Friday, August 06, 2010

The naked Impie Warrior Princess and routine versus baby-led

I look at my daughter, aged 2 years and 8 months, and how completely unaffected she is. She says whatever's on her mind, laughs hysterically and manically when she is happy, screams and cries if she is angry or sad. Tells you she loves you spontaneously in the same way that no amount of prompting can illicit that term of endearment if she is not feeling it. She strips off her clothes if she feels the urge, regardless of who may be visiting. She looks at her body and its various parts with the detached curiosity of a first year medical student. She uses the potty or toilet in front of anyone if she needs to go. She flings her arms around you laughingly and embraces you fiercely if the desire takes her, and avoids an embrace if it doesn't. She says pointedly if she likes something and someone or if she doesn't. She is, and I'm painfully aware it's only for a tragically narrow window of time, absolutely free, present, and human without any of the baggage we collect along the way.

The irony is that we are all like this as small children, and then our parents, carers, teachers, and peers spend an insane amount of time and energy telling us not to because its impolite, socially unacceptable, not nice, etc, effectively killing everything that is spontaneous, beautiful and free about the human spirit. So we develop affectations, insecurities, and coping mechanisms in order to fit in, and then later in life spend a lot of money on therapy or crappy self-help books trying to recapture that freedom of just being that came so very naturally in the first place.

Anyway, that's me just being maudlin. But I think there's something there to be aware of when raising your children; do so with a light touch.

Our little boy is 11 weeks old already. We haven't done a formalised routine with our son, as we did our daughter - what I liked to refer to as Gina Ford light. It's given me a very good compare and contrast on the baby led and routine method, both of which, I have to say, have their plusses and minuses to my mind.

The routine (i.e. baby eats at four hour intervals at the same time every day and sleeps around the same times and gets the night and day thing sorted fairly early on), gave us a lot of freedom in that we knew more or less when our daughter would be doing what, and also, because her feeds were scheduled, a pretty good idea if she was hungry or not. It may seem pretty self evident, but actually in those early weeks everything is a guessing game, and you find yourself spending a lot of time putting the baby to your breast or making and wasting bottles, trying to figure out if they are hungry or not. Hunger being the most obvious reason babies tend to cry.

With the routine we were able to plan nights out with a sitter fairly early on, knowing that give or take half an hour, our daughter would be asleep at x o'clock, and only require another bottle or feed at x o'clock. She travelled extremely well and we could arrange things more or less around feeding times which made life very easy.

We also had her sleeping through the night, as in 7pm to 7am from around 5.5 months and barring waking a few times (only for a few minutes) for a pacifier in those early months, or if she was or is ill, she is still a good sleeper and continues to go down at night and sleep through without any hassle.

On the down side the routine, again especially in those early months, was a stress. It doesn't just happen over night, it takes a lot of work, and there are days when it goes a bit pear shaped and you have to work to bring it back into place. I used to get anxious if we didn't do things on time because I knew that everything was intricately linked to the bigger picture and if one thing went wrong the whole thing would be affected.

Visits with friends had to be scheduled if they wanted to see her, because I knew she'd be awake for an hour only, in which time I also had to nurse, change the nappy etc, and if they wanted to cuddle her they'd get only a small margin of time to do so before she was swaddled, and put to sleep in her basket in a darkened room. We were also a lot less inclined to bundle her up and go out to dinner in the evenings because again she needed to be bathed at a certain time, fed, and in her darkened bedroom without any distractions to sleep. Yes it's true, perhaps we took it a bit too far, but as I said, this was the light version!

Our little guy on the other hand is 100% breast fed (our daughter was combined breast and bottle), and try as I might to get him onto the same sort of timing routine as we did our daughter, I find it extremely difficult. He doesn't last 4 hours between feeds throughout the day. He likes to eat when he wants to, and sometimes that is twice in an hour. Sometimes he sleeps very little during the day - a few cat naps, other times he does a four or five hour sleep in one go. Fortunately he more or less has his night's worked out, so he goes down to sleep at 8pm or thereabouts and then wakes twice or sometimes three times, but twice on a good night, to be fed before waking at about 7am again.

On the positive side I don't worry too much about when he's eating (he is gaining weight steadily so evidently we are OK in the department) or sleeping. Although sometimes I do worry if he sleeps for an exceptionally long period during the day as I know we are going to have a wakeful, albeit often happy, little chap in the early hours who requires walking around by dad as he serenely surveys the room for an hour or so.

We also don't think twice to put him in his pushchair and take him out in the evenings, and if I miss bathing him at 5.30pm in the evening, I top and tail him and do it the next day. So yes, a much more relaxed approach.

People say that nursing is very convenient. This is true and it's also not true. It is convenient in that you don't have to wash and sterilise bottles or indeed spend money on formula. You also don't make and waste bottles when you are trying to figure out if your baby is hungry or not. There's no need to worry about taking bottles, sterilisers and the right amount of formula with you when you travel. And if you are stuck somewhere you always have milk, if you'll excuse the image, on tap at the perfect temperature, without frenziedly tyring to find a clean bottle. People who bottle feed will appreciate that terrible feeling you get when your child is screaming and you are stuck in traffic or out somewhere and you realise you've used your last bottle already because you thought you'd be home long before now. It is truly horrible.

The inconvenient bit is that if you are nursing exclusively, i.e. not even expressing, you are effectively that child's only means of nourishment. So no asking your partner to do the 2am feed so you can have some sleep. Also, as with our son, a lot of nursed demand-fed babies don't always do so on a routine, so if you need to go out and leave the baby with someone, it can be difficult to plan. I believe this changes as the baby gets older and that they do more or less start to nurse on a routine, but I'm yet to get to that point.

It is also not always convenient to nurse in a public space. Some women are so expert at it that they lift a top or jumper, pop the baby underneath and do so without anyone being the wiser. For those of us with more, how should I say, obvious and larger breasts, it's not quite as easy, and the whole process requires a scarf to cover up and a lot of faffing with a crying hungry baby. Plus, some places are not so keen on you nursing on their premises and as a nursing mother you spend a lot of time walking along high streets looking into coffee shop or restaurant windows eyeing out quiet corners.

Superficially you are obligated to wear button down garments, unless you are OK with showing off your belly as you lift your T-shirt, in order to access your boobs without exposing too much of yourself. And then there's the gross unattractiveness that is the nursing bra, and believe me regardless if they have polka dots or are made of lace, they are still ugly. Plus of course an endless supply of breast pads (like large cotton wool pads to stick inside the bra so you don't, er, leak).

Still, I like the fact that when our son is upset, like after he got his first round of shots recently, I can put him to my breast and he is immediately comforted. Likewise when he is upset or unsettled during the night. And then there's the fact that he has gained weight in leaps and bounds since his birth, and I feel a tiny bit of pride that I've contributed to that. There's literature about how good it is for baby to be nursed, and some which says a lot of the benefits are really minuscule past those early weeks. I honestly don't have a firm opinion on it either way. I guess I'm as conditioned as most to think that it is largely beneficial, and I'm going to roll with it for a few more months, but most likely not past 6 months. Even I have my limits as to how long I will endure broken sleep and such unattractive underwear. And my feeling is that two things will prevent me from nursing longer (1) when my son gets teeth, and (2) when he can address me in perfect English asking for it.