Before I gave birth, I thought babies cried all the time. Turns out, they only cry if their needs are met.
Now, this means different things to different people. “Needs,” that is.
To some, a baby’s “needs” are limited to:
This suggests that, when a baby is full and has a fresh diaper, they have no reason to cry. This causes confusion for many first time parents who have no idea why their baby is crying.
Remember: all first time parents must get to know their baby. They do so by responding to the baby, when the baby communicates…and the baby communicates by crying.
Imagine, as a child, if you were crying and a parent said to you…
Why are you crying? You aren’t hungry and you’ve just gone to the bathroom.
You have no reason to cry.
Is that really all a human being needs? Food, water, shelter?
I’ll spare you the rhetorical questions. No, that isn’t all a human being needs.
Why? We aren’t cars. Cars get gas, oil, and regular maintenance, and they’re good to go.
We aren’t machines.
A baby is more than her digestive system. A baby needs comfort, love, security, love, engagement, love, and love.
An adult can get lonely. A child can get lonely. So can a baby.
With some exceptions, babies spend 40 weeks in the warmth and comfort of their mother’s belly. Then, when they’ve developed enough, they emerge into the world. Then they’re placed into a hard, isolating chamber.
That baby’s gonna cry. There’s no way around it.
And just because he wants something more than food and a fresh diaper, doesn’t mean he should be ignored.
He’s confused. He’s scared. He’s brand new to the world, and he needs reassurance from the person who has been and will continue to be his entire world for the next foreseeable future.
It’s not convenient. But no one expects to have a baby and continue life as though they never had the baby.
Now imagine you have gas and need to be held upright. You have no way of communicating this to your parents. What do you do?
So I’ll agree: when the baby’s needs are met, the baby shouldn’t cry. That includes physical needs, emotional needs, needs for security, and other, “silent” ailments that need tending.
Meet your baby’s needs. Remember this moment is temporary. Soak in the baby goodness. Let the baby soak you in, too.
My 10-month-old isn’t particularly snuggly throughout the day.
But when we’re in bed, that’s when the snuggles happen.
I’m lying here, writing on my phone while my daughter is curled up, facing me, her nest of yellow hair inches from my face. She finished feeding a few minutes ago, at which point she unlatched, stretched, curled her legs back inward, and fell asleep.
She gives me warmth. I give her warmth. Security. She’s still young, you could still see the bond we share as a binding lifeline from me to her.
This morning, she was tossing and turning and fighting against waking. I tossed her gently into the crook of my left arm, cradling her, and she fed. Once more, she drifted to sleep.
Then, when she started to wake again, she rolled over me, got back into position as the little spoon, and rested her head on my arm. Her head was so close, I could kiss it.
I drifted to sleep then, too. My breath wound up making a nice moist spot on her hair. We were both just warding off the day, while daddy did the same on my other side.
Because she was in such a light sleep, her breathing had sped up. I placed my hand over her chest and breathed deeply, slowly. The effect was immediate. Her breathing slowed. She was relaxed.
And so was I.
Note: if you practice cosleeping, practice Safe Sleep 7. The patterns described here were done in the wakeful moments of the morning.
This is a subject on the mind of many parents-to-be. How will a baby change me…not just physically, but mentally and emotionally?
You Understand Your Parents More
Suddenly, everything your parents went through becomes clear. Their lives are laid before you as if on a tapestry that you have only to examine to decode.
You empathize with them.
Maybe you don’t agree with all their parenting choices, but you imagine yourself in their shoes. 20 years old or so, battling anxiety, working to pay rent. You see them suddenly as people who had challenges to face.
They were just as confident in their parenting choices as you are; that is to say, they were just as uncertain in their choices as you are. But they probably had lots of pressure from their doctors and family to do things a certain way. Maybe they weren’t as strong as they are now. Maybe they had to undergo the hardships they had when you were a child, too young to understand, to become as strong as they are today.
Or, maybe it goes the other way.
You Become More Sensitive
This is true of my husband and me.
Two years ago, before I got pregnant, if you’d asked me my favorite movies, Saw would have been at the top of the list. I was all in for that torture stuff. I enjoyed horror more than any other genre, and I wouldn’t be caught dead watching a chick flick.
The series Kingdom recently came on Netflix. From what I’ve seen, it’s fantastic. It’s too bad I’ll never be able to sit down and watch it. Because the death, destruction, and gruesome scenes are just too much for me. I’d rather watch a chick flick.
This mentality started when I was pregnant. The sense of dread a horror movie gave me, the empathy I felt for those tortured humans, felt just wrong and evil. Instinctively, I knew that sense of dread would be bad for my unborn child. So I steered clear.
I’m reminded of when I was a teenager and I tried to get my grandmother to watch a horror movie with me. She refused, and I thought it was funny. She told me, however, that she used to love horror movies. That in her old age, she’d found those images to be evil. In other words, she felt that same sense of dread that I do now.
I can appreciate a good horror movie now. I just watched Midsommar, in fact. Without any spoilers. But I now understand the point of trigger warnings. If a child or pregnant woman, especially, is endangered (like that scene in Kingdom I wish my husband hadn’t told me about), I’d rather have the chance to look away beforehand. Because mama, that shit fucks with my mind.
Your Values Change
This is specifically my own experience, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
Since having my daughter, I’ve become more aware of the social and environmental issues in the world.
I’ve always loved nature. And I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase, “leave the world a better place for our children.” But for the first time, that means something.
Take, for instance, the COVID pandemic. When I think if the virus, I imagine my parents and the fact that they never anticipated something of this magnitude to happen during our lifetime. I empathize with my parents (more on that later).
When I think of my daughter, my mind goes to the myriad of paths her life may take. But what if there are circumstances (global, environmental, or economic) that are obstacles for her success?
Think of the landfills. Of the plastic. Think of the changes that have happened in our world in just 30 years. Continuing down that trajectory, where might we be in 30 more years? Will that plastic toy I bought her sit at the bottom of a garbage pyramid that grows until it reaches her front door?
It’s easy to ignore the environmental impact of industry when we live in a society that, conveniently, sweeps our garbage away. Out of sight, out of mind. But if you look at the videos of streets and rivers in developing countries, you’re faced with the grim reality.
It feels far away, the way the coronavirus felt far away from the US east coast when it was first discovered in China. But it came here. They couldn’t stop it.
The waste found in developing countries didn’t start out there, either. But it’s their problem to handle.
Industry, not the consumer, is at fault.
I imagine a future with clean air, where the winters bring snow so pure you could eat it. Once upon a time, that was the case. Granted, we didn’t have the medical and technological advancements we do now. But we also didn’t have toxic chemicals being pumped into the environment. Into the air we breathe, and the water we drink. Industry, not the consumer, is at fault.
What chance does the environment have, when the only viable options for the majority of the developed nation are ones that contribute to the destruction of our planet?
We have so many scientific advancements, you’d think we’d advance past the pollution of the very environment we need to survive. Humans adapt to change, do we not? Why can’t our economy adapt to the discoveries that our way of life has a measurable, destructive impact on the planet? Why is a plastic bottle so much cheaper to produce than a glass one? What chance does the environment have, when the only viable options for the majority of the developed nation are ones that contribute to the destruction of our planet?
So naturally, my maternal instinct has me acting to do my part and helping to ensure a cleaner Earth for my daughter and her children. It’s compassion that drives me.
If you’re still with me after that tirade, I’d love to hear your thoughts. How did your experiences differ from mine? Moms-to-be are dying to know.
This post applies to both mothers and fathers of new babies.
If you have a new mother or father in your life (or an experienced parent with a new baby), there’s a number of common mistakes you want to avoid. Too often, well-meaning friends and relatives stick their foot in their mouth by saying things that come off as patronizing, dismissive, and downright insulting. Your goal should be to support and uplift the parents of the new child. If that’s not your goal, you’re really better off keeping your distance. But if someone you love has recently had a baby, here’s some advice to ensure you’re as supportive and respectful as you can be.
DO congratulate the new parents.
This one may be obvious, but most parents will welcome any enthusiasm for their new bundle of joy.
DON’T ask how the baby is sleeping.
This one is the most common, I think because most people don’t know what else to ask. If all babies do is sleep, what else could you possibly talk about?
If you’ve ever had a baby, you’re aware how they sleep in the beginning. New parents are told to wake their babies at least every 4 hours to ensure they get adequate nutrition, so the question is irrelevant in the first couple weeks. If it’s been more than a few weeks, asking how the baby’s sleeping comes across as though the baby’s sleep pattern is your criteria for the baby’s worth and the parents’ success.
Maybe you know how little sleep new parents get, and you only want to express sympathy. There are other ways to do so without calling into question the parents’ abilities, which brings me to my next point:
DO ask the parents how they’re doing.
I’ve heard too many stories about birthing rooms that became party spaces for friends and family while the poor mother is suffering the agony of childbirth, ignored in the corner.
The fact is, the parents are often overlooked. They’ve just undergone the biggest change of their entire lives, and they’re forced to deal with these feelings alone and in silence. PPB (post-partum blues) and PPD (post-partum depression) are very real, and they can affect both parents.
Whether the birth was smooth sailing or a traumatic experiences, hormones coupled with the sinking realization of their new reality can create challenges in the mental well-being of new parents. If they’re suddenly alienated, just when they need support, it can amplify the issue.
It’s true that new parents need bonding time. But don’t hesitate to reach out with a message. They may not respond right away, but they’ll see it and appreciate it.
By the way…
People often reach out to see how the baby is doing. They congratulate the new parents, comment on how beautiful the baby is, ask how the baby is, and all if this is great!
But pay attention to the comments the family is receiving. How many people are asking after the parents’ well-being?
When my daughter was born, exactly one person asked me how I was doing.
It wasn’t something I really noticed until she did it. And it wasn’t that I was ungrateful for the congratulations and support my baby was getting. I didn’t realize what was missing, until my husband’s cousin’s new wife (who had like 5 kids and whom I’d only met once in person) asked me how I was doing.
Small things like that can remind new parents that they matter, they’re noticed, and they’re more than their social media announcement. It reminds them that their experiences matter, and that there’s a person underneath the exhaustion.
DON’T ignore the parents.
This can come in a couple forms.
Say you’re planning an outing. You realize the parents probably won’t want to (or be able to) come. But you have to recognize the loneliness that comes from this isolation. If you post pictures of all your shared friends, but you haven’t spoken to the new parents in weeks, it can hit hard. Instead, reach out to them, acknowledge that you understand if they can’t come, but that you’re thinking of them. Maybe you can include them in other ways, like making a toast and sending them a picture, or by video chatting for a couple minutes. All small things to you, but it’ll make a large and lasting impression on the new parents, and it’ll remind them they’re not alone.
That’s the first form. The second is this:
You video call, but you’re ONLY interested in the baby.
I’m sure our parents don’t even realize they’re doing this. New parents realize they’re not the child anymore, but the fact is they’re still people. They still deserve the time of day.
Often, when a new grandparent video chats with the new family, they completely ignore their children. This can be especially hard if a new mom wants to spend some time talking to her own mother, and her mother ignores her so she can watch the baby do things. If you’re talking to new parents and all you’re interested in is the baby, still let the new parents talk about what they want to talk about. Everyone needs the chance to express themselves, vent a little, and bond.
DON’T offer unsolicited advice.
Maybe you were given unsolicited advice as a new parent, and maybe you took it to heart. But most advice that comes unsolicited does three things:
It dismisses the new mother’s natural instinct,
It patronizes the new parents by suggesting they don’t know what they’re doing and they need your guidance,
It insults them by suggesting they haven’t done their own research.
Every parenting style is different. Every baby is different. Most unsolicited advice is unwelcome.
Unless you have something that you’re positive they’ve never heard, keep it to yourself.
For instance: once, I was pregnant and sitting at my husband’s art table at a local comic book convention. A man walked by, pushing a stroller and carrying his young daughter on his hip. He congratulated us on our pregnancy, and asked if he could give some advice. Something about the man, his good nature, and the fact that he asked, made me want to hear what he had to say. His advice? “Use frozen waffles as a teether. When it gets soggy, she can just eat it!”
Obviously this was something he’d just discovered, and he was proud of it. I appreciated the advice! It was something I’d never heard before, and it’s stuck with me.
But if, 30 years ago, your doctor told you (unsolicited) to give your children their own bedrooms from the getgo, that “advice” isn’t something you need to take as gospel and offer (especially unsolicited) to new parents. New research has emerged in 30 years to say that children, in fact, should start out in their parents’ room. Unsolicited advice such as this can be harmful and it insults the new parents’ own abilities to research and follow their own intuition.
Speaking of which…
DON’T ask where the baby is sleeping.
It’s a mystery to all new parents why people are so interested in their sleeping arrangements.
The first few weeks of parenthood are some of the most challenging days and nights in this couple’s life.
They’re stressed. They’re exhausted. They agonize over the baby’s safe sleep. They realize one wrong move can be deadly.
They hit their stride. They follow their intuition. They find an arrangement that works for themselves and their baby. They research the safety precautions they need to take, and they practice the parenting style that comes most naturally to them.
Then some Karen comes along and tells them to STOP what they’re doing, that their intuition is WRONG. That they’re going to make the baby too ATTACHED.
Make the baby feel too LOVED and SUPPORTED.
You’ve just tried to undermine everything about these people’s identities that has naturally emerged in this fragile, transitional period.
Nobody asks you about your sleeping arrangement. Don’t ask about theirs.
DO recognize that the father is important, too.
It’s truly sad, hearing how many fathers feel like they’re pushed to the periphery. Remember that the father is also undergoing a major life change. And he doesn’t get to enjoy nearly as many baby snuggles as a breastfeeding mother.
Talk to him. Ask how he’s doing. Offer reassurance. Encourage him to open up. Fathers can be
DO ask how you can help.
Of you’re up for it, offering to clean, mowing the lawn, delivering meals, and sending diapers, wipes, and baby clothes by mail are all great ways to support new parents.
Ask if they have a online wishlist. Ask if any books or clothes are on there, if that’s what you hope to get. That way you don’t get any books they already have and you’ll get clothes in their style.
Maybe all they want is someone to talk to. Be an ear.
If you do drop by, it’s important to remember why you’re there. If you’ve offered to help, be there to help. Too many times I’ve heard of grandparents visiting “to help,” only to insist on holding the child and forcing the new mother to do the chores when she should be bonding during this most important bonding time.
This is the most important part of these new parents’ lives. Not only is their family changing, they’rechanging. They’re trying to figure out who this new person is: themselves. And by being a loving, supportive, and sympathetic part of their lives, you can help ensure it’s the most positive experience possible.
I’ve been working from home since the middle of March. Let me tell you, whatever challenges work throws at you, none of them are worth sacrificing your baby time.
We work for money. We work for our families. I work to keep a roof over our heads. I realize that some people’s jobs don’t allow them to spend much quality time with their family. Those people are making an ultimate sacrifice, and while I don’t envy them, I do respect them in the choices they make.
In the past 9.5 months, I’ve been exploring myself, my new identity as a mother, and what my role actually is. I’ve been learning a lot about myself, including what parenting style fits me best. It wasn’t until I saw some videos by Mayim Bialik (Big Bang Theory actress, neuroscientist, attachment mommy, and genius) that I discovered that my parenting style actually has a name: attachment parenting.
Attachment parenting isn’t complicated, because it’s arguably the most natural form of parenting. It means being responsive, but not sacrificing your own health. It means keeping your baby close, and allowing your baby and yourself to thrive in that closeness. Is attributes positivity to all natural baby experiences, instead of viewing babies as a nuisance. In short, it means giving the baby what the baby needs, instead of withholding for the sake of your own convenience.
Practicing attachment parenting while quarantined all day with the baby sounds fantastic, but when you have to work from home, there are hurdles to overcome. If you have a caretaker while you work away from home, and they practice attachment parenting, you know your baby is benefiting. But when you have other responsibilities that overlap time-wise with your alone time with the baby, that’s where it gets challenging.
Others might have the option of doing work while the baby is napping. A large part of attachment parenting, which most attachment parents practice, is the act of co-sleeping. Or, to be more accurate, bed sharing. When you bed share, you probably also do contact naps throughout the day. Contact napping means NO time away from the baby, even when they’re asleep.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work from my phone in some cases. I lie in bed, feed my baby to sleep (an act championed by attachment parenting), open up my work portal, and operate with the limited interface.
Has my work suffered? Yes. It has. Or at least, it did.
I was content to let my work slide for the sake of my child. Now, I’ve struck a new normal. My baby is becoming more independent, and able to play throughout the day. My husband is willing to hold her for naps. I get hours each day to sit and work.
Being quarantined while attachment parenting a baby still unable to walk, I’ve been able to catch up on the work I was missing before quarantine, and catch up on the work I missed in the transitional period.
Overall, I’m grateful. I’m grateful to still have my job during a worldwide crisis. I’m grateful for my own strengths, and for my ability to trust myself. I’m grateful for my husband and all his support. I’m grateful he still has a job, too. And I’m grateful for the attachment parenting community, for encouraging me to parent in the way that comes most natural to me.
The world has changed, and it will continue to change. I plan to be a constant in my child’s life. One of the few things she can count on, right there with my husband.
It’s finally happened. Our angel has started getting around.
She’s only 7.5 months old. She’s supposed to be my little bundle forever, right?
Try telling her that. My baby has been practice-crawling like nobody’s business. She’s coordinating her arms and legs, cooing wildly in the sweetest sing-song voice, so proud of herself.
She’s even able to move from a crawling position to sitting! And vice-versa!
She bears all her weight, sometimes even preferring to stand rather than be held. Still cooing wildly. She’s far too busy being physical to use very many consonants.
The problem comes when I try to breastfeed her.
Don’t get me wrong–if I could rip my nipple off and let her turn her head every which way, I would. But I can’t. So instead, I’m dealing with a highly energized Gizmo just rolling like a rolling pin when I lie down to feed her.
Our nursing sessions are way more active than they used to be. But that’s parenting, right? Adaptability. Learning what works.
This is an INSANE journey. I’ve lost so many outlets to Safety 1st covers. Tiny fingers prying at outlet covers, at my breasts, and my hair. Sometimes it hurts, but I love every second of it.
It’s amazing the things you learn about your body, your mind, and those of your child.
For now, here are just 6 of those things.
Comfort is Key
You produce the most milk when you’re relaxed. Lean back, but be in the moment–the more aware you are of baby’s latch, the better your milk will flow.
Extended Eye Contact is Magical
I remember the first time my baby made eye contact with me while breastfeeding. She used to keep her eyes closed, or let her gaze wander since she couldn’t really focus on anything anyway. But that evening, I was relaxing in bed next to my husband and I looked down to see those stunning baby blues staring right into my soul.
My first instinct was to laugh. I was so taken aback. Even a little giddy. I nudged my husband and he had the same reaction. Our daughter stared unblinking for some time. Just observing. So I stared back. I drank her in, committing the moment to memory.
Since then, I’ve had countless staring contests with my daughter. Those moments of extended eye contact are important for her development. No matter what I’m doing–watching tv, online shopping, scrolling my feed–I put it down. When my daughter is staring at me…when she needs me to be 100% present…I can look at nothing else.
No One Knows Your Child the Way You Do
Sorry, dada. The baby and I are practically one person. If a person’s life force were made visible, mine would form a direct line into our daughter.
And because of that, you can’t let anyone make you second guess your maternal instincts. Even other mothers. No one knows your child as well as you do.
A Supportive Partner is Everything
I don’t usually think in the terms I’ve laid out above. I keep things equal as much as possible. We share responsibilities. We’re equally good at reading our baby and knowing her cues. So it’s important to say, no one knows your child as well as you and your partner do.
Having a supportive partner helps you feel happier and more relaxed, which again, helps with milk production. And if they can get a few chores done while you’re tethered, all the better.
I was feeling pretty ridiculous one day, reclining shirtless on the sofa and nursing our daughter. I was feeling pretty unattractive, but I just had to laugh.
“Did you ever think you’d see me like this?” I asked my husband.
“Yes,” he replied. And that was that.
Be Comfortable with Mess
Remember the Serenity Prayer by Chester Nimitz? “Help me to accept the things I cannot change…” With a baby, especially a breastfeeding baby, many things are out of your control, including mess. You’ve probably read that you should lower your standards for cleanliness, and it’s true. But you also need to find comfort in it. The mess is there because you’re putting your child first. You’re making a choice. You’re prioritizing. Be proud of that. The mess will be cleaned soon enough–and your child will grow almost just as quickly. These first few months are precious. Let yourself be engulfed by them.
Eat While You Feed…
…but that’s easier said than done.
My husband has had to spoon-feed me at times when both my hands were occupied and I was starving.
No matter how you treated yourself before you got pregnant, you can’t–or rather, your baby can’t–afford for you to cut calories. No fasting or dieting for you. Not unless your doctor says so. Be sensible, but remember that your nourishment is your baby’s nourishment. You’re keeping someone else alive.