I’ve noticed a disconnect lately. Our medical profession and popular culture seems to have lost touch with biology. I find this disconnect very hard to understand and even harder to swallow. Everywhere I turn I see doctors, nurses and other health professionals advocating that parents go against their biological instinct, or even telling them that their instincts are “bad habits”.
It boggles my mind that this group of professionals who should be the most in touch with biology are such outspoken advocates against biological norms. This is not to say that all doctors and nurses do this but it seems that it is true for the vast majority.
Let’s talk about biology. First I will start with a disclosure. I am not a biologist, doctor or expert of any kind. I am a mom who loves to research, debate and learn. I am also not a fan of making my life harder for myself. I am tired and not interested in fighting unwinnable fights. I will save my energy to fight the good fight when it really matters. Here are 2 examples of this disconnect that have been popping up everywhere lately.
If you carry your baby you will spoil them
Humans are a carry mammal. Human babies are born relatively immature compared to other mammal babies. This means they need more time to develop into independent beings. They require frequent feedings, constant cuddles and physical closeness. Human milk is the lowest in fat and protein of all mammals which means that human babies are designed to be fed frequently - around the clock. Carrying babies facilitates this constant feeding as well as encourages social development.
Yet the health profession encourages parents to practice separation from their babies and enforce schedules on our babies. We are told that babies should only eat every 3-4 hours and if a baby is nursing more often there must be something wrong.
We are told to put our babies on the floor alone, to lay them in their cribs or bassinets away from our bodies. We are told that if a baby is held or carried regularly they will become “dependant” or that we will “spoil” them. When we take a dive into the data that exists, including current brain science, we can see that this couldn't be further from the truth. Babies and children that develop a secure attachment (to be clear I am talking about attachment theory here, not attachment parenting. They are very different concepts that are often confused) to a caregiver they will become more confident exploring the world and become independent before their peers.
Responsiveness is the key here. A baby carrier facilitates this responsiveness and physical closeness that babies need in a way that allows the caregiver to take care of their own needs. Babies have a real need for physical touch. This need can be very hard to meet when we are living in nuclear families, where one parent is working away from home and one is at home alone to care for themselves and the baby (not to mention other children).
If you nurse your babies to sleep they will never learn who to sleep on their own
Humans are designed to breastfeed. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with making an informed choice to use formula or being in a position where that is the best option for you and your child. I think it’s important to keep the biological norm in mind when we are discussing infant behaviour because it gives us a baseline. Babies don't know that the milk they are getting is different, their bodies are programmed to in a certain way, which relates to certain characteristics of human milk.
Human milk makes babies sleepy . It contains hormones and chemicals that are designed to create a feeling of calm and well being in babies as well as mom. Breastfeeding (especially at night) is going to make you and your baby fall asleep. Yet I hear health professionals and “sleep coaches” telling parents not to let babies fall asleep at the breast. That doing this will create “bad habit” and babies will not “learn” to go to sleep. Why would anyone encourage fighting biology? Its an unwinnable fight which creates stress for parents who are terrified they are doing something wrong.
Biology is often inconvenient and messy. Our culture has a way of brushing biological drives and needs off as not important or as “bad habits”. But I think that if we can take a closer look at how our brains are wired we can save a lot of stress for ourselves. There is no point in fighting who we are or who our babies are. So next time someone gives you advice that feels wrong, or goes against what your gut is telling you - question it. Push back and take a page out of my toddlers book - ask why?