Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Becoming Baby-Led

Here's an example of a typical exchange regarding BabyB-B's daily habits.  It is an exchange that usually occurs when I'm speaking with another mother (any kind of mother, new, old, grand):
Other mummy: "When's BabyB-B next due for a feed?"
Me: "When she's hungry."
Other mummy:  "Oh. Right. So does she go three or four hours between feeds now?"
Me:  "I'm not sure.  She eats whenever she feels like it."
Other mummy:  "So, how is she sleeping?"
Me:  "Like a baby."
Other mummy:  "Is she sleeping through?"
Me:  "Sometimes."
Other mummy:  "How many naps does she have a day?"
Me:  "As many as she wants."
Other mummy:  "Don't you have her in a routine?  It would be much easier for you if you got her into a schedule."
I have many people telling me that my life would be easier if I "got" BabyB-B into a routine.  I find this odd as I don't think I am sending out the message that my life is somehow difficult because I choose to be baby-led.  How did I get here?  How did I become so happily baby-led?

When people say routine, in the context of asking me what time BabyB-B is due for a sleep or feed, I assume they really mean schedule.  You know, something along the lines of 7am wake up, 7.30 feed, 7.50 play, nappy change, play, 9am sleep, 11am wake up feed ... and so it continues until baby is all tucked in to bed by no later than 7pm.  My life before BabyB-B revolved completely around schedules.  The six minute unit governed my every waking moment (seriously, even when I wasn't at work I was worrying about what I did or didn't do at work).  Meetings took place strictly in their allotted time. Every morning I got up at the same time, caught the same bus, had the same coffee at the same coffee shop, went to work, came home ... You would think, therefore, that I would run my life with BabyB-B in much the same fashion.

Before BabyB-B came along I thought I would run my life in much the same fashion.  In the weeks leading up to my due date I studied the books authored by women claiming to be "baby whisperers".  Like the lawyer I am I even flagged the relevant pages.  These books came with glowing references from friends and family who had "got" their babies into "great routines".  I was told the earlier I started the better.  I remember sitting in my antenatal classes listening to the midwife explain that breastfed babies feed at least 10-12 times a day in the first few weeks and that babies should be fed on demand.  "That can't be right", I thought to myself, "the book says they eat at 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 6pm, 9pm and 2am. That's only seven feeds a day."  Then I gave birth to BabyB-B. 

Nothing could have prepared me for the rush of emotions I felt when this little being, this little person, was placed on to my chest of 29 or so exhausting hours of labour and 41 weeks of pregnancy.  Here was this little person completely dependent upon me.  Who gazed up at me, these two dark eyes peering out of a wrinkly little face covered in a whole manner of goo, with a look of complete trust mewling for her first feed.  She latched on to my breast with her tiny little mouth and grasped DaddyB-B's hand with her tiny, perfectly formed, little fist and relaxed.

The midwives in the hospital all encouraged me to feed on demand and not to let her go longer than three hours between a feed (being the tiny thing that she was BabyB-B was sleepy and not quite sure how to wake up for a feed).  I dutifully followed these instructions.  Whenever BabyB-B cried, or even whimpered, she was offered the breast and she was quiet.  She relaxed.  I tensed.  "What about the book?" I asked myself, "It says she has to feed at the set times.  Why isn't she doing that?  Why does she want to just suck?"  

I tried to follow the book, but it didn't make sense to me that trained lactation consultants were telling me that my little baby should not go longer than three or four hours (at night) between feeds when the book, written by a "baby whisperer" said five hours was fine.  I decided that someone with "IBCLC" after their name probably knew a bit more as far as the breast was concerned.  I started to ignore the book.

The book spoke about babies' sucking reflex.  It would seem natural to offer the breast, nature's dummy, for this purpose.  But the book said, no, a baby should not suck on the breast for comfort and should certainly not suck on the breast to sleep.  An early childhood health centre nurse told me not to worry and if my nipples could stand up to it then it was fine.  A dummy was called in to aid when I got mastitis, but BabyB-B quickly let it be known that a plastic substitute was not going to cut it for the real thing.

Then we came to sleep.  In the first couple of weeks my sleepy little baby was happy to go along with sleeping for a couple of hours, waking to feed, a quick cuddle and sleeping for a few more hours.  By week four BabyB-B's little personality shone through more and more.  This was a little baby completely enthralled by the world around her.  Wide-eyed and desperate to see what was going on around her.  If she slept, she was going to miss something.  She was happy to have little naps as I carried her around in her wrap, but there was no way she was going to have a day sleep in her cot without a fight, she wanted to be in her mummy's arms.  

The book said to put her into her cot, awake, and let her "protest".  Now this flew against my most primal maternal instinct, if my baby cried I ran to her being pulled like a magnet.  I was the mother who didn't know what her baby's hungry cry sounded like because I never let her cry out of hunger.  How was I supposed to put her into a cot a leave her to cry herself to sleep?  

The book and its routines were consuming and confusing me.  The felt wrong, but people swore by them.  I was feeling more and more like a failure.  Already struggling with PND I could feel myself sliding more.  I took a gulp, decided to follow my instincts and the book went to the back of the shelf.

It was around this time that I was sitting in a second hand bookshop cafe with my mother in law and her girlfriend.  A book on the shelf caught my eye, Baby On Board, by Dr Howard Chilton.  It was a book that had been recommended to me by one of the midwives at the hospital run mothers group.  I was told it would make sense of what I was feeling.  Like a woman possessed I grabbed the book and asked how much.  It was probably the best $10 I've ever spent. Finally I had an expert telling me that it was ok to hold, cuddle and feed my baby whenever I wanted to and that I could not spoil my new born.  And so I started to become baby-led.
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