Tuesday, June 10, 2008


It’s unfortunate that today we are so easily offended as mothers. We hear what one mother is doing differently than us and we take immediate offense, as if this was a personal attack against our way of doing things. This ought not to be. I hope we can see there are many ways of mothering, as it were, and if we listen to each other we may better our own selves, even if only in our expanse of knowledge on the subject. It’s in this light that I hope to share with you some things I’ve learned since becoming a mother in regards to breastfeeding. I do not in any way try to claim authority on the matter, nor do I try to presume that others should do things “my” way, yet I present my experience for what it is: my experience thus far.

I had some strong opinions on a variety of topics upon entering motherhood, which I deem to be a good and healthy thing. I read a lot on various topics and still do. Albeit another good and healthy thing is to be always ready to listen, ready to learn, ready to change your ideas if something else better comes along, as we do not know it all, far from it in fact.

One particular topic that I had a strong opinion about was breastfeeding and all it would entail. Isn’t it true that you should feed your baby whenever they are hungry, which is called “demand feeding”? Isn’t it true that to put your baby on any kind of “schedule” would be unnatural and thus unhealthy? Isn’t it true that an infant sleeping through the night, even at six months, was unnatural? Isn’t it true that if you didn’t feed an infant through the night then your milk supply would get too low? Before becoming a mother, I thought each of these items were true. I’d like to share with you how I’ve come to learn differently.

Isn’t it true that you should feed your baby whenever they are hungry, which is called “demand feeding”? It is true that you should feed your baby when they are hungry, but this isn’t the only definition of “demand feeding”. It seems there are quite a variety of opinions out there as to when you should feed your child under the term “demand feeding”. Some define it as whenever the child cries. This of course did not prove true for my son, as he often cried due to an upset stomach. If I were to feed him every time he cried, this would’ve only made his situation worse. I had to pay close attention to both his signals as well as to the clock to try to best determine when he was truly hungry, in pain or just needing to suck on something. (Although I kept very loose track of time, I used the clock to help decipher his crying, for example if it had only been 20 minutes since his last feeding and he started crying, he was most likely crying for another reason besides hunger.) Previous to becoming a mother, I thought there was nothing wrong with a child using mom as a pacifier, as it were, in order to meet the baby’s sucking needs, after all, breasts are natural and pacifiers are not. My son, though, is a gulper and finishes his meals in record time. He still liked to suck after he was full. If I let him continue to eat, he would spew up the majority of his meal, plus be plagued with a painful gut. My previous ideas about pacifiers changed quickly and I picked one up for his additional sucking needs.

Isn’t it true that to put your baby on any kind of “schedule” would be unnatural and thus unhealthy? My son naturally fell into a generally predictable schedule. He generally ate every two hours or so, although I didn’t pay too much attention to the clock, so that’s a rough estimate. If I had paid better attention to the clock, I admit now that it would’ve proven to be beneficial to myself, giving me a general idea of when he would be hungry and especially when he would be tired. After my son’s tummy issues cleared, he was still crying a lot. I paid close attention to try to decipher his cries, as I knew it wasn’t a pain cry. It soon became clear to me that by the time he was acting tired, he was over-tired. Once he became over-tired, it was hard to calm him and get him to sleep, thus the reason for his crying. I realized then how important of a tool the clock was to help determine when he was tired and be proactive about it. Once I started getting him laid down before he became over-tired, as he seemed to generally prefer being laid down, as opposed to being held (yet another opinion of mine that was altered by experience), he became a much more contented baby. Admitting that schedules are natural and embracing my baby’s schedule by allowing the clock to play a part, had a huge positive impact on my son and in turn, on me.

Isn’t it true that an infant sleeping through the night, even at six months, is unnatural? In order to expand my mothering horizon, I read the book “On Becoming Baby Wise”, although I was quite sure I’d disagree with most of it. To my surprise and delight, I found I agreed with a lot of what the authors were saying. The basic premise the book had, was if your child receives full meals, they will naturally fall into a predictable schedule which will result in healthy sleep, including sleeping through the night. Since my son had naturally fallen into the pattern the book laid out, which is sleep/eat/wake/repeat, I decided to roughly try their approach. The only thing I needed to change was to feed my son more at each feeding, in order for his feedings to naturally spread to every 2 ½ - 3 hours. I did this cautiously and apprehensively, as I didn’t want his tummy issues to reappear. My son took well to eating more, as long as I burped him in the middle of eating. He seemed content and happy, not overfull. Viewing their schedule as a rough guideline also aided in determining when my son needed to nap. Although he doesn’t always fall asleep right away, he is indeed tired at predictable times, at which I do my best to provide him with a good nap. By simply allowing my son to fill up at each feeding, he naturally adjusted to being hungry every 2 ½ - 3 hours, as opposed to every 2, and has started sleeping through the night (6 – 8 hours before awaking to eat, as opposed to 4 and then every 2 until morning. He does have some nights yet where he’ll awake every 4 hours to eat.). It still amazes me at how natural this really is (ie. My son sleeping through the night)! (I will add, without getting into the details at this time, that there was plenty of misconceptions that the authors of “On Becoming Baby Wise” held to in my mind, and these were enough to make me quite upset and at times very disgusted with the book.)

Isn’t it true that if you don’t feed an infant through the night then your milk supply will get too low? This was a huge concern for me, as I desire to exclusively breastfeed my son until he’s at least one year of age, as there are so many health benefits involved. As my son started sleeping longer at night, I made sure to pay close attention to whether or not I continued to produce enough milk for him. Once I started feeding him more each feeding, resulting in more time between feedings and a longer stretch at night, my milk supply actually has increased. What a pleasant surprise!

Experience has changed my personal views on breastfeeding drastically. I am pleased with what I’ve been able to learn and the results of such knowledge applied. I hope I will never close my mind to learning and re-learning, even if it means trying something I thought I’d never do.


The Overbeeks said...

I enjoyed reading how your perspective has changed in some areas, just as mine did in similar ways. What amazed me was that, after I thought I had it all figured out after the first child, the second came along and, once again, everything went completely different from what I expected. Who knows what the third will bring! It is wonderful to have a teachable spirit, in these matters and also as a mother in trying our best to raise our children in the fear of the Lord.

Crystal Carr said...

Yes, I've joked with Sven that we should "hurry up and have another one before I forget it all!" and then am quick to add, "Well, it wouldn't really matter, because it'll probably all be different with next one anyways!"

It's a humbling thing to try to raise our children in the fear of the Lord, is it not?

Wife, Mom, Teacher said...

Thanks for sharing what you've learned.

I also think the Baby Wise books have a lot to offer. My only major concern being one I'm sure you would never struggle with, which is sticking to your schedule even when something isn't going well with it and assuming it will all fix itself soon.

My kids have all been different in how I should parent them (and continue to be). I think what you're describing with Steven is a lot like what Sydney was like! I wonder if there are similarities in first born children even at this age. I would guess there is!

Crystal Carr said...

Thanks, Heidi. Yes, I think that's a good thing to keep in mind when parenting - kids are not all alike and it's good to be flexible in your parenting.

About the scheduling, I try to use it as a loose guideline. Basically, Steven follows it anyways, it just helps me to anticipate what's next and when. But, that's putting it simply, babies just aren't always predictable. :)