Sunday, May 18, 2008

Words of Wisdom: Breastfeeding and babywearing are like peas and carrots, peanut butter and jelly - part one

note: In order to bring you accurate information concerning important parenting issues, I've teamed up with some local professionals who have agreed to share their knowledge in each of their fields of expertise. I will regularly consult with the professionals when writing about topics like breastfeeding, babywearing, health and natural childbirth and child rearing. This post includes information from IBCLC Jeanne Cygnus and George Elvove, M.D., P.C. You can read Jeanne's snapshot interview here.

There was a lady on Oprah who claimed that she knew exactly what babies wanted just by the sound of their cries. I'm a sucker for these kinds of claims, so, of course, I tuned into the program to watch her work her magic. A handful of frazzled new mothers and their newborns served as her models; a few of the mothers were desperate for her help. The baby whisperer, as I dubbed her, was remarkably good at understanding the babies' cries, but we moms don't honestly need her help if we tap into our own baby-whispering abilities; by adopting a few lifestyle choices, any mom can learn to understand her baby's needs and desires. Breastfeeding and babywearing successfully foster secure attachments and promote communication between mother and baby, so it's no surprise that the two actually go hand-in-hand.
I asked the experts -- pediatrician and obstetrician George Elvove and International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant Jeanne Cygnus -- to help explain why babywearing and breastfeeding helps moms and babies bond. They also dished about why the two are so closely connected.

"Babywearing promotes skin-to -skin contact, which helps release hormones in mom's body that help to increase her milk supply," said IBCLC Jeanne Cygnus, . "It also promotes more frequent feedings, which helps sustain the milk supply and helps baby gain weight and grow."

When babies spend time attached to their mothers while breastfeeding or through other forms of skin-to-skin contact like babywearing, mom's "mothering" hormone flows more freely through her body. Thus, mom becomes more attached to her baby and is able to best read her little one and anticipate the baby's needs. Nature intended for babies to be close to mom, said George Elvove, M.D., P.C., and the fact that baby needs to breastfeed for nourishment is one clue.

"After the umbilical cord is clamped and cut, it is instinctively clear that the baby's next food source should be breastfeeding. It is similarly obvious to most human cultures that following emergence from the womb, the baby belongs attached to the outside of the mother's body," he said. "Here the neonate can hear the familiar sounds of the mother's heart beating and breathing and feel the warmth of the mother's body. This is the place where the child can feel secure and attached."

Elvove further explained the science behind an infant's need to be worn close to mom.

"Newborns have an important reflex known as the the 'Moro Reflex,' which can be described as a grasping together motion of the the infant's arms when he senses that he is not being held. This primitive reflex indicates that the the baby 'knows' that the safest place for him is in his mother's arms. If a baby is not picked up and held after a Moro Reflex, he senses that he is alone and possibly in danger and will begin to cry."

When a baby is worn, the baby feels a sense of security and has fewer reasons for crying, which often makes for a happier, more securely attached baby. In turn, mom also feels more confident -- she feels like she knows her child's needs and knows how to meet those needs.

"The less babies are crying, the less stressed mom is," Cygnus said. "Babywearing lowers stress levels for everyone and makes parenting more enjoyable."

Aside from helping parents better know their baby and making breastfeeding easier, there are more babywearing benefits.

"Primates are made to carry their babies, but our lifestyles demand us to be able to do more things. Babywearing allows mom to care for herself and the baby at the same time,"Cygnus said.

Babywearing isn't just for moms, though. Dads, who are obviously unable to connect to their babies through breastfeeding, might find that babywearing helps them bond with their little ones.

"Dads like it because the skin-to-skin contact can make baby happy," Cygnus said. "When dad can carry baby and baby falls asleep, it can bring a great sense of happiness to dad. It's great bonding, too."

Stay tuned for part two of "Babywearing and breastfeeding" as Jeanne Cygnus, new mom Cara Nuzzo along with her 10-week-old daughter Madeline and Gabe and me explored which baby carriers were breastfeeding friendly!

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