It's amazing to me how far out of whack our cultural ideas on what is good for babies has gotten. And if the lives of our children start out this far of course, it's not surprising that the whole parent-child relationship is affected negatively.
Denise, my wife, has been involved in the birth world since she started having our kids. We had our first child at a birthing center with no drugs or interventions. We had the next two in our home. Denise is a doula and has attended many births and has educated herself thoroughly on the subject of natural birth. The fact that there is this concept of "Natural Childbirth" that is in some way distinct from birth in general is a red flag. Of course birth is natural! What we have come to accept as normal in the birth world, however, is far from natural. It is a world dominated by male misconceptions and motivated by the profit and convenience of the practitioners. The initial interventions that are supposedly for the safety of the mother and baby are the primary cause of birth complications that lead further interventions that, in an alarming high and rising percentage of cases, lead to a major surgical procedure. Oh, and by the way, all those interventions are really expensive. Western medicine in general looks through pathology-colored glasses and its approach to birth is no different. In all but an extremely small number of cases, birth will proceed normally and safely with absolutely no intervention. But this is a concept that does not help the OB/GYN industries' bottom line one bit so we don't hear about it.
So I could go down a very long digressive path here on the topic of what's broken in the birth world, and perhaps Denise will add some of her considerable insight on this in a future post, but let me proceed. My reason for talking about the problems about the birth world is that it is where most people start their parenthood journey. It is hard to imagine that the hospital/medical birth environment with its focus on pathology, fear and intervention does not negatively impact the all-important beginning of the parent-child relationship for both the parent and the child. Although obstetricians sugar coat things, it is not that much of a stretch to summarize their picture of birth as safely extracting a malignancy from an IPBU (Incoming Producing Biological Unit, a term that, disturbingly enough, is prevalent in medical schools.) That's not the vibe that I would want surrounding the miraculous process of welcoming my baby into a family.
OK, so the baby is here, mom and baby have survived the hospital birth ordeal and are home. Continuing this generalized and hypothetical mainstream baby story, what happens next? Well, mom is probably already thinking in terms of how long she can afford to stay out of work. The pediatrician understands this so will not really push breastfeeding too hard and sends home formula samples (conveniently provided by the formula companies who, by the way, don't make money on breastfeeding.) The pediatrician charts the babies weight gain on charts that are based on formula-fed babies and introduces that time-honored medical motivator, fear, when the breast-fed baby does not measure up. Again, this is a whole tirade, but the point is that breastfeeding is normally undermined for a number of reasons. And this is really unfortunate. Not only is breast milk the best food for a baby for dozens of reasons, but the bond that occurs between the mother and baby magically and wonderfully transforms that relationship. It has been suggested that human babies are born 3-4 months before they are fully ready because we began walking upright and this reduced the size of the pelvic opening. So having baby basically attached to mom for at least that period is a necessary part of healthy development. And the more the merrier on this front; the world average for breast-feeding length is 4 years. US babies are lucky to get 6 months. What's the cost to the mother-child connection?
So this lead us to another realm of choices that our culture pushes new parents toward the wrong side of - sleeping arrangements. There is considerable pressure to get baby "on a schedule." And this basically means matching an adult sleep schedule off in another room in a cage, oops I mean crib. Again, mom needs to think about getting back to work and the pediatrician understands and suggests books by "experts" that promote "crying it out" techniques, etc. I am not sure what to think about the folks that write these books on infant development, but I am guessing that they did not have very happy childhoods. Nobody who has not completely cut themselves off from their instincts and heart can listen to small baby crying without being internally motivated at the cattle-prod level to do something about it. We need to start trusting these instincts again. A baby human is a baby mammal and baby mammals sleep with their parents. Babies operate on a very instinctual, animal level; they are not going to understand mom's need to normalize her schedule. Their metabolism requires that they eat often (24X7) and their emotional and spiritual being requires near constant connection with mom. The only effective way to do this is to wear the baby during the day, and have the baby in bed at night.
Well, that's about what I have time for today... I know that I am generalizing when I create the "typcial" mainstream picture above, but I don't think it is too far off the mark. And I also know that doing what it takes to truly respect and fulfill the needs of a baby is extremely hard and inconvenient and probably means that mom needs to rethink the importance of her going back to work. But if the emotional and spiritual well-being of our future generation is held in the balance against the immediate need to support a specific lifestyle, I would challenge folks to take a good look at how they might be able to simplify. The rewards just in terms of the strength of the family bonds are priceless.