Carrying our babies close, breastfeeding on cue, co-sleeping and responding to our babies needs with love and respect is how parenting has looked across the globe for the majority of our evolution.
In fact, it is only in the last few hundred years that parenting has begun to take on a very different form.
These days this natural parenting style is still widely practised the world over, from Africa to Asia and beyond, mothers still hold their babies close as they go about their business. But it is no longer the case in the majority of the Western world.
In the quest for efficiency, progress and modernising, many of these natural practices have been cast aside.
Breastfeeding takes longer and means the child is more dependant on the mother, so quicker and supposedly easier formula feeding steps in.
Holding baby close and wearing them in a sling has been replaced with prams, buggies, strollers and other containers which allow the mother to “get her body back,” and keep the baby at bay.
Bedding down as a family is considered unhealthy and even dangerous, with parents now choosing to place their tiny babies alone in a cot, barred in and often in their own room in a bid to help make them better (deeper) sleepers, and less dependant on the parents.
And cries are dealt with, not as a matter of urgency, but instead, at the parents convenience, with disposable nappies left unchanged until “nappy change time,” with feeding and sleeping scheduled, with the attitude that cries for attention or cuddles are manipulative and to be ignored, unless you want to make a rod for your own back.
With our modern tips, tricks and techniques, for many babies the natural parenting style we have evolved to expect, doesn’t get a look in. These methods have so widely infiltrated our society that now it seems as if anyone who turns their back on them in favour of the age old ways, is looked at as a hippy, an eccentric, to be scorned and ridiculed.
For many, their strong belief is that our children are adaptable and these choices are simply a matter of personal preference.
After all, what difference could it possibly make if baby is fed on the mother’s schedule with artificial milk, left to self soothe, sleep alone, and internalise their discomfort so they don’t disturb others with their many demands?
As it happens, each of these seemingly innocent choices to modernise parenting and walk away from the natural child raising style which has been with us through the millennia, has a significant and potentially damaging effect on the person your child becomes and the parent child relationship as a whole.
Lets have a look at why:
A common misconception when it comes to feeding babies, is that milk is milk is milk. As long as baby is fed, what’s the big deal? But there are so many things breastfeeding can provide which can never be replaced by formula feeding. Firstly, this is a milk specifically designed for humans over the entirety of our species existence. It could not be a more perfect “formula” for human babies.
It adapts in accordance with their needs, providing antibodies, acting as a natural vaccination to protect them from illness which could massively effect their tiny bodies, hydrating and satisfying with its unique combination of fore-milk and hind-milk.
The act of breastfeeding floods mother and baby with oxytocin, aiding bonding and bringing the pair in tune with one another. The close skin to skin contact calms and soothes baby, reducing stress which in turn aids development and digestion.
Of course, breastfed babies do not sleep nearly as deeply as formula fed babies, and this is often seen as a negative, however, babies are not designed to sleep deeply. When we fill their tummies with dense, dairy based formula they fall into a deep sleep as their little bodies attempt to digest it. This may seem like a dream to an exhausted new parent, but the reality is that it is a risky gamble.
Regular waking has always been a part of our babies natural programming. The frequent feeds promote brain development and optimum nourishment. The short, light sleep cycles mean that baby can rouse himself if he has an important need. This can be feeling too hot or cold, hunger, discomfort or even an issue with breathing. When babies are knocked out in a milk coma, they can’t physically wake even if their life depends on it.
It seems that bypassing this natural sleep pattern with modern feeding techniques may not be a good idea after all.
Baby-wearing is often regarded by “modern mothers” as inconvenient, outdated and unnecessary. Why would you want to permanently hold the baby who you have just carried for nine months? Don’t you deserve a rest? What difference can it possibly make?
But there are so many benefits to keeping baby close and in arms for at least six to nine months after their birth. Baby-wearing enables the baby to observe the world from a safe and secure view point, meaning that they are involved in and constantly learning about real life.
In a buggy, a baby is more likely to feel insecure, stressed and fearful, and will generally see the same unchanging view of the sky or the buggy hood, with possibly a few brightly coloured and confusing toys. They miss out on so much of what we take for granted.
Baby-wearing also aids milk production, reduces cortisol and enables the mother to notice and respond to baby’s needs. Keeping baby in a container doesn’t allow for this same level of connection and communication.
For as long as mothers have been having babies, they have slept close to them and nurtured them through the night. To do anything else simply wouldn’t make sense. That is, until recent centuries. This practice which has never in the history of humans been questioned, is now unbelievably, regarded as dangerous and unhealthy.
It is true that there are indeed dangerous ways for a parent to sleep with their baby, but for the most part, bed sharing is the safest way for a baby to sleep.
As we have seen for breastfeeding and baby-wearing, many of the benefits cross over, with increased oxytocin, milk production, bonding and mother child intuition. When a baby sleeps close to his mother, her own breathing actually stimulates his, greatly reducing the chances of sleep apnoea. She is able to respond almost immediately to his needs, meaning he never has to cry and become distressed in order to get a response. He is able to feed more often, filling up on nutrient rich milk, and reaching his fullest potential for growth and development as a result.
Many mothers find they get far more rest this way, leading to more patience and positivity during the day. They can simply roll over, pop a boob in and go back to sleep. There is no pacing the floor in the cold darkness of night, there is no frustration as a baby who was fast asleep in arms is placed down alone and immediately wakes in protest.
There is simply sleep and milk, warmth and closeness.
Responding to baby’s needs with love and respect:
All of the above points should be considered needs. But when we modernise these areas, it is easy to become disconnected and go even further in separating ourselves from our babies. We may begin to feel that their needs are in fact demands, that their cries are manipulation, and we soon find that we are fighting against them.
“Modern” mothers may feel that they are making their lives easier by setting up firm rules and responding to their baby on their own terms. They may feel that their baby will become less “needy” if they have to fend for themselves or learn to wait for a response. But as time goes by, they will stumble.
Babies who are pushed towards independence before they are ready, will suffer greatly with stress. Their behaviour will be affected significantly and their disconnection from their caregiver will mean that any attempt to reason with them will be far less effective.
Simply put, if you don’t respect them, they will never respect you.
In parenting, this equates to an absolute disaster.
So while these modern methods may seem alluring and appealing, while they may come across as the easy option in those early days, in the long run, they lead to far greater work and conflict between parent and child, which is something very new in the human species.
And as for those eccentric natural parents? They are blessed with bonded, respectful, connected and yes, independent children who are a joy and a pleasure to parent.
These “easier” methods may seem like the winner in the short term, but in the end, those parents who didn’t try to cut corners in the beginning are the ones who truly reap the benefits in the future.
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