This post is a continuation of our thoughts and reflections on the day-to-day respectful parenting practices. We started with diapering, and now we move on to feeding. We will only focus on infant feeding here, and will try to write about feeding older children later on. Before we go on, there are some things we need to say.
We have nothing to say about the choices you make with regards to breast or bottle. Or both. We have made our decisions, you have made yours. We respect that. There have recently (again) been a flurry of various posts and articles on one or the other side of the fence. We believe you have chosen, as we did, the best possible option for your family. If you are still thinking about it, the only advice we have is this: make an informed choice about the feeding option that you think will be best for the whole family. Yes, your baby is number one, but you are no less important. Look for information and support you need. If for some reason your choice is not working out, be open to other possibilities. Seek support, you deserve it and might need it. Look for the community that will value your choice and honour it, ignore the one that will judge it. Yes, we are aware of the issues that have been raised with regards to breastmilk and infant immune system. But one option that seems to be best, might not be best in the long run and for everybody. Basically, we believe that feeding your baby goes well beyond the whole fuss about bottles and breasts. That it is not about what you use to feed your baby, but about how you do it.
We believe there are two key issues that are involved in feeding an infant: nourishment and connection. And, putting breasts and bottles aside, we will focus on connection and relationship with your baby, which seem to be left out of a number of feeding arguments and debates (luckily, not all ). Because essentially, we believe that these two things are more important than any debate over anything regarding feeding. Also, they can be provided and enjoyed by any family member, anytime. Isn’t that a powerful thought?
As you may have guessed, we will not have much to say about nourishment. This issue needs to be discussed with your doctor, if you have any concerns. Instead, we will focus on the connection you can create during those intimate moments when you feed your infant, and the respectful relationship you can build in those moments.
Throughout this post we will talk about ‘feeding’ meaning breast or bottle, and ‘parent’ meaning anyone who is feeding the baby.
There is one thing about feeding, which makes it similar to diapering – you have to be there. Both of you. There is no other way. Which is why, in our opinion, it might be worth making it meaningful for both of you. Feeding gives us an opportunity to create a time for bonding, a time for feeding your infant with food but also with your attention. It will make feeding times more pleasant, and will make it easier for your baby to play on his own afterwards (and for you to have a moment of rest, or to do those things you need or want to do – in our opinion much more efficient than doing them while feeding). But it goes both ways – we, parents, want that quality time with our kids too. We also want their attention. And feeding is the time that we can all experience it. Maybe, then, apart from filling our babies with our attention, attentive feeding times can also fill us with their attention, thus letting us leave them to play afterwards…
Comfort – for both of you
You will feed your baby often. Sometimes the feeding will be long, for some babies it takes more time, some babies feed more during the night. If, like us, you believe that feeding is a great opportunity to spend quality time with your baby, it will work best if you can be as comfortable as possible. We have all probably done the weirdly-hunched-over feedings, or the barely-even-sitting feedings. If you are not comfortable, chances are the only connection you will be making is with your spine, or your arm.
There are lots of ways you can feed, lots of positions you can try out. We have found trying an important part of this journey – tell your baby you were not too comfortable last time, and you would like to sit with your feet up today. It also lets your baby know that while satisfying his hunger is your priority at that moment, it is also important that you do it with respect for both of you. One minute to find a comfortable position or a pillow will not make that much of a difference for him, but it might for you. Communicate and explain, and then sit down and enjoy
If you are comfortable and relaxed, he will be as well. It will also make it much easier to find pleasure in those wonderful moments.
One thing that is important in finding a position for your baby to feed, is to always make sure he has an option of letting you know he’s had enough.
Being present and attentive
Nowadays we tend to use every spare minute to interact with the world. We‘ve got laptops, tablets and mobile phones that let us fill every moment that could possibly filled with boredom. I dare to say that most of us find it very difficult to just sit down and relax. Not doing anything. Not watching anything. An evening with no TV, no internet, no telephone. Can you imagine this?
Well. Nature is pretty awesome. It gives us the chance to get back to those precious moments. It gives us a baby that needs to be fed. Often. Sometimes for long periods of time. And while feeding this baby we can practice the not doing anything bit. Why?
Maybe because it is healthy to relax all your senses. To not think. Not interact. Maybe because motherhood is an incredibly busy time, and moments of peace are precious. But maybe – and you already guessed that this might be our reason behind – because your child will feel the difference. He will feel you are there. Just with him. In deepest connection. You‘re feeding not just his stomach but also his soul. Doesn‘t this sound wonderful? It’s a different way of staying connected (the older meaning of the word ), without the use of any connecting devices. It’s just about the two of you.
Be fully there
We’ve all been there when someone is serving us in the shop, selling us something, helping us fill in the documents, or helping us find the right person to talk to in the office, while all the while talking on the phone. Not a pleasant feeling, and often leaves us feeling as if we were a nuisance. Worse still – have you ever been out for dinner with someone and they constantly kept checking their phone? You know how it feels… Mealtimes together are great, not only because the food tastes nice. Sure, there will be times when you need to do something. To make a call. To answer an e-mail. But if you delay doing it until after the feeding, your baby will feel he got your full, undivided attention, and will be more likely to let you do your thing while he plays alone for those few minutes.
How many parents love to watch their sleeping baby? Adore it. Love it to bits. Well great news: you can do this while he is awake. While he can feel you adoring and loving him. And once he‘s asleep – you can watch TV, check on the internet. Or simply close your eyes too.
It does sound simple and we agree it isn‘t always that easy. But it’s worth a try. And you will see how deeply addicted you can get to it. So while feeding your baby try unitasking And leave the multitasking abilities for other occasions, when you need them more.
Creating a peaceful moment of connection
If you are in a loud or crowded place, move away a bit if you can. Turn your back to the crowds, and your face to your baby. If you’re having dinner with your friends, this time fully focussed on your baby might make a world of difference for everyone – your baby will be satisfied, and filled with your attention, you will be able to turn back to your friends and give them the attention they need.
Will my newborn really care if I read messages on my phone while he is nursing with his eyes closed? We say yes. Because when will you see if he‘s opening his eyes for a moment? And while they might not see that far they can feel so much more. Remember how you can feel a person staring at your back. Why should newborns not be able to feel that way? And even if the baby is tired and half asleep and does not realize what you are doing – this is a great chance to practise. Because when they get older, they will ask for your attention. During mealtimes, during play. They don‘t always want you to interact with them – but they want you to be there and observe. And it does not have to mean you are glued eyeball to eyeball all the time while you’re feeding – but respect their need for connection, as well as yours.
Undivided attention is one great part of the RIE principles / Pikler approach. It means to be with your child 100% while feeding, changing or bathing him. During those intimate and very precious moments. It gives you the time to fill up emotionally as well – let’s be honest, not only babies need our attention, we need theirs too. And it also gives us a chance to fill our babies’ attention needs, so that for those times when we need to do something else, like make a call, answer an e-mail or take a shower ) we can, because they know we will be with them again for the next feeding session.
Feeding a baby is a basic need you are responding to. It is part of the bonding process. And as we said before – here you have the chance to feed more needs than the obvious one.
What your baby will learn:
That he is important and that his health is important to you
That mealtimes are pleasant and are not only about eating, but a great way to spend some time with each other (probably much appreciated later on in life as well!)
That it is important to pay attention to the other person when engaged in a task together
Respect for the body: his own – when you don’t ask him to eat more than he needs or wants, and that of other people – when you explain that it is important for you to be sitting comfortably
Lots and lots of language!
Further readings on this:
http://piklerexperience.blogspot.co.at/2012/02/breastfeeding-with-love-and-respect.html (Mama Nadine)
http://www.janetlansbury.com/2010/04/beyond-bottles-and-breasts-the-key-to-whole-baby-nourishment/ (Janet Lansbury)
the picture above was kindly provided by: http://lindsaymitchell.blogspot.co.nz – thank you !