"Putting" the Baby


What is it with our culture that has led us to believe we should prop the baby somewhere, somehow and then run for our independence or sleep? I see this a lot in the field I am in. I am a lactation consultant by trade; a mother by six sons. Human babies are “holding” mammals. They thrive on skin to skin contact, they stabilize their body temperature according to mom’s, they regulate their heart rate in the same way. Babies curl up into a mom’s breast after they feed and fall into a blissful sleep and often have a small smile on their faces. Mom’s thrive along with babies from this continuous contact as well. I often think back to the kind of deep sleep I fell into often following breastfeeding while lying down. I don’t believe I have ever slept that deeply since.

I am not a dreamer and I am not unrealistic. I am a multi-tasker with the best of the lot. I never really enjoyed trimming my Christmas tree with one arm while I held the baby with the other. Typing with one hand is less than efficient. Cooking is extremely challenging. Tying the older kid’s shoes is completely frustrating. And going to the bathroom is an always exception to the rule. But, it was only for a period of time and hey, I got really creative.

I remember early on when I was on kiddo number two perhaps, watching a good friend of mine “putting the baby.” Her baby was about six months old and had just begun sitting up on her own. So, mom would put the baby down on the floor, sit her up right and surround her with the latest Fisher Price toys. Then, this mom would take off like a jet for the kitchen or another room, away from baby. Within a very short time, baby would start to cry, so mom would run in and throw more toys in the pile and baby would cry again. Then, more toys and more crying, and well, you get the picture. I never got it. I always wondered why she didn’t just pick the baby up and carry her as she begged for. While I wondered this, I seemed to always have a baby on my hip

Unfortunately, I was a baby sling failure. I don’t know why. I was a La Leche League diehard and even a leader for some time. Most LLL babies were comfortably cozy in their Maya wrap ring slings. These are made of Guatemalan fabric and give any mom and instant “hippie-granola-mama” style. At the time, I could never figure out what one would do with all that extra fabric and how to use one. I did take a stab at a front pouch for awhile and I did wear a Snugli for a time until I felt that I would faint away from the heat. But, I never really got hooked on these baby carriers that in retrospect, would have been very helpful. I wish I had and now, often recommend them.

But, here’s my current concern. Swaddling. I was at a lactation conference a few years ago when I first saw this very busy booth in the exhibit hall. It was Dr. Harvey Karp and he was promoting his new video, his new swaddle wraps and books. I stood and watched the video and alarms went off in my head as I thought, “something is not right about this.” Swaddling has been broadly embraced. There are hospital nurses who are known for their ability to turn a newborn into an instant burrito, whose swaddling techniques are revered by all. They take that baby and turn it into one inatimate object. Perspective parents are taught swaddling technique in childbirth classes. A good swaddling looks very much like a strait jacket. It has all baby’s limbs tightly tucked inside, with only a head peeking out. The baby cannot move a muscle and it seems to me that this would feel horribly restrictive.

Recently at another conference I attended, I listened to a presentation on the negative aspects of this now common practice. In order to add impact to her talk, the presenter, a well- known author, bound several audience volunteers in scarves and wraps so that their arms were immobilized tightly against their body. These women eventually began to shift in their seats and after awhile, some even began a slight rocking movement. They looked flushed and sweaty and in time, some requested to be unbound in a panicky voice. They all reported hating being bound. Perhaps babies do too.

Worst of all, is the danger to these precious newborns. It seems the goal is to ‘trick the baby” into feeling like he is still in the womb! Swaddling raises body heat. It also restricts hands and arms making it impossible to touch one’s face or to signal with hunger cues. Babies actually sleep through feedings and fail to gain weight appropriately, often resulting in supplementation with formula and bottles. It is a slippery slope and often, a downward spiral from there. But, here the key word is always, “sleep.” If something makes babies sleep longer, this is key and it makes nearly anything, marketable.

What is it with our obsession with getting babies to sleep as long as possible? I know new moms and dads are tired. Oh, they are truly more tired than they have ever been in their lives including those all -nighters they pulled back in college. But, a healthy newborn is NOT supposed to sleep deeply and IS supposed to awaken frequently to eat and to remember at the very least, to breathe. It is NOT healthy or safe for newborn to sleep so soundly and so deeply that they do not awaken regularly, or the unspeakable, not awaken at all.

So, enough with the swaddling. Let’s take off these infant strait jackets and keep baby close by. When he lays down to sleep, you do so as well. Carry him much of the time and let a sling help you do that job. Keep his body temperature cool, as you do yours and let him flail his arms around to his heart’s content. And “no putting” your baby. He wants to be with you, to watch you do all the mundane things you do in a day,that he finds completely fascinating. There’s no running away from him anyway. He is yours forever and madly in love with the very scent and sound and feel of you. Embrace him. The payback to you is huge. I promise.