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Community Support and Breastfeeding {Make a Difference}

Community Support and Breastfeeding {Make a Difference}

(Editor’s note: this was originally posted in 2013.)

I would like to start this post with a story.

Imagine a mother – a fresh new mother – with a baby just barely 24 hours old. She drives to another city the day after her birth for her first post-birth checkup with her midwife. After leaving the appointment she and her husband decide to stop for lunch. It is late afternoon, so they have their pick of places as none are crowded. A Red Lobster is calling mom’s name – she is famished after the long work of labor the day before and seafood just sounds heavenly. And maybe a little indulgent too!

Mom, Dad, and newborn are seated right away and order their food. Mom orders crab legs (her favorite!) since baby is sleeping peacefully in his wrap against her chest. Surely he will stay asleep long enough for her to shell the crab and eat. (More experienced moms are probably giggling right now!)

The food comes out, hot and steaming. On cue, baby wakes up and wants to nurse. Mom stares longingly at her plate, knowing she can’t bother with it right now because it takes two hands to get this newborn latched and stable for the whole feed. Dad offers to help her but mom declines – at least one of them should get a hot meal after all.

The server comes out to check that everything is going well. She sees mom’s predicament and says she will be right back. She comes back, with gloves on, and starts to shell all of the mother’s crab legs for her. All the while she talks to the couple about her children, her nursing experiences, and how great it is to see a young mother breastfeeding. She also shares stories of many cold meals because of the uncanny ability of babies to wake just when dinner comes out.

She finishes shelling the still steaming crab and gives the plate to mom. Mom figures out how to support baby’s head with the wrap so she can slide one hand out to eat her still hot dinner! Mom and dad get full bellies with hot food, and so does baby. What could have ended in mom sadly eating stone-cold crab legs instead has a happy ending.

That mother was me. I have *never* forgotten that server’s support and love in that moment, and I never will. One mother, reaching out to another giving simple and practical support. That one encounter gave me the pride and hope and confidence to nurse in public in the years that followed. That one encounter helped my husband to feel 100% comfortable with nursing in public as well – knowing that people would not always be rude to his wife. While we have had rude encounters, I can always look back to this first one and radiate with joy.

The support of the community can make a huge difference for mothers who take the journey through breastfeeding. In fact, in studies and interviews women tend to rate social support as more important than professional support on the duration of their breastfeeding experience 5. Why is this?

The answer is simple – we spend far more time in the world at large than sitting in a professional’s office. We need support from our partners, family, and community at large. We need to feel supported by other mothers. When a person feels like they are doing something alone – no matter what it is – they are far less likely to succeed or meet goals. Emotionally, we feel more able to succeed with social support.

The United States has some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world among developed nations, and when you look at the rates of exclusive breastfeeding it becomes especially dismal. While about 75% of woman initiate breastfeeding – this is a very large category and a bit misleading. This includes one attempt in the first days of life. While this is great (so many mothers attempting to breastfeed!), it gives false hope as the total rates of breastfeeding. In 2007, at 6 months of age the rate of exclusive breastfeeding was only 13% 1. Lets keep in mind that six months of nothing but breastmilk is the current recommendation from every major group with an interest in infant health (this includes the AAP and WHO). What is happening to cause a drop from 75% of women attempting to breastfeed, to only 13% succeeding at 6 months?

The simple answer for most cases – lack of proper support. Study after study shows that our support network is vital to breastfeeding success. For most women, one caring and helpful IBCLC cannot undo the “work” of a society that does not really support breastfeeding. While it is possible for a woman to physically or psychologically be unable to breastfeed that sub-section of woman is statistically small – most certainly not 87% of woman or the human race would not have made it very far.

The Surgeon General put out a “Call to Action” in 2011, urging America to support breastfeeding. Much of the document focuses on increasing community support across the board – from the family unit, to the care provider, to society as a whole. Some highlights from the document include:

“Women with friends who have breastfed successfully are more likely to choose to breastfeed. On the other hand, negative attitudes of family and friends can pose a barrier to breastfeeding. Some mothers say that they do not ask for help from their family and friends because of the contradictory information they receive from these sources.” (pg 22)

What this little gem tells us is that mother’s who DO succeed in breastfeeding need to talk about it. We need to share our wonderful experience – it actually encourages other mother’s to more seriously consider breastfeeding in the first place. This also tells us that hearing conflicting and outdated information from “well meaning” family and friends is NOT helpful. (Big surprise there, right?)

Now, there is a whole section on Embarrassment. Yes, in the great nation of America, the Surgeon General actually has to address embarrassment as a barrier to breastfeeding.

“A study that analyzed data from a national public opinion survey conducted in 2001 found that only 43% of U.S. adults believed that women should have the right to breastfeed in public places. Restaurant and shopping center managers have reported that they would either discourage breastfeeding anywhere in their facilities or would suggest that breastfeeding mothers move to an area that was more secluded. When they have breastfed in public places, many mothers have been asked to stop breastfeeding or to leave. Such situations make women feel embarrassed and fearful of being stigmatized by people around them when they breastfeed. Embarrassment remains a formidable barrier to breastfeeding in the United States and closely related to the disapproval of breastfeeding in public. Embarrassment about breastfeeding is not limited to public settings however. Women may find themselves excluded from social interactions when they are breastfeeding because others are reluctant to be in the same room while they breastfeed. For many women, the feeling of embarrassment restricts their activites and is cited as a reason for choosing to feed supplementary formula or to give up breastfeeding altogether.” (pg 23)

This section goes on more but let me pause here. No matter how you choose to feed your child, I hope that above statement leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Only 43% of adults feel that a mother should feed her baby in public. Lets not even give the cop out of breastfeeding and “modesty”. This statistic literally translates to mean that 57% of Americans are uncomfortable with a baby being fed in public in a normal way. Only 28% in this particular study believed that breastfeeding should be portrayed on television 4.

Then we see proof that managers and business owners do ask women to leave if they breastfeed and refuse to move or stop. We see this in the news from time to time, but many people think it is rare. Is it really going to be a rare occurrence when over half of all Americans are uncomfortable seeing normal infant feeding? It also goes on to say that we are not just talking about public situations, that last section literally means that within their own homes and social units, women are being made to feel uncomfortable because they breastfeed. What woman is likely to keep breastfeeding if she doesn’t even have acceptance in her own home or social group?

To continue with the “Embarrassment” section:

” In American culture, breasts have often been regarded primarily as sexual objects, while their nurturing function is downplayed. Although focusing on the sexuality of female breasts is common in mass media, visual images of breastfeeding are rare, and a mother may never have seen a woman breastfeeding. As shown in both quantitative and qualitative studies, the perception of breasts as sexual objects may lead women to feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public. As a result, women may feel the need to conceal breastfeeding, but they have difficulty finding comfortable and accessible breastfeeding facilities in public places.” (pg 23)

This section speaks to how our breasts are viewed. First and foremost in our culture they are viewed as sexual. This context of breasts as primarily sexual is actually not the predominate view in the world as a whole by the way 3. This portion also speaks to an issue that comes up more and more with social media – the posting and viewing of breastfeeding photos. These studies and surveys prove that women need to see breastfeeding. The more you see it, the more normal it becomes.

Our sexual view of breasts did not just evolve from thin air – it evolved through a constant presence of sexual images of breasts in our culture. Simply put, the more we can promote and share the non-sexual view of breasts, the less sexual our breasts will become in the culture as a whole. I, for one, would be very happy to see that happen – not only for breastfeeding rates but also for the self-worth of women in general.

In the last sentence, the Surgeon General notes that even though women may feel compelled to hide breastfeeding because of these pressures, there is no where to hide! Our society seems to insist that we breastfeed “somewhere else” but where exactly is this wonderful place we are supposed to hide? Very few places, especially outside of large cities, have breastfeeding spaces. When was the last time you saw a breastfeeding room at your local grocery?

In the section of the document about ways to help increase breastfeeding rates, special attention is given to educating the fathers/partners and grandmothers. Studies show that lack of support from those two sources can lead to shortened breastfeeding (or never starting). There is also special attention given to strengthening and supporting woman-to-woman support groups, such as local La Leche Leagues or other community breastfeeding groups. Those two actions in our communities would be especially helpful to low-income women, where studies show that social support and acceptance are paramount to breastfeeding success 2.

Now I would like to switch gears. We know that community support can make a difference, but we hear little about it. Normally, we only see stories of mothers being harrassed for feeding their babies. If positive stories and experiences with breastfeeding can make a difference in breastfeeding rates, then we need to share them. I reached out to our support group and got many stories and photos, all about positive experiences with nursing in public!

“The first time I ever breastfed in public was last summer when my daughter was 8 months old. My family and I were on vacation in Austin, TX and we were on a tour in some underground natural caverns.  We were at a resting area and I chose a rock to sit on and started nursing her.  I was so nervous that someone would give me a dirty look or say something rude, but a woman came up to me and thanked me for nursing my baby.  That one little comment gave me the confidence I needed to keep nursing her in public and I have been doing so ever since.” – Jennifer

breastfeeding

“Over Memorial Day weekend there is a big festival by the beach where we live, so my husband and I invited our folks to join us and our 2 month old daughter. It was HOT with very little shade! My daughter was getting fussy so I sat down on a bench behind one of the vender’s who had an umbrella up. My mom, who is easily embarrassed, kept trying to give me a cover but I told her no and proceeded to nurse my baby. The vender turns around to see me nursing my daughter and says, “Good for you! Not enough mother’s breastfeed any more! Keep doing what’s best for your kid.”‘ – Beverly

breastfeeding

“We took a vacation to Vegas with our daughter. We had just finished a limousine ride, and walked back into our hotel. I sat in the lobby and started to breastfeed my little girl. A lady came by and told me breastfeeding is the most beautiful thing in the world! I wish I had taken a picture with her. It was such a positive experience for me.” – Krystal

Below is Brianna nursing at Disneyland. Just a fun fact, from a former Cast Member – Disney Cast Members are instructed specifically in training about the importance of nursing in public and that it is 100% legal and acceptable for women to do so anywhere in the parks or property. Some companies do care!

breastfeeding at Disneyland

Below is Katelyn nursing her son at the aquarium, her supportive husband at her side!

breastfeeding

If you have a positive nursing in public experience, please share it with us! And remember that the “other person” in these stories is someone just like you. Just one person reaching out to another and saying “Good Job” – it can literally change a mother’s whole outlook on breastfeeding. Next time you see a mother nursing in public – no matter how she chooses to do it – give her a smile or even better, a kind word.

References

  1. U.S Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Washington, DC: U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Surgeon General; 2011.
  2. Pugh, L., Milligan, R., Frick, K., Spatz, D., & Bronner, Y. (2002). Breastfeeding Duration, Costs, and Benefits of a Support Program for Low-Income Breastfeeding Women. Birth: Issues In Perinatal Care, 29(2), 95-100. doi:10.1046/j.1523-536X.2002.00169.x
  3. Wolf, J. H. (2008). Got milk? Not in public!. International Breastfeeding Journal, 31-3. doi:10.1186/1746-4358-3-11
  4. Pettis, C. T., & Miller, M. K. (2007). PROMOTING BREAST-FEEDING THROUGH SOCIAL CHANGE. Women’s Policy Journal Of Harvard, 439-47.
  5. McInnes RJ, Chambers JA. (2008). Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: Qualitative Synthesis. J Adv Nurs. 2008 May; 62(4):407-27. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04618.x.

How to Do You, Boo with January Harshe

How to Do You, Boo with January Harshe

Being a mom in today’s world has never been so challenging. Your kids need you the very moment they are born. If you are married or in a relationship, your partner needs you when the kids don’t. And with salaries slow to catch up to ever-increasing costs of living, your family’s income might also need you.

But, you need you, too! And if you are like most other moms, your needs come last because there simply isn’t enough time. Right?

As a mother to six wonderful kids, January Harshe has been there. She has been a dedicated housewife and a devoted stay-at-home mom. She knows what it’s like to lose sleep to a teething baby or to a toddler who peed the bed. She knows what it’s like to put a husband through school and support him through the financial pains of starting a business. And she knows what it’s like to give everything of herself to her family and have nothing left for herself at the end of the day. She knows what it’s like to look in the mirror and not love the person staring back at her.

Through a lot of trial and error over the years, January has learned how to transition from a mother of many children without a second to spare for herself into a successful businesswoman who can now give everyone in her family the love and time they need and deserve, herself first and foremost.

If you struggle with body image, self love, self care, too little time, or too little money, you are not alone. Join January for an afternoon of information, instruction, and inspiration that has taken her many years to learn, implement, and successfully apply to her own life.

And what would an afternoon with January be without coffee and cupcakes? Always, coffee and cupcakes.

Have you been putting off buying yourself bras that fit, underwear that aren’t period panties, or new shoes for the first time in years because everyone else needs new shoes more than you? Do you turn down girls’ nights out, exercising alone, or simply taking a hot bath because you don’t want to be a selfish wife and/or mother? If you answered yes to any of the above, you can’t afford to not join January and learn how selfish not caring for yourself really is.

Whether you are married or single, a stay-at-home mom or a working mom, you are a woman first and foremost and worthy of the same love and care you give your own family. If you don’t believe it now, by the time you leave How to Do You Boo with January Harshe, you won’t just believe it.

You will know it.

*The How to Do You, Boo event will be limited to only 20 people and will fill up fast, so register today!

**Pictures may be taken, but video recording will not be allowed.

***Schedule subject to change.

****All ticket sales are final. No refunds. Transfers allowed up to 30 days prior to the event.

Dallas, TX – 4/14/18

Detroit, MI – 6/30/18

Philadelphia, PA – 7/21/18

Minneapolis, MN – 8/11/18

The Harshe Podcast – Episode #13: January’s Juicing Journey!

The Harshe Podcast – Episode #13: January’s Juicing Journey!

January talks about her recent gallbladder health scare and how she has been healing it…by juicing! Brandon also discusses how juicing has helped him add muscle and strength GAINZ in the gym! This podcast episode is too legit to quit!

Subscribe to the Harshe Podcast on iTunes!

Subscribe to the Harshe Podcast on Google Play!

Subscribe to the Harshe Podcast on Stitcher!

Click here to download Episode #13: January’s Juicing Journey!

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Get a limited edition, custom, hand-made unicorn holiday ornament at Self Love Generation right now! January and Brandon have a feeling this ornament will be the first in a yearly tradition of holiday ornaments at Self Love Generation! Also, Birth Without Fear coffee mugs and sports bras are nearly sold out, so get one, or both, today!

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January and Brandon will only be holding one (1) Birth Without Fear Conference in the United States next year in… Portland, OR! It will be in September 2018 and tickets go on sale December 1, 2017 at bwfconference.com!

The Harshe Podcast – Episode #10: Q & A Volume One

The Harshe Podcast – Episode #10: Q & A Volume One

January and Brandon answer your questions! They talk about everything from their current favorite songs (hint: not the new Taylor Swift song) and chiropractic (since Brandon is a chiropractor, of course) to religion (hint: not Mormonism) and using toilet paper from the top or bottom (hint: this is an important answer)!

Subscribe to the Harshe Podcast on iTunes!

Subscribe to the Harshe Podcast on Google Play!

Subscribe to the Harshe Podcast on Stitcher!

Click here to download Episode #10: Q & A Volume One!

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To get grape HFX Hydration Factor from MRM to put in your lemonade and relive your childhood with your very own Purplesaurus Rex Kool-Aid flavor, click here and use the code “HARSHE” when you check out!

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We have added Birth Without Fear coffee mugs and sports bras to Self Love Generation! Both of these items are limited edition , so order one quick! Don’t forget to grab a Birth Without Fear logo T-shirt or a Team No Sleep raglan shirt while you’re at it! Stay tuned for free shipping on dad shirts and You Do You Boo shirts next week!

Sweet Baby Jane: A Birth Story

Sweet Baby Jane: A Birth Story

Sweet baby Jane, this is how you came to be.

Long before you were here, you were loved and wanted, not only by Mommy and Daddy, but by everyone in the family.

I still remember when we found out I was pregnant – you were only the size of a poppy seed at the time, a tiny but very precious poppy seed.

It felt like the weeks were going by so slowly. You then were the size of a blueberry, and eventually of a lemon. Every week when we did groceries, I would find the fruit or vegetable you compared to in size and hold it so dearly in my hands. I’d say, “Look Hans, that’s how big baby is this week!”

Little by little you grew and so did my belly. We eventually found out we were expecting a sweet baby girl, but that’s nothing Mommy and Daddy didn’t know already.

It was around 30 weeks of pregnancy that everything changed. We had our first meeting with Catherine, our Doula. She told us about the birthing center in Blainville. Mommy had no idea we even had those around here, but I knew I had to call first thing in the morning. Even though I knew my chances of getting in were slim to none, Mommy never lost hope. I prayed and prayed, because I knew if they could find room for us, then I’d have a shot at the birth story I had been hoping for. You can imagine my disappointment when they called me back and told me they were fully booked. I wasn’t surprised, to say the least, but extremely disappointed.

A few days later, my phone rang. I checked the caller ID and immediately got excited when I saw it was the birthing center. Why would they be calling me? They must’ve found a way to squeeze me in! I answered the phone and tried to contain my excitement, but I don’t think I fooled anyone. I had to go meet my midwife ASAP, because I was only two days shy from being too far along for a “suivi sage-femme.”

The next day, I went to meet Ariane. I was completely blown away; she was warm, welcoming and extremely helpful. Within an hour of meeting with her, I felt like more of my questions had been answered than during my entire pregnancy up until then.

It was just around that time when your name finally came to Mommy: Jane. Daddy loved it right away. It was a name for a strong, elegant, smart, and independent little girl. It suited your energy that Mommy was feeling so strongly. That’s when we knew your name had finally been whispered to us.

The weeks went by and my belly grew some more, and then some more. Your due date was getting closer and closer, and I was really looking forward to holding you in my arms. I was nervous and excited at the idea of giving birth, but I knew it would all be worth it.

37 weeks arrived and I was really excited. This was a huge milestone for us, because it meant you were officially full term and Mommy had done her job of keeping you safe. We were officially ready for you!

Around 38 weeks I became very determined. I went for walks every night, ate a bunch of dates, had plenty of raspberry leaf tea, and even got a bouncy ball. I didn’t want to wait any longer! I was in baby mode.

I will always remember that very first contraction. It was Saturday, October 24th at 1 o’clock in the morning. Though it was a little painful, I got so excited! I had been told to not start counting the contractions until they felt regular, because you were my first baby and sometimes it can take days. I went back to bed, but couldn’t sleep. The contractions seemed to come often, but I was never really a good judge of time anyway.

At 2 o’clock, I knew it was time I woke up Daddy. “Hans, it’s happening! It’s time.” We both smiled out of excitement, even though I have to admit, I was a little bit nervous. Daddy jumped out of bed and started getting things ready. He started counting my contractions and we soon realized they were only a few minutes apart. I was confused, it’s wasn’t supposed to happen this fast…I was secretly hoping we were further along than expected, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up, because after all, it’s not supposed to happen so quickly with your first baby.

It didn’t take long before we decided it was time to call Ariane. Although the timing of my contractions was good, they needed to be a little more intense. In the following hour, my contractions did exactly that. I knew at that point, there was no slowing down.

We called Ariane back and she could immediately hear it in my voice. This mama was in labor and you, my baby Jane, were officially on your way.

I took a minute to talk to you. “We’ve got this, baby Jane. We’re going to do great.” I prayed and visualized a quick and easy birth. I visualized the moment I’d finally hold you in my arms after 9 months of waiting.

After what felt like the longest car ride of my life, we finally arrived at the birthing center. Immediately the contractions grew even stronger. Ariane confirmed what I had been hoping for – we had already done a huge amount of work. I was so happy and excited. I even think Daddy and I took a moment to high-five each other. I knew he was proud of us already.

Daddy was such a good help. Thanks to the birthing classes we did at home, he knew exactly what to do to help Mommy. He quickly set up the speakers we brought and played the playlist I carefully made to welcome you into the world. The lights were dimmed, soft music was playing, and a gentle smell of lavender filled the air. It felt like time had stopped. It was beautiful and surreal.

And then time went by really fast. It was contraction after contraction, and I wasn’t getting any breaks. I think that’s the part moms forget, because that’s when things get very intense. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember much either.

Soon enough my instincts kicked in and I felt the need to push. I immediately felt empowered. In that moment, I was stronger than I had ever been in my life. I felt like a woman, a strong and powerful woman capable of anything. I was determined. “We’ve got this, baby Jane, we’re doing great!” The sound of your heartbeat was steady and strong. I felt so proud of my baby girl. She too, was a strong and powerful little lady.

Not long after, my water finally ruptured. It did quite the mini explosion and even splashed in Kim’s face. Even though things were intense, we all laughed.

Jane2

It felt like it took forever, but it was only 18 minutes later when you were placed in our arms. “My baby, my baby!” I kept saying. “We did it, it’s over. We did it!” I thanked God, and had never felt more blessed in my life as I held you in my arms. You were so small. We admired your features, your brown hair, your little fingernails, especially the pinky, and listened to all your little baby sounds. We were absolutely in love. You were a beautiful and healthy baby girl born at 7:16 AM, weighing 7lb, 9oz and measuring 19 inches long.

As I recall the moments leading up to your birth you’re currently sleeping on me. You’re exactly six weeks old today and thriving. I am so thankful every day that you are in our lives. It is such an honor to be your mom. There’s no love in the world that compares to the love I have for you. This kind of love is indescribable, unconditional. . .it’s so pure and beautiful, yet so simple.

Janepic1

The Kowalli Joey Jacket {Review}

The Kowalli Joey Jacket {Review}

We recently had the pleasure of checking out this brand new jacket designed specifically for all stages of motherhood. What we discovered is the Kowalli Joey Jacket does have some unique features unlike other pieces of outerwear you may have tried or looked into.

You are able to wear it starting in pregnancy as a maternity jacket. It then converts to babywearing outerwear that allows baby to keep warm and close in any front carrier, sling, or wrap. This would be especially helpful in winter months with a baby! Instead of draping a blanket over baby, both mom and baby can stay warm.

Snap closures and elastic cording allow the jacket to be adjusted to fit your post-baby body while pockets and hood (that can be hidden or used) give a practical solutions for wearing out and about. Plus, let’s be real… snaps and elastic are great for new moms!

A few other things we love about The Joey Jacket is it is made in the USA, and it can be dressed up or down.

One thing to take note of is it is new and comes in sizes small, medium, and large. Larger sizes to come!

maternity kowalli jacket
plus_baby

kowalli joey jacket

I Am Strong – Overcoming Abuse and Addiction for Motherhood

I Am Strong – Overcoming Abuse and Addiction for Motherhood

I am strong because I fell pregnant with my first son at 14 from sexual abuse. After being physically abused and pushed down a flight of stairs I lost my son at 17 weeks gestation, I was torn. I went off the rails and off the grid, developing a drug addiction and experiencing the worst drop in my mental health yet.

I am strong because I fell pregnant with my second son at 15 to my abuser. I left him at 14 weeks pregnant after he tried to punch me in the head and stomach, chasing me down the street.

I am strong because after a year of emotional, financial, physical and mental abuse, I now had a reason to be strong and a reason to stand up for what I knew I deserved.

I am strong because I beat my drug addiction for the sake of my unborn.

I am strong because I met my husband a few weeks later after moving across the country to get away from my son’s father.

I am strong because I endured endless phone calls and messages of abuse and threats of violence.

I am strong because I went through 12 hours of labor and two weeks of slow labor without drugs and gave birth vaginally to a 7lb 11oz perfect little boy after being told my hips wouldn’t accommodate him and I’d need a c-section.

I am strong because I have made it seven months exclusively breastfeeding despite my lack of support and the teen mum stigma.

I am strong because I’m loving motherhood at 17 without my abuser and with the support of my husband.

I am strong because I am beating severe postnatal depression and not letting it control my life or what kind of mother I am.

I am strong because I am now strong enough to stand up for what I know is right and for what I deserve!

And its all because of my rainbow. Without him I would have died long ago.

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5 Benefits of Having a High-Needs Baby {Not a Joke}

5 Benefits of Having a High-Needs Baby {Not a Joke}

June 2011 ~

She was soft-spoken and smiling, in the coffee shop on Avenue de Gaspé on a summer morning in Montréal. It was the kind of cafe I would have once loved – a little crocheted hanging seat in the corner, lots of glass, a communal table. Coffee boiling in beakers. And she was the kind of woman I would have once been friends with: young, motivated, bright, hip. And childless.

I had been dragged into the cafe by my colleagues (also childless), who needed to caffeinate before our meeting. I was wearing my baby, only four months old and heavy, oh-so heavy, in a homemade sling. He looked like babies do: beautiful, asleep, and thus full of all things calm and reasonable. And then she asked the question I had been warned about. She asked, Is he a good baby?

I lurched. I paused. I stalled.

“Does he sleep through the night?” she asked.

I shrugged. I smiled and said, “He sure is heavy,” or something awkward like that, and our conversation ended on a note that told me that we would never be friends. We would never be friends because things were different in my life now; I couldn’t be seated in a cafe with my laptop and a pair of billowing MC Hammer pants. I was a mom now. And as mother to this particular baby, I wasn’t allowed to sit down. I wasn’t allowed to try clothes on. And what’s more, I had to learn to play the game. To answer the question. How good was he?

The truth is, my son – beautiful, intense, spirited – was not.

I didn’t know how to politely tell her that there are not ‘good’ babies and ‘bad’ babies. That all babies are great! All babies are lovable! All babies deserve love! It’s just that some (some!) babies need more. More what?

More everything. More holding, more rocking, more cradling, better cradling, more nursing, more cooing, more singing, more bouncing, more stroller rides, more car-rides, more nursing, more nursing-during-car-rides, more… You.

There are some babies who will sit quietly by themselves while you make your morning coffee (or have someone make it for you, in a beaker, in a café near a series of artist-run warehouses) and then sit quietly while you drink it. There are some babies who sleep through the night (for four or more hours, without waking up!). All this without resistance, without coercion, just… out of their own infantile will.

My baby was not one of them. He was the kind who needed more than I ever thought I could give. He needed near constant movement, for example. He needed so much suckling that my milk didn’t regulate until he was 12 months old. He is now 3.5 years old and he still needs significant night-time parenting.

Exhibit A: A High-Needs Baby
Exhibit A.) A High-Needs Baby

The thing I wish someone had told me is that, while my babe would never be hired to star in a diaper commercial; while I couldn’t see straight for the exhaustion; and although his part-time daycare provider had canceled on me four times in a row, like maybe she was trying to tell me something, there are benefits to having a high-needs baby. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I don’t just mean the terrible twos.

So, to all the parents up late googling “high-needs baby” and “is this even possible what happened to my life”, this is for you: five benefits of having a high-needs baby.

1. Physical fitness. Are you worried about getting your pre-baby body back?* Having a high-needs baby will make your body strong. I’m talking about muscle, endurance, cardio. My son needed to be carried almost constantly for the first year of his life. He was 17 lbs at three months. I wore him in a carrier up to 8 hours/day. I don’t know how many calories that is (and I was eating a lot of ice-cream at the time), but it was certainly more exercise than I’d had in years.

*This is a joke. I would never say that, I vandalize posters that use these words with a permanent marker and the question, But where did it go?!.

2. Compassion. When you feel the ache in your body after two hours of horizontal bouncing, your mouth dry from shushing, your bladder full to bursting from that hell that is “lying down beside baby and staying very, very still for a very, very long time because if he wakes up you will both start crying,” you start to think, This is craziness. Why would anyone do this? Has anyone ever done this before? And the answer you might come to is: Yes. Your parents, maybe. You were the squalling baby they poured their love into. Suddenly, that time your mom yelled at you for stealing a cookie is much easier to understand.

3. Preparation. Having a high-needs baby prepares you for having a demanding toddler, a spirited kid, a superlative adolescent, a well-adjusted adult… well, a mom can dream. A dear friend of mine had an easy baby who turned into a spirited toddler and it was a tough transition. “My first born was an easy baby,” she wrote to me in an email, “…he was content most of the time and easily soothed by baby wearing or his swing. He didn’t really want a lot of stimulation or help with his playtime, content to sit and look at a baby book or sort through his toys. Then it seemed like almost overnight he became extremely high energy and high needs. I had to spend all my energy trying to keep him busy in constructive ways or a meltdown would ensue. Once my second child came along I fully realized exactly how much energy I put towards keeping him at an even keel because now I couldn’t focus just on him.” If you’ve been dealing with high emotionality and intense physical needs from day 1, you will expect nothing less on day 706.

Exhibit B: A Spirited Toddler
Exhibit B.) A Spirited Toddler

4. Health Insights. Many high-needs babies are in fact babies in pain. The mainstream medical establishment is notorious for brushing off the concerns of parents of screaming babies (as our pediatrician told me, “We want to hear screaming, that means they are healthy”). Parents, traumatized and desperate, often turn to alternative therapies and treatments. Alternative doctors are more likely to listen to patients’ needs and give them a safe space to talk about their harrowing experience which is important for health outcomes and psychological survival. And sometimes, as with my friend who took her daughter to a naturopath she now calls a “miracle worker,” or another who brought her daughter to the chiropractor several times a week for a suspected hiatal hernia, it works. The more tools in your self-care toolbox, the better. Learning about your body – and you’re baby’s body – is a good thing.

5. Commiseration. You can connect with other parents of high-needs babies much better. My parents had two babies. The first was easy. The second was tough. Really, really tough. My mother is deaf in one ear from the baby’s screaming. They learned that their “easy” first baby was simply a matter of luck. The props other people had given them, the looks of admiration and the advice-seeking from other families — all of it was mistaken. This is the understanding you get when you have a high-needs child: that you are not a perfect parent. And that parents with “easy, good” babies are not perfect parents either. Yes, there’s lots you can try to calm a child and much you could do to make them fussy. But a crying baby is not an indication you’re doing something wrong. It’s an indication that you need a piece of chocolate and a hug. Fact.

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Keep on truckin’, mamas. And thank you for the gift you are giving by raising a high-needs baby with all the understanding and compassion you can muster. Your baby is not “good” but your baby is essentially himself/herself. Babies like him/her become the people the world needs: people with a fire in their bellies and a firm footing in love. Your baby is not “good.” Your baby is perfect. And your baby will change the world.

I Am Strong – Enduring 30-Plus Hours of Full Blown Labor

I Am Strong – Enduring 30-Plus Hours of Full Blown Labor

I am strong because when I was in labor, I was in back labor for nine hours and wasn’t progressing so I had to go home.

I am strong because after laboring another 10 hours at home I went to the doctor to get checked and was in full blown labor but only dilated to 3 cm.

I am strong because I did not want an epidural, but more than that, I didn’t want a c-section so I got the epidural to help my body relax and dilate better.

I am strong because I had been up over 24 hours in labor and got the epidural, but because everything was going wrong and they were checking on me every 30 minutes, I never slept.

I am strong because after laboring a full day I wasn’t past 6 cm and had to receive pitocin, which was not in my birth plan.

I am strong because when my temperature spiked, I was given on a nonrebreather face mask to help with my babies decelerations and managed to stay calm.

I am strong because my epidural stopped working when it became time to push at 30+ plus hours, and I had all back labor with the baby posterior.

I am strong because I pushed for three hours to avoid putting my baby through a c-section.

I am strong because I still have sad feelings about getting an epidural and pitocin but look at my healthy baby I know it was all for her.

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