Category Archives: Parenting

Sleep research

Since nursing babies that wake at night usually want to breastfeed, nighttime waking concerns are often seen as a breastfeeding problem. A new study in Pediatrics presents information about how babies sleep that could lead to problems for breastfeeding families if it is seen as how babies should sleep. It says in summary:

CONCLUSIONS The most rapid consolidation in infant sleep regulation occurs in the first 4 months. Most infants are sleeping through the night at 2 and 3 months, regardless of the criterion used. The most developmentally and socially valid criterion for sleeping through is from 22:00 to 0:600 hours. At 5 months, more than half of infants are sleeping concurrently with their parents.

Unfortunately this study does not talk about feeding choices. Many breastfeeding mothers find that milk production drops significantly when they go for many hours without breastfeeding or pumping. The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has just blogged about problems with this study – particularly if it is used as a guide for parents:

I am dismayed by the publication of the study of Henderson et al which ostensibly documents the normal patterns of sleep in infants in the first year of life. The population studied was non-random, self selected and not representative of the varied ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic diversity of a normal population. Thus, just on these grounds this inevitable selection bias precludes any conclusions.

Anthropologists and sleep researchers Helen Ball and James McKenna write in their letter to the editor:

The publication of this paper perpetuates the western cultural notion that infants can and should sleep “through the night” from a very young age. However, encouraging young babies to sleep “through the night” is one of the most effective means of killing a mother’s ability to sustain breastfeeding and denies a young infant a third of its daily nutrient intake. Regular nighttime suckling is crucial for successful lactation and is an important modulator of infant sleep architecture and arousal patterns. How can a research paper published in 2010 on infant sleep development possibly overlook or ignore the relevance of night-time breastfeeding? How could the reviewers overlook or ignore such a fundamental omission?

I hope that this study does not get used to undermine breastfeeding by making parents feel like there is something wrong with their breastfed babies that do not sleep through the night in the first year.

Dads vulnerable to depression too

It looks like we just plain need to pay attention to new parents. Both new mothers and fathers need care and support. Here’s a link to an NPR story summarizing a study of new fathers and depression.

Pregnancy-related depression comes as a surprise to most men it hits. Psychologist Will Courtenay of Berkeley, Calif., has made a career of helping men with depression and maintains the website He says there’s a myth in this country that men don’t get depressed, and that’s a danger.

“The cultural myth that men don’t get depressed also communicates to men that they shouldn’t get depressed — or at least, not express it. And so they don’t. They’re more likely than women to try to hide their depression or to talk themselves out of it,” he says.

What is normal?

Interesting thought about child development: (related to breastfeeding because how and where babies sleep is totally related to how easy it is to breastfeed)

Sometimes, child development experts in the United States regard adults in other communities as irresponsible if young children handle dangerous materials or tend infants, because they assume that young children can’t do such things. However middle-class U.S. families also expect children to do some things that are seen as inappropriate or even dangerous in other places, such as sleeping by themselves from the first months of life, engaging in school-like discourse or beginning to learn to read in the toddler years.

From The Cultural Nature of Human Development by Barbara Rogoff (2003, p.170)
I also like the book, Our Babies, Our Selves by Meredith Small for reading more about how different cultures parent babies.

What babies do…

Lots of breastfeeding questions that I hear are really questions about normal baby behavior. In our culture many parents don’t get to spend much time with babies until they have their own — and then they only spend lots of time with their own baby. It can be very reassuring to know what is normal. The blog, Secrets of Baby Behavior, tries to share research-based information with parents. I like this blog a lot.

Another resource is a new program called text4baby. Mothers can sign up for this program and get free texts to their cell phone about pregnancy and baby’s first year. The texts are timed to match baby’s age and if baby is born early, mothers can update their account. The program is sponsored by the US government and several private companies. My main concern with this resource is that it may be oversimplified and make some parents less comfortable with parenting. Anyone out there using this already? What has your experience been?

Breastfeeding is where I learned it first…

Breastfeeding is not a unique parenting experience. It’s the first give and take interaction that we have with our children. It’s not just about food. It’s a relationship. For me it was the place where I had to learn that I can’t force my children to do something and that in some ways I’m as dependent on them as they are on me (you can not force feed a baby at the breast). I learned that change is the normal state of children (breastfeeding a newborn is totally different from a 3 month old from a 9 month old from a toddler). I learned that stages of parenting end — no matter what you do (all babies wean sooner or later, easily or with tears). So when I ran across this blog post (which is not at all about breastfeeding) I thought this mama’s words were good breastfeeding advice:

We think our children and their lives are about us, when really it’s about them. And that’s where we go wrong…While having babies doesn’t come with a “contract” like marriage and business relationships, the act of conceiving, birthing, and keeping your baby creates a binding contract. You promise to love that baby unconditionally, treat it fairly, and set it free when it’s time.

Successful breastfeeding sometimes takes a lot of letting go of our own preconceptions about what mothering will be like and accepting our babies for the unique people that they are.

Taking Babies’ Feelings Seriously

Breastfeeding isn’t something that we can do to babies — we have to create an environment where babies can breastfeed. Mothers offer access to the breast and support babies’ instincts and skills. Babies do the work. As a breastfeeding advocate and supporter, I’ve discovered that I have to learn what makes it possible for babies to figure out how to breastfeed. To nurse effectively, babies need to feel calm, safe, and comfortable so I’m always excited to find information about promoting infant mental health.

My latest discovery is the  Australian Association for Infant Mental Health. They have position papers about responding to infant cues, “crying it out”, and “time outs”. I love the fact that these papers reference studies to justify their claims. A little preview from their position paper on responsing to infants’ cues:

AAIMHI maintains that babies’ upset feelings are to be taken seriously, and that parents should be encouraged to do whatever they can to help soothe their babies (for example holding, stroking, rocking, singing, or talking to the baby). When parents help babies to manage their difficult feelings, their babies learn how to do this for themselves as they grow older, thus they develop a healthy autonomy. This is true even if the crying persists – as often the cause of a baby’s cry may not be immediately evident to the parent. However, research indicates that responding appropriately to infants’ cues can have positive long term, and possibly even transgenerational consequences.

Older nurslings

It really is different nursing an older baby or toddler. I’ve heard women say that they would never nurse a baby that could ask to nurse. While that might work for them, I found that breastfeeding just started to get easy around the time my babies started to talk. At the end of the first year we’d solved most of the problems, the pressure was off because the children were eating other foods as well, but the comfort and bonding were still there (oh yeah, and it was still excellent nutrition). Also little kids say really funny things about anything in their life — including nursing.  Anyway, this is a long introduction to an article that is a taste of what it can be like to nurse a toddler. Molly Remer writes about her 2 1/2 year old:

At dinner, eating grapes, my boy picks out a large grape and a very small grape. He is delighted with the small grape, “baby grape! Baby grape!” He holds up the large one and announces, “Mama grape.” He sets them on the table and carefully pushes the small grape towards the large one until they are touching. “Dat baby grape have na-nas!” he reports with obvious satisfaction. Later, he eats them both.

This is just a tiny excerpt — check out the whole thing at Literary Mama. It’s called Nursing Johnny Depp. (There is a plastic Jack Sparrow action figure involved here…)