Mom sleep, feed, repeat: the praise to the normality of being a new parent

Congratulations, you have a perfectly normal baby!

As a midwife, this is what I think of when I hear the most common concerns of new parents. However, it’s not enough to tell parents that the behaviors they’re experiencing with their children are normal.

  • ‘My baby only sleeps on me…”
  • “My baby wants to feed all the time…”
  • “My baby wakes up all night”

are the typical concerns that new parents have.

Parents often think that they have done something wrong (which they obviously haven’t done) or that there is something wrong with their child (which almost always isn’t).

We have just forgotten, as a society, what normal child behavior is like.

Prepare to be parents

Future parents are often well prepared for the birth, but less prepared for the first few months when they will have to take care of a tiny human being who is completely dependent on them for every need.

The way we live and work has changed tremendously over the past hundred years. To understand child behavior we have to go back in time, as physiology has not kept pace with social change.

The cave child had the same needs as post-millennial children: to be held most of the time, preferably (in a biological sense) by a parent with the breast to feed on and fall asleep from.

We are ” mammal carriers “, which means that we are designed to carry our young in our arms from birth as they are not developed enough to walk away like giraffes do.

Mother’s milk is characteristic for that baby.

We are not born mammals like the giraffe or cow, nor mammals like cats, whose milk is designed to sustain their young in the nest while the parent goes hunting.

We’re even further away from mammals like deer, whose high-fat milk sustains their young for up to 12 hours while the adult is out foraging.

The milk humans produce is lower in both fat and protein than these species as our young are designed to continuously feed at the breast.

What we are not designed for are the 4 hour feeding intervals that have emerged from the latest fads of handling a newborn.

Even our sleep habits have changed over time, with softer beds, duvets, cots creating a completely different environment from what babies expect when they emerge from the womb.

Placing babies to sleep on their backs has reduced SIDS deaths by two-thirds but no one has told babies that sleeping on their backs in a crib instead of next to their parent is the statistically safest way for them to sleep.

The too many expectations of new parents

Environmental changes are also accompanied by changes in society, in particular concern for the education of “independent” children.

There is an expectation that infants should be able to go to sleep once placed on their own, on their backs, and unable to turn over (the ability to turn both ways generally hovers around 6 months )

We also expect them to sit there without interaction for 10-12 hours. The idea that this helps build independence is the opposite of what we know about the importance of secure attachment.

As adults, we wake up, roll over, go get drinks, or cuddle our loved ones at night, but young children are expected to sleep without the support they need, to do all of these things on their own.

The way parents spend their time has also changed. Parents have many demands, many working outside the home full time. Everyone juggles, and people generally live in smaller family units than ever before, with fewer people to support them.

Kathryn Barlow is an OB/GYN doctor, which is the medical specialty that deals with the care of women's reproductive health, including pregnancy and childbirth.

Obstetricians provide care to women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, while gynecologists focus on the health of the female reproductive system, including the ovaries, uterus, vagina, and breasts. OB/GYN doctors are trained to provide medical and surgical care for a wide range of conditions related to women's reproductive health.

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