Category Archives: Child Development

Harvard research: “Children Need Touching”

Here are the opening paragraphs from a 1998 article in the Harvard Gazette:

America’s “let them cry” attitude toward children may lead to more fears and tears among adults, according to two Harvard Medical School researchers.

Instead of letting infants cry, American parents should keep their babies close, console them when they cry, and bring them to bed with them, where they’ll feel safe, according to Michael L. Commons and Patrice M. Miller, researchers at the Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry.

The pair examined childrearing practices here and in other cultures and say the widespread American practice of putting babies in separate beds — even separate rooms — and not responding quickly to their cries may lead to incidents of post-traumatic stress and panic disorders when these children reach adulthood.

Breastfeeding advocates have known for a long time that responding to babies’ cries supports successful breastfeeding. Because babies do the work in breastfeeding (mothers just create access and a supportive environment), breastfeeding relies on responsiveness to what babies communicate.

I was happy to see that there is research on this topic relating to mental health (not just feeding choices). I’m sad that the research is over a decade old and still not widely publicized. Maybe it’s just hard to go against cultural beliefs.

I still need to track down the actual studies that this article is based on. I’m looking forward to reading them. I’m hoping that they are good quality research — and I hope even more that there have been follow-up studies in the last 11 years.


What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Here’s a video of a baby playing on the floor:

What’s wrong with the picture? It is only a baby. No mother. No father. No grandma or grandpa or aunt or neighbor or big sister. Babies need adults to thrive and survive. In modern society we often forget about this without even being aware that we’re forgetting. The media is full of photos of babies all alone in the picture. We can buy tons of products that let us try to separate from our babies: swaddling blankets, bouncy seats, swings, bottle propping devices, strollers, and more.  But none of these things work for very long (for most babies) because babies really do want to be close to people — mostly with their mothers.  The British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicot said

There is no such thing as a baby, there is a baby and someone.

For breastfeeding to succeed, it’s important to remember this. Babies are very competent at feeding in their natural environment — mother’s arms. When mothers keep their babies close they can read their baby’s signals so that breastfeeding happens before baby is upset. Many breastfeeding problems can be avoided just by remembering that babies are born expecting to be with someone — and mostly expecting to be with their mothers.

This video is really cute and I hope you enjoy it. It’s time-lapse photography of a nine-month-old baby playing on the floor. The photographer notes that he edited out the interactions with adults — and that they “do love their son! :)”. I used it to illustrate a point — but of course the father making the video is very aware that his baby is not really alone!

Instinctive breastfeeding position?

Take a look at these girls “breastfeeding” their dolls. They’re both holding their dolls in the way mothers hold their babies when babies self-attach (as described by Dr. Tina Smillie) — or in the “Biological Nurturing” position described by Suzanne Colson. Maybe we should be learning something from watching these girls that (almost certainly) have never been at a breastfeeding class and just hold their “babies” the way it feels right…

Note: These awesome pictures are from the La Leche League of Wisconsin Events page. LLL of WI offers great educational events every fall. I’m looking forward to hearing Marsha Walker next month. It’s not too late to register…

Positions for Breastfeeding

In my birth class the instructor taught several breastfeeding positions: “cradle hold”, “cross-cradle hold”, and “football hold”. This is still the common approach to teaching mothers about breastfeeding. However Suzanne Colson, a UK midwife, has been advocating a new and very effective approach to thinking about positioning for breastfeeding. She calls it “Biological Nurturing” and says:

Biological nurturing is more than nipple to nose or tummy to mummy, it is more than upright or sidlying postures…It is a two-person, whole body experience.

Here’s a link to her lovely “how-to” flier, “Recipe for Nurturing”.

Classic wisdom from LLL

I was reading Ruth’s La Leche League of Wisconsin newsletters from the 1960’s and found some gems. Here’s one of them:

Our society is becoming so efficient, we’re so organized… and our living so fast that the whole idea of what mothering is all about is sort of really being lost…It is so important that mothers understand how important they are… What you are doing through La Leche in your examples as mothers is enormously important in the world today… In La Leche you find mothers who aren’t too busy”

– Wisconsin La Leche League News January-February 1969

I don’t think anything has changed in 40 years — we still need to find the time to not be too busy to mother our babies. Breastfeeding is all about being there for our little ones.

Sit Back and Relax

You know how frustrating it is when your baby is hungry, you offer the breast, and he can’t latch on because he keeps putting his hands in the way? Well maybe it isn’t just that babies don’t know what to do with their hands — it could be that we’re holding them the wrong way. This study published last year found that when women leaned back while holding their babies facing them with their bodies in contact (they call this Biological Nurturing), babies used this hands-by-the-face movement to successfully latch.

In full-BN positioning, women instinctively elicited their infant’s primitive neonatal reflexes in a sequence that promoted effective feeding, behaviors not seen with partial or non-BN positioning. Said an untutored woman in full BN position after spontaneously assisting her baby’s efforts, “Breastfeeding is so easy. I wish more of my friends were doing it” (p. 7).

So maybe instead of focusing on the cradle-hold or the crosscradle-hold or the football-hold,  mothers should sit back, relax, and follow baby’s lead.