I put her down – she cries! I pick her up – she’s so heavy! Now what the heck shall I do?
1. What do babies need?
2. How am I to satisfy these needs here and now?
We say that these are two separate issues:
Some might say to this: “You shouldn’t let your baby rule your life. What she needs is a stable schedule.”
Others might have different views: “You will need to be with your baby in the way it’s best for her.
Naturally, it would be best to give babies just what they need. This, however, is not too realistic. At times, it’s wholly impossible, because babies sometimes just want too much. Did you know that there are no other species in the world whose offspring would be so helpless and for such a long period of time as human babies? This combination (being helpless and for soo long) is practically unparalleled in the animal kingdom.
In our culture, we cannot possibly be together with our babies in a way that would suit her best interest. Our society has not been designed around the needs of babies. Once we acknowledge this, we will find it easier to accept that the above two questions – along with the answer to them – are really different.
But why is it so essential to approach these questions in two different ways? Because if we treat our babies’ needs and the room we have for maneuvering our life as if they were balanceable options, one of the parties will be frustrated. After all, a family is a complex board game where one cannot win alone.
Blending the two questions and discussing them under the same hat might be problematic in two diverse ways.
The first problem occurs when we simply disregard what needs babies have…
“Do not pick up the baby when she cries or else she’ll know you can be pulled on a string! (This approach suggests that babies do not need to be close to their moms, and they feel OK alone in the cot).
“If you breastfeed your baby every time she cries out, she’ll be pampered”. (Meaning: babies do not need to be breastfed too frequently.)
“Babies will need to learn to sleep alone”. (Meaning: babies do not need any help going to sleep).
Well, they do: it is human infants’ biological need to be in constant proximity to someone else day and night and to be frequently breastfed. This is nature’s law, the law of our gut instincts; something that no child-rearing trend can change. And for those occasions when we simply cannot or may chose not to pick our crying baby up it is useless to adopt an ideology as these situations are rough for both of us anyway. We will just need to survive these hectic times remembering that no adolescents would ever break out in tears just because their mom is in the loo or in the bathroom brushing her teeth. Babies feel safe in their own pack; and taking care of them is not a task one could do single-handedly: the more people take care of them, the safer they feel. However, 99 cases out of a 100 you will fail to achieve this. You do not need to have a bad conscious if you belong to the majority in this issue. This is, where you get hitch number two.
The second problem occurs when we disregard our own limits
It can be difficult to admit that although my baby signals her need, I just cannot pick her up, or hold her any longer. So I pick her up even if it breaks my back. But babies not only need close proximity, they also need to be on the same wavelength with us, which will never work with our teeth gritted. Moreover, babies also want to be picked up the next day – although it is something we need to keep in mind as babies are not yet familiar with the concept “tomorrow”…
When you see that you cannot satisfy your baby’s biological need - be reasonable to yourself! Families are more complex systems than babies’ biological needs. Try to focus on how to be together in a way that is best for both of you right here, right now – your child’s interest cannot go against yours over and over again, because she is wholly dependent on you!
If you can represent your own interest without being frustrated and suffering from bad conscious even when you reach your own limit, you will be able to come up with several good solutions.
“No, I won’t pick you up now, I’ll put you into the swing, sit next to you and give you push”. This way you can be near her, offer some care but also rest a little bit. If you are not at the end of your tethers, you will see that the world is not hostile and there is an endless number of solutions available!
But if I can never fully satisfy my baby's needs with my parenting, then why should we talk about babies’ needs in the first place?
Because you will need to know what your baby needs to make a wise decision! And then nobody would be able to talk you out of your decision. If you are aware of your choices, you will never feel inconsistent when you pick up your baby whenever you can. Provided you pay good attention to your own self… If you watch your own needs, you can rely on any other adult caretaker without any bad conscious, and you can simply put your child down whenever holding her is too much for YOU. Your background knowledge about this issue will make you feel safe about your decisions, and you can choose the most optimal solution in any situation.
The things is, you are the only one who knows what’s best for you and your baby. But you can only tell, if you are honest to yourself and are brave enough to admit what’s best for you.
Carpe diem: seize the moment!
The main question is, how you can be together with your baby. Do not look for general answers, try to be as optimal as possible. You can always opt for plan B and find a solution you consider best in the given situation.
Do not let her cry but do not pick her up either just because others say so. Pick her up to feel better as you don't need to bear listening to her crying, and perhaps skin-to-skin contact will calm both of you down. Put her down to restore your energy and get your tired body and mind back on track.
Try babywearing so that you can organise your life better and hold your partner’s or your other child’s hand. Help your family learn to appreciate the benefits of babywearing so you don’t end up left alone with your burden!
Choose breastfeeding, so that the time spent with your baby can be more spontaneous, more natural – and feed from a bottle if this is what the situation requires. Sleep with your baby so that you can breastfeed her any time during the night to make sure you both have a peaceful rest. And do not fear the day when you send her to sleep in her own bed.
We propagate babywearing, breastfeeding, and bedsharing to make your life easier, but not to judge you if you decide to do otherwise. Man is a creature with the ability to make decisions, the only one who can decide how she spends the time with her offspring. Make the most of it! You're surely competent to make the right decision.
Here is this little creature, and it is YOU she feels safe with. Your intuition, your embrace and your love are the greatest things you can give her.