Jul 6, 2009

Asking the Baby...

When His Highness was born I was part of a moms' group. Its purpose was to help out new moms, and mostly to talk them down from the panic that feels continuous in those first few months. In the process, however, the moms got to talking, and some hit it off quite well, and boom--friends to continue the support long after we got kicked out of the group.

Oh, but "kicked out" is such a strong term. There was no set timeline, but it was a revolving group. Once your baby hit 12 weeks or so you were "encouraged" to move on to bigger & better things, in order to make room for the fresh batch of brand-newbies. Kind of like Menudo, when the boys would hit puberty. The voice dropped, and bam--gotta get on moving with the music, as they say.

The group (the moms, not Menudo) was led by a nurse from the hospital, and it operated much like a 12-step group, minus the 12 steps and serenity prayer. In the basement of the Methodist church, we would meet and go around the circle and share how things were going--victories, concerns, venting, etc, and sometimes we'd have a guest speaker come talk about vaccinations, or baby slings, or whatever. Lots of tears, lots of hormones, lots of diaper-changing. It could get hairy at times, since there were as many philosophies as there were moms, but that's where the nurse was really helpful. She was quite skilled at validating most everyone's viewpoints without stepping on people's toes who didn't feel the same way, and she was awesome at undoing the damage of some of the more alarmist doctors in the area. Just so we're clear, it's OK if one of your breasts gives more milk than the other, and if anyone tells you otherwise they have no idea what they're talking about.

The best advice I got--but I didn't follow it--was to not freak out about giving the baby a bottle of formula at daycare. We ended up doing it, and I ended up freaking out about it, and eventually I calmed down and was able to be OK with it.

My favorite pieces of advice that I follow to this day are that you probably won't damage your baby by trying something for a day or two, and to ask your baby to make a change. The first is awesome for obvious reasons. New moms tend to create a worst-case result for trying something new, and then mentally follow the path to the quickest and saddest catastrophe possible. Reeling it in a bit and offering perspective reminds us that, at any time, we can revert to whatever was working.

The asking is something I never thought about before. When you read the parenting books there are generally two illustrations--the parents who regulate everything, for fear that baby will take over the family, edging out Mom & Dad's identities and desires, and growing up to think (s)he's the center of the universe; and the parents who regulate nothing, for fear that baby will feel rejected and worthless, and then starve. Neither of these helps the neurotic moms who just want to sleep a little and feel less scared. One day several of us in the group were talking about how we were growing weary of the constant feeds, and we wanted to try to space them out more, but we didn't want to harm a hungry baby. Depending on who you read, the two extremes would say to either take charge and be the parent so the baby wouldn't be spoiled, or to forget about any sort of schedule so the baby wouldn't starve.

And then Jen (the nurse) said the most novel thing. She said, "Try asking your baby to wait 15 minutes. Pick the baby up, walk, occupy, distract, and see if (s)he'll hold off. If so, great, you can do this for a while and then gradually increase the space between feeds. If not, feed your baby without any guilt. You've tried, and (s)he may not be ready, and that's OK."

I like this idea a lot. It validates the baby as a real person with real needs, without INvalidating the needs of the parents and their job to take charge and provide structure. It's especially helpful this time around, because of the Littler One's personality. He nurses to sleep, period. While this feels right, and I have no problem doing it, I do have the voices in the back of my head telling me, "He'll never go to sleep any other way," and "You'd better train him now or he'll be spoiled." So over time, every so often, when I was sure he was full and dry and tired, I've asked him to go to sleep without nursing. Most of the time he would protest and I would proceed to nurse him peacefully to sleep. But once, a couple weeks ago, he protested, and I tried to nurse him, and he screamed harder, so I had to try a couple other things until he finally gave in & slept. Since then there have been a few similar times, and I'm thinking that as he's getting older, he's becoming more open to other forms of comfort. Which means I can hand him off to Daddy more. Oh yes. Yes I can.

It makes me feel good and right to meet his needs ("A need that's met is a need that goes away") and do the nurturing & stuff, and it makes me feel competent and powerful to gently encourage him to grow & develop as babies do, even when he might resist the idea. Then I get all weepy and emotional, which is neither here nor there, except to say I'm really thankful for the good advice I got way back in Massachusetts.


Anonymous said...

Very nice. We did a similar thing with sleep -- neither cry it out, nor rock / nurse to sleep. We did rock / walk her to sleep for the first three months, and when we noticed she was starting to consistently wake up a half hour later, we started this method.

Put the baby to bed sleepy but awake. Pat, kiss, goodnight, leave. If she cries, wait a few minutes, return with pat and "it's bedtime" without cuddling or picking her up or conversation, then leave again. Repeat as needed.

It only took a few days.

Like you said, it's a good middle ground -- respectful and compassionate toward both parties.

linda t said...

I look back now and feel so bad for that poor guinea pig first-born baby. We were so uptight... so structured... so stressed. Then along comes the 2nd & 3rd and you just throw caution to the wind... you fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants... and then in no time I find I am so not about a clean house any more... I'm so not about impressing anyone... I'm so not about stressing out over the little things.
And the surprising thing... they all turn out just fine.