… it allayed a lot of my concerns. I’ve been reading about demand feeding during this pregnancy, but like you said, it’s just not the norm. This post made me feel like I really can do it without sacrificing absolutely everything. So again, thank you!

    Just wondering… would you be interested in posting more about the specifics of how you sleep & nurse or what carriers/positions in the carriers have worked best for you? Any advice from a mom of 5 like you would be so valuable to me!

  • Tracie,

    Thanks for your sweet, encouraging comment! I’d be happy to share what works for me, but keep in mind that this is what fits my body. We’re all shaped so differently that what is comfortable for one woman is terrible for another.

    For newborns, my favorite carrier is a padded ring sling from SlingEZee. These work well for me because they come in several sizes, and size is crucial for padded ring slings because the padding makes the adjustment range much smaller, but I find that I really need the padding in order to wear my baby in the sling for any length of time (a lot of women feel differently, though!). I love slings for the early days because they are so easy (once you get the hang of it) to put on one-handed, which means that if my baby falls asleep nursing (an extremely common occurrence), I can rotate her upright on my chest and hold her with one arm while I swing the sling over both of our heads without disturbing her sleep at all. The sling is also very compact compared to my other favorite carrier, which I’ll talk about in a minute, and that small size makes it great for shopping trips when I need to pop the baby out for nursing and then back in again afterwards. I usually do all that while I’m walking around. I take the baby out of the sling, throw the sling in the cart, take my nursing cover out of my purse, pop it over my head, nurse one-handed while shopping, and then reverse the process when the baby’s done. This takes practice! But it’s super do-able, especially with a tiny baby. I got my start nursing while standing up and walking around at home, and then once I was comfortable, I started doing it in public. A lot of women like to nurse with their babies in the sling, and I do that some, but it’s usually easier for me to just take the baby out.

    As soon as my baby gets old enough to hold her head up, I start transitioning to my other favorite carrier, a woven wrap. The one I have is a Storchenwiege. I carry my babies most often in what is called the “rucksack” carry, and I get them up on my back using a “superman toss.” (It totally cracks me up that in wrap jargon, they call the process of getting your precious little baby up on your back a “toss,” but I digress.) Here are a couple of YouTube links so you will understand what all these funny words mean:

    Rucksack Carry with Superman Toss

    I actually start my babies on my knee in front of me (in a similar way to how the first woman is using the chair in front of her), but I do turn around just like this next woman does with her toddler, to keep my wrap from getting twisted.

    Superman Toss without Twisting Wrap Ends

    This carry is great for anything where I have to bend over (like gardening), or for more dangerous things like cutting up vegetables, where I want to keep my baby away from the knife. It also supports my baby’s head really well when she falls asleep (unlike the more structured carriers like the extremely popular Ergo). My last baby took all of his naps in this position from about month three until he turned one.

    I searched and searched for a good video that showed how I nurse lying down, but all I could find was the “classic” head position where the mother is looking down at her baby. If I stay all night in this position, by morning my neck and shoulder are KILLING me. But maybe if you see what this “classic” position looks like, a verbal description of how I modify it will be enough to communicate the general idea. So, here’s what nearly everyone will tell you to do, plus or minus three or four pillows (and gentlemen may not want to watch this one):

    Side Lying

    OK, do you notice how the pillow under the mother’s head is perpendicular to her body (the way pillows usually are), and her neck is bent so she’s looking down at the baby? Also, do you see how this mother’s bottom arm is in front of her pillow? How I modify this is, first, to move my bottom arm under my pillow so that it is providing a second layer of head support. Then I move my pillow and head backwards together in one movement until my neck is completely straight, and I’m looking ahead of me and not down at my baby. This means that my pillow is at close to a 45 degree angle supporting both my head and my upper back, which allows me to lean back slightly. I have a very firm, thick pillow. If you have more average pillows, you might need to stack two on top of each other. If this makes no sense, I can try to clarify.

    I hope these ideas help. There are lots of other carriers, and sleeping positions out there. It’ll probably take some research and experimentation to find what’s comfortable for your body. But take heart, it CAN be done.

  • I wish someone had told me all this when I had babies. Good stuff and well written.

  • Allie

    All I can say is YES, I have discovered those same three things, and it is making baby number 2 SO much easier than baby number 1 seemed! I was trying to fit her into my mold … and now I realize it’s way easier and better for everyone if I fit me into HER mold by trying to understand what babies need. I’m out and about when I need to be (albeit often on the bus because I can’t take the screaming in the car seat), food gets made (usually), I’m happy and so is she (and those two things make for a happier Daddy and 3-year-old, too). My Ergo and our king-sized bed are my best friends. Thanks for writing it all out so well!

    By the way … have you ever had a baby who screamed in her car seat? How did you handle that? I hate driving with her because being in the car seat is the one place I can’t nurse/hold her to comfort her, and she screams, so I’ve resorted to taking the bus. In the rainy fall. Even into town, which takes 1.5 hours! I just can’t take the crying. She won’t take a soother, which I bought especially to try in the car. Any tips?? :)

  • Allie,

    MOST of my children have hated their car seats. I think it’s because car seats are designed to be safe in a crash, and not so much to be comfortable for babies. I only survive by trying to be sure I nurse right before I put a baby in the car seat. And sometimes I have to find a place to pull over to give the baby a potty stop before I get to my destination. I also try not to go anywhere very far away. If we had a bus out where we live, I think I’d be tempted to take it.

  • YUP. AGREED. I think I figured these things out eventually also. Especially the carrying thing. They love it, and it’s easier to keep track of them that way too. The sleeping thing.. I just prefered to break it up– half in the crib and half with me. But always with me for naps. :) And yes. cluster feeding. or whatever feeding. I loved being able to get out of “dishes”LOL.
    I’m glad someone still writes about this stuff, since I”ve half forgotten it.

  • Rachel

    Being tired, tearful and confident aren’t the only measures for a woman’s well being. Successful on demand nursing can benefit the mother by keeping hormone levels steady and possibly even helping the mother to return to her healthier pre-pregnancy weight. I’m glad you mentioned the baby’s stress levels increasing from cries being ignored. One of the most convincing facts that led me to on demand feeding & co-sleeping was that the baby’s elevated stress hormone levels wreak havoc on their health when their cries are ignored. With regard to the comments, I LOVE my ErgoBaby Carrier and it has a sleeping hood that snaps up to keep the baby’s head from bobbing during naps.

  • Rachel,

    Thanks for sharing that video! I stand corrected about the baby’s head being unsupported. Lots of people really do love the Ergo. This is another example of the wonderful range of options out there to fit different body types.

  • J in VA

    My now 13yo HATED carseats, swings, strollers, cribs and sometimes the carriers too. Usually, she did not hate the sling so she lived in one for most of the first 9 months of her life and after that when she wasn’t walking–so much for claiming slings delay walking :)

    As for the car, if I was alone, we had cds to sing and just tried to make the best of it because we lived far from some places and, sometimes you just have to go. If dh was driving, I sat in the back beside the carseat on a very firm cushion and often dangled “food” in her face and she nursed while I tried to avoid needing a chiro adjustment. It did help.

    We went on a trip to the coast with my in-laws when she was three months old and got evacuated for a hurricane. What should have been a 4.5 hour trip took 10 hours due to traffic and we were all very unhappy. No nap compounded the fatigue. Honestly, I went in a store, bought some pedi benadryl and give her a half dose so she could sleep. It bought us 45 minutes and at least a bit of sanity. We laugh now but I had bruises on my ribs when we got home.

    Please do not hear me advocating drugging your child.

  • Charity

    Thank you for this! I am currently expecting our fifth little one and have learned that all babies are different, ditch the books, and do what works best for your little one and your family and *love* them! Seriously? I dont want to sleep alone and I have a hard time when my husband has to work out of town…am I evil for that? How should I expect a newborn to be perfectly happy to be left alone in a dark room to sleep the night through and not want any comfort from mommy? I can’t stand the teaching/thought that babies are little evil monsters that are working endlessly to wrap us around their little pinky and therefore they cry at night, want to be held and nurse often just so they can have what they want, when they want. Ugh!

  • Andrea M

    So well put, thank you. I spent the first three months of my eldest daughter’s life a conflicted mess swinging between trying to follow schedule feeding, sleep training advice which went completely against my instincts then ditching it because I couldn’t bear the effect it was having on my baby then feeling guilty because all the parenting books I had told me I was turning my baby into a monster by meeting her needs. Thankfully I found LLL and some other helpful online and real life communities that put me on a more empathic parenting track that has definitely been the right choice for my family. I must say my second baby (who is now no longer a baby but a toddler) was far easier and I do credit being more flexible and responsive to her needs at least partially. I just wish one got do-overs where the first one was concerned. I still regret some of the things I did in those early days and always will. Thanks again for such great thoughts on a topic so close to my heart and that of so many other mothers.

  • Andrea M

    A quick thought on Allie’s question about babies who hate car seats: I’ve known a few moms whose newborns have settled better if a beanbag (very inexpensive option is a large man’s sock filled with rice and securely stitched shut)is put across their tummies- the gentle pressure seems to calm them and give them a more contained feeling if they are disorientated by the motion of the car. Not sure if it will work for you, Allie, but it’s an inexpensive, non-invasive thing to try. Also,I wouldn’t try with older babies who can pick objects up as they may chew the beanbag, choke on contents etc.

  • There is so much wisdom in this post, no matter what your mothering style. And cold hard facts, too. Thank you so much for articulating it all. It’s like a breath of fresh air!

  • Great timing! I’ve already read most of your other baby-related posts 2 or 3 times! Soaking it all in…

  • LearningMom

    Fantastic blog post. Mind if I share it on my Facebook?

  • LearningMom,

    I’d be honored for you to share it on your Facebook.

  • I always cringe when a new mom talks about the stress of “keeping it all together” – the common sense you’ve written really is a foreign language in our culture. My favourite baby wrap is known as Moby wrap. The best part was I just looked it up on YouTube and made my own for a total cost of $8. Even though the baby is 2 now, I can still wrap him on my shoulders (although with the 30lbs he equals, usually daddy gets wrapped!).

  • Mrs. R.

    I would be interested on your thoughts and experiences on getting a cue-fed, co-sleeping baby into his/her own bed when it’s time to do so (my last 2 were around 12 months old when they slept in their cribs at night). I have not had easy experiences with this.

  • Loved what you wrote, although I don’t recall being a non-tired mom despite my best efforts to relax and go with the flow of trying to meet the baby’s needs. I ended up tired and sleepy whenever any of the kids were sick and up at night, or I was pregnant or nursing a newborn, or when we had company or my mother living with us (who had Alzheimer’s), or when we traveled…and that seemed to be at least half or more of the time. BUT, I do like your theories. Relaxing and putting the true needs of our children first is right (I believe) and the best we can do, whether we end up tired or rested.

  • Mrs. R.,

    This is a great question! And to me it highlights another way that I have laid aside cultural expectations. Over the course of helping each of my five children sleep alone at night, I’ve gradually let go of more and more of my worry that it would “never” happen on its own. Now, I have come to truly believe that if the process isn’t easy, the child isn’t ready. I wrote more about this here. I don’t even start working on having my babies sleep alone until they are around a year old. I also skip cribs entirely. Most of my children have gone from our bed to a mattress on the floor so if they roll off, they won’t get hurt. This lets me hold them or even lie down with them easily. I sit cuddled up with them at bedtime and do something with them until they fall asleep. It’s been different for different children, but some of the things I’ve done have included reading books, singing, watching a children’s Bible song video on my phone, and just holding my toddler while I do Facebook or Pinterest. When they fall asleep, I tiptoe out. If/when they wake up in the middle of the night, I try to take care of their needs (a bathroom trip or a drink of water are common ones), and then I lie down with them again until they fall back to sleep.

    I will often combine night weaning with transitioning to a new bed, and we do sometimes have two or three rough nights when I say “no” to nursing for the first times. With my most recent “graduate,” we were able to avoid the hard nights by letting him go for about a month having a sippy cup of milk in the middle of the night, which is totally and completely verboten among dentists, but I was very careful to take the cup away if he ever fell asleep with it, and for the most part, he always took it out of his mouth before he conked off. I figured that he was used to having a lot of food in the middle of the night and had not yet adjusted his daytime appetite. Once he started eating more in the daytime, he moved rather seamlessly to having water in the middle of the night if he was thirsty.

    The thing to keep in mind is that there is no magic formula for this. Every baby is different in nighttime needs for food, drink, and fellowship. I believe that it is the parents’ job to make sure that those needs are met as long as they are there even though our culture tells us that we should get nighttimes “off.” The process of teaching our children to sleep alone should be gentle, gradual, and not too stressful. Children really do learn to sleep like grown-ups all by themselves as a normal part of their development. We just need to take care of them as their needs slowly and naturally diminish and offer reassurance along the way.

  • I think it’s worth pointing out that co-sleeping has certain dangers. The SIDS rate is actually higher for co-sleeping families; attachment parenting advocates like to compare the SIDS rates in “co-sleeping cultures” to the US, but because the SIDS rate goes up in areas that have winter, it is not a direct comparison. When you compare the SIDS rate within tropical/wintery areas, you see that the SIDS rate is in fact higher among cosleepers.

    Other than SIDS of course is the risk of suffocation. I nearly killed my son when I fell asleep with him in the bed. I was so tired that I didn’t notice that he’d rolled behind my back. Not sure how he was still breathing and fine, but he was. That was the end of nursing in bed–I can’t trust myself to not fall asleep and smother my child, so I get up and nurse in the rocker, and put the baby back down.

  • I liked how you pointed out that people make it seem like mothers have to go all nuts in one direction at either their own or their baby’s expense. Not so, in my experience. I did find that pushing for a full feeding naturally led to a 2-3 hour feeding schedule, which led to “gathered sleep”, which led to easily sleeping through the night (or just nursing once during that time). I never had to listen to hours of crying, but I also never had to forego REM sleep for years at a time.

  • About carrying babies, you really have to take climate into account. When my first was born, it was winter, and I used the carrier quite a lot. But Tehilla was born at the beginning of September, and September, October and even November were very hot months that year. I couldn’t use the carrier without both baby and me being sweaty and red-faced with heat, so I gave up on the idea.

    As for co-sleeping, I did that with my second baby for months, because there was simply no way she would sleep otherwise. I tried to learn to sleep peacefully next to her, but it just never worked. I never felt comfortable. It was a relief when she was 8 or 9 months old and I got her to sleep in the crib.

    But I totally agree with you that the cultural expectations of happy baby in bouncy seat, baby going to sleep in crib, can be exhausting. Not long ago, I encountered my sister-in-law walking by time after time with a screaming baby in a stroller. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Trying to get him to sleep. He wants to nurse and then sleep, but I’m trying to make him sleep without nursing first.” But wait, I asked. Isn’t sitting down on the sofa to nurse easier *for you* than walking ’round and ’round with a squalling infant? “But if I nurse him before sleep now, he will ALWAYS want to nurse before going to sleep.” What? Always? Until he’s 18 years old? Babies are more flexible than people think. Mine, at least, always knew the difference between Mommy and Daddy, and from about 1 year old, could be nursed, then handed over to Daddy to bathe and put to sleep.

    Then we talked about supply and demand. Basically, the more you nurse, the more milk you have. My s-i-l was astounded. She never heard of this. She was pushed to supplement with a bottle, and usually it’s a road of no return.

    Thank you so much for putting up the info about cluster feeding. So many people aren’t aware of this. Every time we visited relatives, and I’d disappear to nurse every hour or so, I’d get tsk-tsk from my mother-in-law: “Are you SURE she is getting enough milk? What did the nurse say when you came for check-up? I was always told to nurse every 4 hours on the clock.” (No wonder breastfeeding never, for some unknown reason, worked for her).

  • MightyMighty @ Letters,

    Thank you for your comments, and especially for sharing your story. That must have been scary! Good for you for finding a solution that works for you and your family.

    There were a few things I thought were worth clarifying, though.

    You raised a couple of issues in regards to SIDS. First, the idea was brought up that co-sleeping advocates reference low SIDS rates in warm countries to support their claim that co-sleeping is safe but that countries with winter have higher SIDS rates. The country named most frequently in co-sleeping literature that I have seen is Japan, which has the lowest SIDS rate in the world (see this article for example). Japan definitely has winter, with many areas well below freezing day and night and northern areas reaching overnight lows of minus thirty celsius (see here.

    Second, was the idea that co-sleeping actually increases the risk of SIDS. There has been a lot of recent press about this based on a study done in the UK which found that slightly over half of all SIDS cases in six counties in southern England occurred while the baby was co-sleeping with a parent. Two things need to be noted about this study, however. One, it lumped co-sleeping in a bed together with co-sleeping on a couch (which is known to be very dangerous). And two, there was a lot of drug and alcohol use by the parents of the children who died. In fact over ninety per cent of the deaths occurred in one or a combination of these unsafe conditions. The researchers themselves did not conclude that co-sleeping should be discouraged, but said rather, “The major influences on risk … are amenable to change and specific advice needs to be given, particularly on use of alcohol or drugs before co-sleeping and co-sleeping on a sofa.” (See here.)

    Last, I want to address the concept of a “full feed.” This has formed the backbone of some popular parenting books in recent years, and some women really do find it extremely useful. The trouble with it is that there is a 300 % variation among women in milk storage capacity. Milk storage capacity is how much milk a woman’s breasts can comfortably hold without feeling full. As a woman’s breasts fill, milk production slows to a near stop until they are emptied again. What this means is that a mother on the large end of the milk storage capacity spectrum has three times as much milk available at any given time as a mother on the small end of the spectrum. Mothers on the large end may genuinely be able to tank their babies up to last two to three hours in the daytime and to go all night long between nursings, but many women with less milk available at any given point need to nurse much, much more often. These women are going to need a very different solution for surviving and thriving in their baby’s first year.

  • kharking

    We’re in that happily in between place relative to the stereotypes. I don’t try to shower (or usually make dinner) while wearing the baby but never had an infant car seat carrier because I prefer to wear the baby most of the rest of the time. We are also one of those people for whom true bed-sharing is unsafe even though I’ve found that it usually takes a week or so after the baby is born to transition away from them needing to sleep on me and to being able to be put down in the bassinet next to the bed. They stay in our room anywhere from 4 to 6 months depending on the child and what their needs are–our first daughter actually slept much better in her own bed but our son stayed in with us a lot longer because he slept better in our room. Again, it was about what worked for a combination of meeting their needs and accommodating ours. I did enjoy nursing them whenever it seemed like they wanted to–much less stressful for me than calculating how long it had been since I had fed them and worrying about whether they were getting enough to eat.

  • Leonie

    Thank you Mrs. Parunak :-) For the last few years, your posts about raising children had been my motivation and teaching for the future. Now I have my own little one. Now your posts are a “reality check”. I am so glad for your example. God bless you.

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