Thursday, September 11, 2014

Holistic Baby Care



Holistic baby care differs from traditional baby care in that it takes into account the needs of the whole child.  It also trusts that nature has placed within each child the ability to know what its needs are, to communicate those needs, and to facilitate getting those needs met.  Traditional baby care has usually focused upon getting the child to conform to the parental schedule or lifestyle, rather than realizing that every baby is an individual with their own needs and orientation toward life.  Holistic baby care respects and honors the differences between children, and assists the parent in encouraging the child toward healthy physical, emotional and spiritual development.  It helps the parent to recognize the baby's inborn survival cues, and provides alternatives which will help the parent meet those needs.

The first and most important need of the human baby is attachment.  Although your baby is an individual, he or she has a tremendous need to feel safe and secure, and can only feel that way by being physically and emotionally attached to another human being.  While in the womb, your baby sensed its attachment to you.  It was physically connected to you with the umbilical cord, and it had constant tactile stimulation, provided by the warm amniotic fluid it was floating in, and the walls of the uterus which hugged it securely.  The baby was cradled and protected.  The child could also sense that all was well because of the hormones secreted into your blood stream which signaled a sense of satisfaction.

During the birth process, your child probably experienced some physical and emotional stress.  He or she experienced the unusual sounds of the contracting uterus, and the possiblly unusual sounds that you as the laboring mother felt were appropriate to the birth process.  Your child was subjected to the contracting, pushing and pulling of the uterus and possible birth trauma subjected by the birth attendants.  But as the child was being born, there was still a sense of security as it was securely wrapped in the folds of your birth canal, and every inch of its body was massaged as it made its passage into the world.  Then, at the moment of birth, your child was suddenly thrust out of a world where it had felt safe and secure, and into a world where everything was new and frightening.  Whereas the child was held fairly secure inside the womb, now it is able to flail around its arms and legs, hear its own cries reverberating through space, and be frightened by the sights and sounds of the world around it.  While in the womb, it was held at a constantly warm temperature.  Now, it is subject to the temperature changes of the world around it.  As it is carried from one place to another, and especially when it is laid down in an open space, the child feels afraid, for it does not sense the physical protection and attachment which was available in the womb.  It feels open, exposed and vulnerable.

The one thing which will make all these transitions to the new world less stressful is for your child to experience constant touch.  By carrying and holding your child, whether in arms or in a sling next to your body, you provide that child with a constant source of security.  The child feels safe from falling and flailing around if you hold them securely, and often wrapping them in a blanket so their arms and legs can't flail is helpful.

Studies on both animals and humans have shown that if the constant touch of the mother is not available, the child is subject to:

Immune deficiency
Poor response to stress
Failure to thrive (gain weight properly)
Antisocial and aggressive behavior
Failure to develop adequate parenting skills in the future.

Also, studies have shown these benefits in children who are touched often or routinely massaged as part of their basic baby care:

The stimulation of weight gain in term infants
Improved sleep patterns in term infants
Better developmental skills in pre-term infants
Enhanced care giver self-esteem and feelings of bonding for fathers and
   mothers who performed regular infant massage
Greater infant test scores of alertness, orientation, and responsiveness
Signs of relief from episodes of gas, constipation and colic

In short, babies benefit most from being in almost constant contact with their mothers from the time they are born until the infants themselves initiate separation.

Your baby will have ways of insuring that you give him or her the needed amount of physical contact.  The most powerful way to insure this is by crying.  This brings you to your baby the most quickly, because when the baby cries, a hormone is released into the mother's blood system which causes her to feel strongly drawn to her baby.  Also, babies make cooing sounds, initiate eye contact, and have a smell which their mothers recognize and are drawn to.  So there are many ways in which nature has tried to assure that the baby's needs will be met.

However, today's Western society has sought to put as much distance as possible between mother and baby.  This distance is introduced from the moment of birth.  Baby is often whisked away from mother by birth attendants in the name of performing certain physical examinations or procedures that could actually wait until later, or be done with the child in the mother's arms.  Sometimes the child will be separated from the mother by a mandatory period of time in the hospital nursery.  Another separation rule states that in hospitals, women cannot sleep with their babies in bed with them, but must return them to a bassinet each night to sleep.  When mothers return home with their babies, they are told not to hold their babies too much because they will become spoiled.  They are told never to let their babies sleep with them, to feed their babies on a schedule, and to get them used to babysitters as early as possible.  Basically, women are told to abandon the meeting of their babies' most primal needs.  But those needs are vital to the baby's well-being, and unless a secure attachment is formed through the meeting of the baby's physical and emotional needs, normal and healthy development is next to impossible.

The best ways to encourage a secure attachment for baby are:

1.  Connect with your baby early by giving birth in an environment which will afford you the opportunity to be with your baby constantly.  Many women are choosing home birth for this reason.
2.  Breastfeed your baby whenever he or she seems to need it, for hunger, thirst, or emotional comfort.
3.  Wear your baby.  Many women find that if they place their babies in a sling next to their bodies, the babies are more content, cry less, and the mothers can go about their daily activities with a minimum of interruption.
4.  Share sleep with your baby.  By sharing a bed and/or sleep time with your baby, you are assisting your baby in developing good sleep habits and helping their biological systems to become regulated.  This includes breathing.  It has been shown that infants and parents who share sleep coordinate their sleep stages so that they sleep and awake on the same cycle, and the babies show more stable breathing patterns.
5.  Read and respond to your baby's cues.  When you sense that your baby wants something, try to meet that need quickly.  Do not try to put them off as long as your can.  The more quickly  and sensitively you try to meet their need, the more they will learn to communicate their needs without escalating into an uncontrollable cry.  It helps them learn self-control. 



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