zaterdag 3 november 2012

Lessons learned: Crying babies and breast milk

Breast milk is a divisive issue. (So are crying babies, but that's more of a relationship issue between the parental units. Ask any parent, they know exactly of which I speak.)

So let me start off by telling you that I really don't care whether anybody feeds their baby from their body or from a bottle. This article argues convincingly that so far no research has come up with any scientific evidence that either one trumps the other. (Also - men can breast feed too, so there's no equality or sleep issue if we don't want there to be.) 

Having said that, I must admit that E. was solely fed my milk up to six months, after which I continued nursing for another three. There was no parenting philosophy or theoretical argument involved. My body was producing the stuff, so I reckoned I might as well give it a shot. It turned out that both E. and I were naturals at this feeding thing, and we quite enjoyed ourselves, which is why I stuck with it, even after going back to work when she was three months old.

But before reality hit so pleasantly, I had read and googled. And one thing that kept coming up was that I needed to recognize E.'s hunger signals in time, that is, before she started crying. Crying, as I was informed by anybody with any sort of authority in the area, was a LATE SIGNAL (this links to the official Dutch guideline on breast feeding; here's a link in English). I took that to mean that by the time E. was crying, I would have FAILED as a mother. 

I failed quite often. Actually, I never really got the hang of answering my E.'s needs before she'd start yelling until she decided to make my life easier by simply sticking to a schedule: 7am, 11am, 3pm, 7pm. She was three months old.

Yes, she started sleeping through the night exactly at the point where I had to go back to work. I always considered myself really fortunate with such a classy girl.

Until I read Pamela Druckerman's Bringing up Bebe (or, in the British version: French children don't throw food) about the French way to raise children. And it turns out all French babies get into a rhythm and sleep through the night at three months of age. The reason, Druckerman writes, is "la pause".

French parents don't immediately grab their child as it starts crying, but pause to listen for a minute or so. Is the baby crying out in its sleep? Is the baby going to fall asleep again on its own? And if the crying continues, they cuddle the baby, check the diaper and only if the baby continues to demand attention do they turn to the food option. This way, the parents learn to differentiate between the baby's needs, without immediately resorting to the breast. The baby on the other hand, gets a chance to self-soothe and fall asleep peacefully again on its own - an ability which they apparently can employ for whole nights from a couple of months old onwards. 

But what hit me most was what happens before "la pause" - the baby CRIES. French parents are allowed to let their babies cry without immediately fearing bonding issues and missing all-important cues and signals and telepathic notes their offspring have been sending them and thus setting the offspring up for a lifetime of psychological issues, drug abuse and early death. (Note: that might just be my slightly liberal interpretation of the Dutch breast feeding guideline.)

So my failure might have actually worked out in my favour. I was not being an evil negligent mother - I was merely being French. 

And it worked. 

Now all I need to do is learn to eat like a French woman too.

NaBloPoMo November 2012

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