We hear many terms when we start to explore parenting, starting in pregnancy from the early days throughout the younger years and beyond. I have personally heard many terms and phrases, new and old styles and methods of parenting.
During my time as an early years worker, maternity support worker and the NHS role I have many years of training and experience working with families practising many parenting styles. Plus my own parenting styles and practices which are evolving and changing as my babies grow and I'm always learning.
The funny thing is I'd likely do it all differently now, hindsight is nothing but cruel really as a parent it's difficult to navigate your way through in the right way while trying to just do your best.
This blog post is about how to be responsive with your newborn baby. This isn't really a parenting style, more a biological normal way to support your baby. When teaching I like to explore how a family wants to parent and what their expectations are of how their life is going to change once a new baby is born.
When we look back over parenting trends we find out how we have almost broken something we used to do naturally, of course we also now live very different lives.
As everyone who has worked with me will know, I love my dinosaur quotes.
So back in the dinosaur days when we used to give birth naturally and we listened to our bodies (which do work by the way and that's a whole other blog post) we would listen to our babies as well, we fed and slept with them holding and carrying them and keeping them safe. In many other cultures across the world, we still hold a lot of these concepts in our early days with a newborn.
Now I often get asked about giving ‘tips and tricks’ to make this newborn stage easier, how do I get through it? How do I get breastfeeding off to the best start? If I can teach you just one word to take with you as you start on your parenting journey, it's RESPONSIVE.
What does this mean?
The word responsive means to respond - the dictionary says reacting quickly and positively.
The way breastfeeding works best for mother and baby, is for it to be responsive for both.
Babies don't demand from us, they ask through feeding cues (opening their eyes, bringing their hands up to their mouths, routing, searching, moving and lastly crying), we respond. We as human mammals use breastfeeding for so much more than “just food”, pain medication, comfort, convenience, attachment, sleep, the list goes on and the benefits are endless. The value to feeding a baby responsively isn't just one thing; it holds benefits to the mother and the baby.
The baby will have more time to bond, to feel safe, secure and relaxed in its mothers/parents arms and likely cry less. Babies who are being held also benefit from being upright, less wind, easier on the digestion as humans weren't really meant to eat a large meal and lay down.
Being able to have responsive feeding will enable babies to request the milk to be the way they need it, and in the right amount. This means babies being able to breastfeed whenever they want to. As well as supporting a good milk supply for the mother, this will allow the baby to transfer all the fat, vitamins, water, and food that they need. As we know, breastmilk changes as per what the baby requests, when a baby feeds they send a message into the breasts to change and re-order what they need.
The benefits of being responsive also apply to the mother, which are also important - when feeding responsively, the mother can choose to breastfeed when she wants to. If the mother is going to go out with friends or is back at work, she can feed the baby before she leaves and when she returns. If the mother wants to cuddle her baby and rest, she can do so with feeding. I hear mothers who talk so positively and passionately about breastfeeding, “It's like a superpower” “I did this”. This journey, which isn't always an easy start or adjustment, is also very good at building up our postnatal wellness. We respond and they respond.
If parents use responsive feeding, they are more likely to find the parenting and feeding journey easier and have a more content baby. From studies, we are learning more and more the benefits of attachment parenting and how the transition into the world can really help to adjust to the world.
This sounds simple and easy right? But it isn't as easy as you think in our current UK culture. We are conditioned to expect routines and order - this is what makes us have the “good” baby - friends, family, the media all paint this picture of a happy self-settling sleeping baby.
For many parents (even me) we struggle to just follow the baby and be responsive. The need to fix a baby who wakes often, or needs to breastfeed to sleep is still being shared far and wide. If we restrict a breastfed baby to a feeding schedule/routine (which can sometimes be useful in the first few days when a baby isn't breastfeeding often) it can damage the breastmilk supply and damage the relationship. We need to support the baby and the mother, supporting them to fully immerse themselves in the postnatal period. With our modern ways we are expected to jump back to it, be active and get back to work, but these things all put extra pressure onto the mother/parent.
So what about formula feeding parents?
Well they also will benefit from feeding the baby responsively, however being careful not to over feed the baby. It's important to hold them close, also limiting the amount of people who feed the baby. So the baby is benefiting from the bonding and getting to know the parent.
Babies are meant to wake often, feed in small amounts and have constant contact with their parents. Ways to help support this is to have a look at postnatal planning, explore some support and a sling. Allow time for rest and relaxation and to recover.
As a doula and a mother I know how hard, exhausting and confusing these early days can be. I offer doula packages to suit budgets and needs, early days parent education classes to help you feel prepared for your new baby. I work across Cheshire providing postnatal planning sessions, birth support, post birth support and parenting support for families. I provide a listening ear, supportive outlook and practical help for your baby days. Drop me a message if you would like to chat more.
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