Thursday, January 08, 2009

Oh the decisions!

As a new mother, there is one thing we are never lacking - advice! Be it unsolicited or not, there are always plenty of opinions to be shared by others who have walked this road before us. Of course, most of the time this advice and opinions are shared in the most well-meaning manner and with the desire to simply help the sleep-deprived, exhausted new mom like myself! As a new mom, we have to weed through all the advice and figure out which things we want to use, and what we want to perhaps discard, or what things we want to file away for "later use."

So this post needs a disclaimer: In the following paragraphs, I am in no way attempting to demean or criticize others who have chosen to use or not use the methods I will be mentioning. I realize that parenting is an extremely personal process and each person has their reasons for the choices they make. So in this post I am simply going to be sharing some of my personal choices and preferences and the reasons why I am making these choices. I am not attempting to create a debate, although am always open to a healthy exchange of ideas.

Decision #1: Schedule or no schedule? As a new mom freshly home from the hospital, I was overwhelmed with the task of taking care of this little baby. And part of that was figuring out whether to develop a "schedule" for Kirsten or not. There are some books, such as Babywise, which advocate using a schedule for your newborn. Many other moms that I know have recommended this book or at least the concept of putting your baby on a schedule. While my personality and lifestyle is generally pretty scheduled and organized, I have decided against this concept with my baby. Part of the reason is that I want to be sure to be focused on my baby's needs and not my needs. If I were using a schedule, I believe it would primarily serve my own need for structure, etc. The other reason is that I have read and researched a lot and found some reasons not to follow this method ( Another reason that this schedule concept is promoted is to get the baby to "sleep through the night." While it seems that people have different thoughts on what that actually means, most of what I have read indicates that this means a 5-hour stretch. Again, I have to consider whether sleeping through the night at this young age is serving my own needs or my baby's needs. There are studies that show that a young baby shouldn't go excessively long without eating, especially breastfed babies. So I don't feel an urgency to have my baby "sleep through the night" because I want to make sure she is eating when she needs to. That's not to say that I don't absolutely enjoy when she does sleep a longer stretch (which, by the way she has been doing even though we haven't been doing a "schedule"). But it's not my ultimate goal to get her to "sleep through the night" anytime soon. Even we adults don't typically sleep through the night - we wake up or are in lighter states of sleep throughout the night, but we quickly fall back asleep.
In all of this I believe there is a balance. I am choosing to create a routine based on my baby's needs. But I will not attempt to have set times for eating, napping, etc. I will follow her cues and recognize when she is getting hungry, tired, etc and help her get what she needs.

Decision #2: Feed on demand or on a schedule? Another decision is the question of feeding "on-demand" or based on a schedule/time frame. I determined early on that I wanted to breastfeed on-demand. This is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as La Leche League. Again, I believe that my baby knows when she is hungry and it doesn't really matter to me if it's 20 minutes or 3 hours after her last feeding. Another reason a schedule is promoted is to make sure our babies don't comfort nurse or "snack". Again I have to ask myself - is this about my needs or my baby's needs? If she comfort nurses, is there really something wrong with that? I actually enjoy the emotional connection during nursing and knowing that she is feeling safe, secure, and loved when she nurses. And why not have a snack? I know that I wouldn't enjoy it if someone planned my day out and told me I could only eat within certain time frames, even if I just wanted a little snack.

Decision #3: To let cry or not? Another challenge is figuring out whether or not to let your baby cry. This can apply to various situations, but the main one people think about is whether to let the baby cry before falling asleep vs. holding/rocking/wearing the baby to sleep. The argument on the "cry-it-out" side is that baby will learn to fall asleep on their own and develop the ability to self-soothe. And if the baby is not hungry, wet, or otherwise in pain, then it's okay for them to cry. The other side says that you should respond quickly to the baby's cry, and that babies often need help to fall asleep in the form of walking, rocking, etc. I have made my decision based on two things: 1. The research I've checked into - many articles and studies show that babies left to cry (even for a short time) may experience trauma and learn that their needs will not be responded to consistently. Sure, they probably will fall asleep eventually - but what do they learn in the process? Do they actually learn that they are safe, secure, and loved and it's okay to fall asleep? Or do they learn that crying, their only form of communication, will not result in a response? Here are some of the sources I've checked out:
-Dr. Sears Article on Sleep Problems
-Mothering Article
-Storknet Article
-Children Need Touching
There's lots more, of course, but those are some that I found helpful.
2. My gut. You know people tell you to trust your gut. Well there's something that just tells me to respond when my baby girl cries. Even if it's when she's going to sleep and I know there's nothing major wrong - perhaps she just wants to be held, comforted, etc. I know there's times when I want that even though I can't pinpoint what I'm crying about it - I just want to be held. So my choice is to help Kirsten get to sleep until she is old enough to be able to go to sleep on her own. At this age, I don't believe that her crying is manipulative and I don't think I can spoil her by responding to those cries.

Obviously, as I stated at the beginning, all of these things are a very personal choice and also something that I believe is a learning process. Five years from now, my ideas may have and probably will have changed. Overall, as for right now, my approach leans towards the Attachment Parenting method. This method makes a lot of sense to me and a lot of the concepts are things that I think I would have been inclined to do anyway. So, feel free to comment, criticize, engage, whatever! It probably won't change my mind but you never know...


Life With My Boys..... said...

Preach it, girl! YOU are the Mommy and NOBODY else, and you know her (and you!) better than anyone. You do what works best for you and your little family. You go girl! I respect that. :0)

Are we on for tomorrow?

Sarah said...

Oh sorting through the advice...isn't it fun!? You and Scott are great parents and I agree that every person has to make the choice on what methods work best for their baby.

I have read babywise and am implementing some of the principles. I read the website and do feel the need to let you know that it GROSSLY misrepresents BW. It misquotes, quotes out of context, leaves things out and downright lies. I would hate for people to go to the website and think that is what BW is.

Bookwoman said...

You sound like you are making your way through the early weeks just fine, Esther.

Breastfeeding is not Bottlefeeding and in a culture that is not used to the looser structure that is the breastfed baby's pattern, it can be unsettling to some. There are growth spurts that require more frequent feeds for a day or two and it takes a couple of days for the body to build up the required amount. Those days (or nights) can feel very overwhelming!

I breastfed on demand pretty much but I also got to a point when I did let the baby "cry it out" on occasion - especially if I'd done all I knew and was at the end of my rope. Oh yes - there were those days, too. But I had times when we had a bit of family bed going on - depending on the child.

I think today I'd buy a sling and be a baby wearer. I'd be a lot more flexible. I try to encourage the moms and dads I help (as a nurse who helps with breastfeeding) to just toss the word "schedule" and think of it as more of a "rhythm".

Keep up the good work!

Shannon said...

Wow, "bookwoman" pretty much sums me up too. I know my tendency is to want routine and predictability, and I think guiding my babies toward that has been good, but they've also been so good for me in growing my adaptability, flexibility and selflessness. Thank you God!