Really, they don't.
All your baby wants is you -- your skin, your smell, your milk, your voice.
I've noticed a destructive pattern growing in Western society and it is the wide-scale replacement of human connection withlifeless gadgets. And it starts at birth. This unhealthy pattern is encouraged in the detached parenting styles found here in the West. In noticing this, it's easy to see why children grow up to become adults who continue to seek comfort in other non-human objects, such as drugs, food, money, etc.
So this is where I dare to question The Great Modern Baby Registry "Essentials". You know, the items that we all automatically assume as necessary. When we begin to understand human development, attachment and bonding, and the importance of connection, it is clear that these "essentials" are worse than unnecessary -- they're potentially harmful.
I'm not writing this post to shame any parent for their choices, and if you read this and still feel like buying everything on the list -- do it! But I hope you'll do it with awareness. I hope every one of us can put aside our material-driven dreams of what parenthood should look like, and instead, get down to our baby's level. What do they really need? How can we give them the gift of a strong, loving foundation for the rest of their emotional life to grow upon?
And it isn't just the well-being of the baby that we should be concerned with. It's a well-known fact that parenting is easier and more enjoyable -- even profoundly healing -- when we have a strong bond with our children.
*Note: This is mostly in reference to the "in-arms" period, from birth to about one year old. And up to 18 months, ideally. Current research stresses the importance of the resonance of the heartbeats between mother and child during this period.
I already wrote about this in a previous post, but babies aren't designed to sleep in isolation.
It makes absolutely no biological sense to separate a baby from it's mother and there is plenty of research to back this up. Co-sleeping expert Professor James McKenna emphasizes that sleeping close to your infant regulates breathing, body temperature, absorption of calories, stress hormone levels, immune status, and oxygenation. It also gives them access to nutrition -- in the form of mama's milk -- all night. While the last sentence may seem like a major inconvenience, it really does pay off in the long run if your goal is to raise a physically and emotionally healthy human being.
Abandoning the crib might also save you from a lot of the frustration that modern parents face when caring for babies. Typically diagnosed as "sleep issues" in need of "sleep training", what we're really dealing with are age-old instincts in need of respect. It's easy to understand that the more we stray from our biological roots, the more likely we are to come up against problems. In essence, parenting in our culture has become a great act of swimming against the current. When you surrender and flow, letting nature guide you, every "problem" melts away. Problems are almost always unrealistic expectations in disguise.
Babies do not want to sleep alone. They want to be safe, near their caregivers. They want to be close to your heartbeat, sharing the air that you breathe, dreaming next to you, knowing that you'll be there when they wake up.
There are several creative ways to keep your baby close at night.
- If you're set on a crib, at least keep it in the same room as you. Crib or no crib, the goal remains the same -- Stay close.
- Try a co-sleeper or side-car. These can be safely pushed up against your bed, creating a little separation but not too much.
- If you have a queen bed, you can create more space by adding a toddler or single mattress to the side. We did this for a few months before we got our king bed and it allowed us all to get more comfortable sleep while staying within an arm's reach from each other.
- My personal favorite: Put a giant mattress or two on the floor and you're all set!
Bouncers, Swings, Vibrating Things, etc
I'm finally at the point in my life where everyone I grew up with is having a baby. Every week, there's a new arrival on my feed and as I've watched the photos roll in, I've noticed one very sad pattern emerge: The baby is almost always in some type of contraption.
A car seat, a bouncer, a swing, a vibrating thing, a stroller, and later -- one of those awful Bumbo seats.
Believe it or not, there is an actual name for this recent phenomenon: Container Baby Syndrome.
Container baby syndrome (CBS) is a collection of movement, behavior, and other problems caused by a baby or infant spending too much time in a "container".
Staying in the container for a prolonged time and over days and weeks can even cause severe, possibly lifelong problems, such as:
- Head and face deformities, including “flat head syndrome”
- Decreased muscle strength and coordination
- Speech, sight, hearing, and thinking problems
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Chiropractor Andrew Dodge explains these physical problems in greater detail.
Structurally, your newborn baby’s spine is a big c-shape. Her posture is completely flexed, just like it was inside the womb.
When babies lie flat on their back for a prolonged amount of time, the gravitational effects on their spines begin to straighten the developing curves. [This] can affect a child’s proper spinal joint alignment and weight-bearing biomechanics, ligament development and strength around the spine and hip joints, muscle tone and biomechanical development, and neurological development.
And they get more clever by the day! Now there are even products that feature a heartbeat and vibration setting to mimic the sounds of a mom. Our babies spend over nine months nestled in the womb, hearing and feeling our heartbeat around the clock. We, as mothers, are their only environment. Why, then, do we think it's okay -- even beneficial -- to separate ourselves from them as soon as they're born? When a baby makes the transition from womb to world, our goal as mothers should be to maintain the connection that we had while they were in utero. To do that, we cannot have a stand-in lifeless device holding them around the clock.
What to do instead?
Wear your baby! A wrap, sling or other baby carrier is by far the best investment you can make in that first year. With your baby safe and snug against your chest, your hands are free to do pretty much anything.
If you need a break, put your baby on a blanket. Seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it? Without being strapped into anything, the baby is free to explore their body -- to move their arms and legs and look around at everything. And you can stay close, making regular eye contact, ready to pick them up to reconnect at any moment.
"But what about when I need to pee or take a shower? What would I do without a bouncer to put my baby in?"
I've heard this a million times and each time, it sounds even more ridiculous. So, if you've heard the same thing, or if you're honestly wondering what to do in these situations, here are some quick ideas:
- Take a shower when your partner comes home.
- Bathe with your baby.
- Pee with your baby in your lap, or in a carrier. It's easy, really.
- Put your baby on a blanket for a few minutes while you shower or use the toilet.
- Don't worry about showering in the first place. We're all over-washed these days anyway. ;-)
Another baby contraption that separates mama (or dad!) from baby -- and adds a lot of unnecessary bulkiness to your life. First I will say that they're a great invention for those of us with back pain, or several children, or some other special situation that calls for the help of a stroller. But in most cases, there really is no reason to be strapping your baby into yet another contraption. Baby-wearing is quick, convenient and biologically ideal. Just like co-sleeping, wearing your baby regulates many of their biological rhythms while also tending to their emotional needs. You can see and feel your baby at all times, making it easier to keep them safe. It's also great for those first precious weeks and months, when you don't want strangers (or even family) touching your baby without your permission. Oh, and you can also nurse your baby in there -- a real game-changer once you get comfortable with it!
The benefits don't stop when you hit toddlerhood, either. In fact, baby-wearing can be such a valuable tool to support your toddler while they're navigating difficult emotions and developmental growth periods.
Try them out first! Did you know that many cities around the world have baby-wearing groups with lending libraries? Usually this means that you pay a yearly fee of $15-30 and in return, you can rent carriers of every kind. This gives you the chance to find the perfect carrier for you and your baby, because it really is different for everyone. (My personal favorite is our BabySaBye Mei Tai!)
It breaks my heart when I hear someone complain about being a "human pacifier", as if it's the worst thing in the world to be the #1 source of comfort for our little ones. Guess what? Humans were / are the original pacifiers. It's what we sign up for -- biologically -- when we become mothers.
Pacifiers can be useful, particularly in the car when you aren't capable of safely nursing your baby. But when you're trying to get some shopping done at the grocery store and your newborn whines, asking to be held? Maybe not the best idea to ignore her plea for closeness or milk by instead shoving a piece of silicone in her mouth. What does that communicate to our babies? That we meet their emotional and physical needs with material objects.
Another note about pacifiers: They can alsohurt your breastfeeding relationship. More time spent sucking on a pacifier instead of at the breast means less opportunities to build or maintain your milk supply. It can also cause disinterest in the breast altogether, or even biting. When babies are used to playing with and biting pacifiers (or bottles), they sometimes end up doing the same thing to Mom. This can mean the end of their breastfeeding relationship entirely.
Connection is Everything
At first glance, many of these "essentials" appear to add convenience to your life. And we already have enough on our plates, so why make motherhood even more difficult, right?
Here's the thing though: That convenience is an illusion that we all pay the price for, to varying degrees, somewhere along the line. (It's no wonder that four in ten infants lack strong parental attachments!)
Dr. Karen B. Walant is the author of the book, Creating the Capacity for Attachment: Treating Addictions and the Alienated Self. She uses a term to describe these Western parenting practices: Normative Abuse.
"Normative," because these are approaches that are sanctioned by society, therefore enacted without any moral discomfort. By normative, I mean practices which appear normal for our culture. First of all, normative abuse occurs when we avoid or ignore our parental instincts to be empathic and responsive to our children's needs. For example, parents are taught the best gift they can give their children is to encourage them to self-soothe at one, two, three months of age. Mothers frantically stick a pacifier in their babies' mouths or try to get their child to suck on his thumb, all in a well-meaning effort to wean their child from "needing" mom.
In the psychoanalytic literature, for example, one writer even criticizes a mother who "allows" her baby to become "addicted" to her - can you imagine that? A baby should be "addicted" to his real mother, not to a substitute, plastic pacifier or even to his own thumb! Again, normative abuse occurs when the child's needs for attachment and closeness with his parents are sacrificed for the cultural norms that insist on autonomy and individuation. Babies need to be held - as much as possible, as often as possible. Therefore, I consider the over-use of strollers, playpens, and even cribs to be normative abuse.
I know the "A" word might get some people fired up, but Walant's point stands: Infants and children deserve to have their age-old needs met with love and compassion. Ignoring those needs is an act of cruelty -- no matter how many people are doing it and calling it "normal".
So when you're writing a list of things to buy for your new baby, ask yourself: Does this product meet my baby's need for connection?
Most of the time -- as cute as it may be -- the answer will be an unavoidable "no". And if we can have the courage to say "no" to the objects that are designed to separate us, maybe we can finally begin to break the cycle and reconnect with our young,