Getting Dad into the Game

I often hear new moms tell me they are pumping so that dad can give the new baby a bottle. Over and over I hear that they want dad to feel involved and feeding an infant a bottle is just the way to do it.

As the mother of four, this seems redundant to me. My motto is always to prioritize and simplify. If you are nursing your baby, feeding the baby is not a task that needs doing by someone else. You pretty much have that one covered… and you can accomplish it while ostensibly sitting down and thumbing through a magazine or checking your e-mail. In my world, that means nursing is a baby duty I am happy to do! To let someone else feed the baby actually means more work for me, not less, as I have to figure out a time to pump when the two-year old does not tug at the machinery and what the heck do you do with a crabby newborn while you use both hands to juggle the pump anyways? Such a production!

So then, where does that leave dad? And older siblings? And grandparents? And everyone else who wants a piece of that delicious baby-care pie? Fear not, new babies are nothing if not, how can I put this graciously, full ’o needs. Even when mama is taking care of 100% of the feeding needs, baby still needs changing, bathing, dressing and holding. There are still plenty of baby-care duties that can be delegated and provide those special moments for bonding… tasks that actually need doing.

Send dad off on a walk with a well-fed, drowsy baby in a soft baby carrier and put your feet up and enjoy 20 minutes to yourself. Dad gets to bond with the new baby, dad feels competent because babies are generally content nestled in a soft carrier. Win- win! Let older siblings be in charge of choosing the outfit for the day, or singing to the baby during diaper changes. Grandparents can bathe and cuddle the new baby. There is never a shortage of baby care duties. And, hey, if someone really, really still wants to feed the baby, no worries, in 6 to 8 months, baby will happily accept cheerios, banana and avocado from just about anyone.

Breastfeeding can be intense the first few months. The nursing relationship between mama and nursling can seem exclusive. How have you included other members of your family in baby bonding time outside of the nursing relationship?

To wear, or not to wear… That is the question.

Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the occasional pains and backache of hefting a baby in a sling or carrier, or to endure the separation of stroller use, choosing a method of baby toting is something all parents have to do. That is, of course, unless you intend to never leave your house. So, in the realm of unasked for advice, I offer you my viewpoint on babywearing.

As indicated in my initial API post, I fell into attachment parenting by accident. It was not a carefully thought out parenting style, but more a response to my personal desires as a mother and the needs of my children. At my baby shower for my first child, I received the usual land-yacht sized stroller and a Baby Bjorn carrier. I also received a lovely handwoven sling from Guatemala. Oh, it was gorgeous. When Monkey arrived, I was eager to place her into the sling, but lacked the knowledge and confidence to tuck her into what amounted to a bolt of fabric tied around my body. Instead, I used the Baby Bjorn. After all, it had the appearance of something scientifically developed. It had straps, and latches, and padding! Clearly, it was safer than a simple piece of fabric held together with a knot!

The Bjorn kept Monkey close to me and it was ergonomically correct, but there was a great deal of material and padding between us, and it was unbelievably hot to wear in the summer, for both of us. It was also a lot of hassle to strap me, and then Monkey into it. Additionally, it was huge, and next to impossible to carry around without my car as I couldn’t fold it up and slip it into anything.

I tried to get Monkey into the sling after discovering the downsides to my baby wearing tool of choice, but by that time she was used to the Bjorn, and didn’t want anything to do with the sling. She just couldn’t get comfortable in it. I sold the lovely sling to a friend for her sister’s shower, and went looking for a cooler and more compact solution. Luckily I found a compact hip carrier from One Step Ahead. While it didn’t allow me to carry her on long hikes, as it rested her on my hip, it did allow me to hold her more often, and for longer periods of time, by allowing my arms to rest. It was also significantly cooler in hot weather. This was the tool I used until Monkey was about three. It slipped into my diaper bag, and later my purse, and allowed me some additional options when she was tired out and wanted a ride on Mommy.

It would be nearly six years before I had another baby, so I had plenty of time to study those instincts I had discovered with my first child and figure out ways to encourage them with my second. I looked into babywearing and discovered a number of benefits I hadn’t known about before. I learned that progesterone levels in mothers increase with physical contact with their babies, which increases the maternal bond between mother and child. I read that babies who are “worn” have a tendency to cry about 50% less than babies who aren’t. I learned that the sling, when worn correctly, can lower backache by more evenly distributing the baby’s weight. I discovered that slinging my baby would allow me to nurse on the go, and even tend to the needs of my eldest child with free hands. I also learned that baby wearing can help prevent hip dysplasia, by helping my child’s hip joints develop deeper sockets. I figured the least I could do was try to sling again when it came time to have Otter.

A good friend of mine made me a Ring Sling, and I put Otter in it within days of his birth. He stayed comfy in his sling. I wore him around the house, out in public, in the grocery store, the park, you name it. I was able to nurse him, even while walking around, because the sling positioned him perfectly for feeding and hid my breasts from view. I can’ tell you how many times I was able to prevent a meltdown during grocery shopping by nursing on the go. Best of all, I could still hold Monkey’s hand when we walked around, and I could play more with her because I had two hands free. I found other uses for the sling as well; I have used it as a last minute picnic blanket, a sunshade when driving in the summer or walking with the stroller, and to secure my baby into a chair as a makeshift high chair at restaurants (once he was old enough to sit on his own).

Otter still loves his sling. He is also a very cheerful, happy baby, who rarely cries. We have seen the benefits of slinging, and I will stick to it if I have any more children. Of course, Otter is over 30 pounds now, so I had to switch from a Ring Sling to a Mei Tai, in order to get some additional weight support when carrying him around. (The Mei Tai crosses over both shoulders, which is helpful in distributing the weight more evenly). The Mei Tai is still small enough to carry in a diaper bag, so I can have it whenever I need it, and it is still significantly cooler than the Baby Bjorn was. It also still allows for skin on skin contact, as there is no huge padded support structure between me and the baby. We have just started wearing Otter in the backpack position, and we both love it. I love feeling his little head snuggle into my back when we are walking, and he enjoys looking around and being close. We alternate between the sling and the mei tai now, depending on how much carrying there is likely to be.

So… To Wear!! That is my answer. Babywearing has turned me into a full-time snuggler, and I am happy to have my baby close whenever I can.