Here in the UK many people ask new mothers, “Is he good?” They’re referring to the baby: is the baby good, they want to know. What they mean is: does he sleep through the night? Does he cry? Does he make a fuss? Being good means being quiet and passive. Being good means sleeping all night long even if that goes against the biological norm. Being good means being seen and not heard.
This question drives me nuts. How does a baby’s sleep pattern relate to his moral worth? Of course my baby is ‘good,’ but he certainly does not sleep through the night! Of course he is good: he’s good at telling me what he needs and wants; he’s good at demanding the best possible treatment; he’s good at being a baby!
As an LLL Leader, babies that are quiet make me worry. Newborns that are constantly asleep, fall asleep on the breast and make few noises are often newborns that lack the calories to communicate or stay awake long enough to feed. A newborn who sleeps all the time is often not receiving the calories he needs to be awake, feed or cry. Newborns need to breastfeed at least 8-12 times per day in order to thrive. If they sleep too much they can’t fit all those feeds in, the result being a quiet baby but a drop in the mother’s milk supply and the baby’s diaper output and weight.
Sometimes a teacher or other adult will praise a child saying, “I hardly knew he was there!” Is this praise?! If someone else hardly knew I was there, I’d begin to wonder why I was being such a wall flower. Does anyone hope their son or daughter will grow up to be a silent, passive watcher of life, or do we want our children to be vibrant, energetic and communicative adults? If we want the latter in adulthood, it makes sense to accept these qualities in our babies and young children.
Many people worry that picking a baby up will spoil him. I love Bill and Martha Sears’ analogy: only fruit that has been left alone without attention for too long will spoil. Children who are given our love and attention do not spoilt like fruit; rather they flourish and blossom. It’s okay to pick your baby up when he cries. When you breastfeed your baby to comfort him you are using a time-honoured mothering tool to soothe your baby. Attending to your baby’s needs teaches him a valuable lesson: you matter enough for me to stop what I’m doing and give you my full attention. Your baby’s relationship with you is his first foray into a lifetime of relationships. You are teaching him about empathy and compassion, love and friendship, listening and responding.
So your baby may not be “good” but that’s ok. You can rest assured that you have a lifetime of interesting, exciting moments with your child as he grows into adulthood. And as you listen to him, respond to him, nurse him when he needs it and cuddle him as much as you can, remember that things won’t always be this way. One day, he will be too heavy to be picked up, too big to fit in the sling, too embarrassed to cuddle you, and eventually independent enough to set forth in life without the need for your constant presence, response and reassurance. And then you will probably hanker for these days and wonder where the time has gone. But you can be satisfied knowing that you didn’t allow him to spoil like that fruit in the bowl on the countertop: you gave him all he needed and made sure he knew he was special.
Photo credit: Flickr.
About Lisa Hassan Scott
Lisa Hassan Scott is a stay at home mother of three little ones, age 2, 6 and 9. An American living in Great Britain for over 15 years, Lisa is a Yoga teacher certified by the British Wheel of Yoga, and a La Leche League Leader. She blogs about mothering, breastfeeding, Yoga and the mind at http://www.lisahassanscott.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter: @lisahassanscott