Spoiling baby: it’s not a thing - discussing wants vs. needs, breastfeeding, infant development

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Episode Transcript

March 19, 2021

Can you spoil your baby?! Is that a thing?!

This is Maureen Farrell and Heather O’Neal. And this is The Milk Minute. We’re midwives and lactation professionals bringing you the most up-to-date evidence for all things lactation. So you can feel more confident about feeding your baby, body positivity, relationships and mental health. Plus, we laugh a little or a lot along the way.

So join us for another episode.

Welcome to another episode of The Milk Minute. Today, we’re going to be talking about spoiling your baby or not spoiling your baby. Either way, this topic is very sensitive because there’s a lot of people out there that actually use this for some serious shaming. Oh yeah.

Telling you, you’re going to spoil your baby, just automatic shame right there. And it makes you feel like you’re doing everything wrong and it also forces you to go against your biological impulses. Like it makes you question every choice you’ve made. It is especially important for first-time parents.

Yeah. So I’m going to say before we really like dig into the meat of that, let’s start with a question and I’m going to remind you guys to stick around after we’re done so you can hear if you got an award this week. Yeah. We always like to give one of our listeners and award in the alcove because we love you and we want to support you.

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Okay. So this week, our question comes from Bethany and she says, “I know you can’t spoil a baby or create bad habits this soon, but at what point does your baby get so used to being held in parentheses, breastfeeding related, and doesn’t want to be set down.” So, I guess Bethany, if I understand correctly, you’re saying like when, when do the habits around breastfeeding become bad habits?

Right. So I think it’s important for all of us to understand that babies only know what you’ve shown them. They are experiencing the world through what you are exposing them to. And breastfeeding is a great place to initially make them feel safe enough to feel comfortable exploring. And making your kid or baby feel safe is never a bad thing.

Like I asked my therapist about this often when I’m like, is this too indulgent? Is this this, you know? And she’s like, look, making your child feel safe is only going to create good lifelong habits. Right. I mean, think about all of the times that you felt unsafe and how much growth came out of that that was positive.

Yeah. Usually you just develop a fun trauma response. Right? Right. So, you know, we’re not saying that you’re going to traumatize your baby if you choose to put them down. What we’re saying is, that these quote unquote bad habits that people are telling you that you’re doing are actually really important primal habits that your baby needs in order to move to the next stage of development.

Right. But let me just kind of specifically address you Bethany about this question, because there’s no one answer, but there is kind of a concept to consider. Is that the answer for this is going to be different for every single family, because all of our lifestyles are different. So I’m going to say, you have to think, at what point is the, you know, the schedule, the routine, the behaviors that we have with this baby, at what point does that make my life difficult?

And also just to tack on to that, you know, at what point does your baby get so used to being held that they don’t want to be set down? So that is very different because that’s a primal need compared to a behavioral problem. So like around nine months is when their brains are developed enough that they can actually start to push your buttons on purpose a little bit more.

Yeah. And, and really though, like, this doesn’t really happen. Like babies want to be held all the time, as we said, for a good reason, but we’ll get into it. But then they all developmentally mentally get to a point where they want to explore. Right. And usually that starts to happen around four months, six months, and it just gradually increases.

And it’s never going to be a bad thing that your baby wants comfort from you because that tells you you’re creating a safe space for your baby. Right. But you know, like if you, say you’re a really active family and you want your kid to hike next to you, instead of being baby worn or vice versa, like that’s a choice you make and you can work to create safety around those new habits.

That’s right. And I will also say that the safer they feel, the earlier they’re going to feel comfortable exploring. Yeah. So you’ll just have to kind of play it by ear Bethany and everybody else out there. Do not think that your newborn who wants to be held all the time is going to be a five-year-old who cannot be put down.

Actually okay, I would, I would say that it probably works in reverse. Like the more, the more you hold your baby, the more comfortable they’re going to feel exploring. And the more you try to train your baby to be independent, the more they’re going to want you to hold them. Yeah. Possibly. So play with that. Think about that. And let’s go ahead and get into the details here. Okay. Yeah.

Okay. So first, I just want to let you know what shaming might look like, because sometimes this shit happens and you don’t realize it happened until later when you’re like, why do I feel so terrible and icky inside? And why am I now having these negative feelings about picking up my baby when it used to make me happy to pick up my baby?

 So if you hear people around you saying things like he’s crying because you pick him up too much. Or be careful, or he’s gonna use you as a pacifier or let her learn how to be independent so you can get your life back sooner.

So I want you to take a minute. Stop. And then think about the person that said this to you. Were they the kind of parent that you want to be? So often this is a great place to start. Yeah. I mean, think about the fact that a lot of times this is going to be like a maternal figure in your life, whether that’s your mother or grandmother and a lot of times when those people are putting this kind of negative feeling on you, that’s not supportive. Right?

They’re the same kind of people that maybe were unable to give that to you when you were a child. And did that serve you? And the way that that would be a supportive action is not for them to say, if you only did this, your life would be better. It’s your fault. Like that’s not supportive.

The way it would be supportive if they notice you struggling and they say, Hey, do you need help with that? Would it be helpful if I did something to help you? Yeah. That that’s a supportive comment, right? If they’re like, Hey, would it be helpful if I took your baby for a little while?

You know, maybe do you want to work on getting your baby comfortable away from you? Right. And you know, this is going to, I see a lot of the most detrimental comments happening right after baby is born. I know! In the newborn stage at the hospital. You know, can we just, this episode, you know, we’re talking about, can you spoil your baby?

I just, can I take us to a definition? Is that going to be helpful? Yes. What is the definition of spoiled? Okay. So here’s the Oxford dictionary definition. So spoiled is an adjective. And when we’re talking about a person, especially a child, spoiled would be when they are harmed in character, by being treated too leniently or indulgently.

And Wikipedia tells us that a spoiled child or spoiled brat is a derogatory term aimed at children who exhibit behavioral problems from being overindulged by their parents or other caregivers. So, let me just say, baby was not in any of those. Yeah. And also baby doesn’t have behavior problems because that would indicate they had some kind of control over their conscious thoughts as if they are doing this to you.

And these, these definitions imply that the child has the ability to be manipulative as well. They don’t. Right. Older children do, babies, do not. Babies are primal. When they are first born their brains neurologically are only wired for a few things. Hunger being the first, safety being the second and like I said, they have to feel safe in order to achieve the next developmental milestone and then uncomfortable, so pain.

So those three things and surprisingly not surprisingly, breastfeeding fixes all three of those. Oh my gosh. It’s amazing. So that’s why baby wants to suck all the time. Because if they’re in pain, they can suck for comfort. It releases oxytocin in their body as well, which is the bonding hormone and it calms them down and, and, and they want to be held all the time for the same reason.

You know, imagine not very long ago in human history. Gosh, what, 5,000 years ago, you know, we were in real physical danger very often. And a baby who got put down was a baby who was likely to die. Right. And so when they are strictly primal, that old primal being is still in there. They need to smell you at all times. They want to truly know that they are going to live.

And if they can feel like they’re going to live, that’s when their brains allow their neurological connections to start doing other stuff. They don’t have to worry about it as much. So their brain prioritizes learning something else and moving beyond those primal instincts. Yep. And, you know, as well, being held and being fed often allows their body temperature to stabilize, their heart rate to stabilize, their digestion to properly begin.

Right. Like these are literally needs. Okay. And we’re going to talk about this a lot, but there’s a big difference between a want and a need and babies literally don’t have wants. Nope. They don’t have wants, they have needs. And you are the person that can give that to them very easily. And yes, it can interrupt your life. If you baby wear that can actually make that a lot easier.

But you know, you have to understand that the way we live our lives these days might not necessarily match up to their primal needs. And especially when your grandmothers were in childbearing years, right. There was a huge push for women in particular to be more independent. There was a lot more baby apparatuses to put your baby in around the house.

The baby swing, the baby bouncer. A lot of that was about class too. Like we were beginning to see these really big class divides. And it was seen as something that people of more money and more wealth could separate themselves from their babies and poor people couldn’t. Right. Well, poor people had dirt floors and do you put a newborn on a dirt floor?

Right. No, you wear them. And like, unfortunately, you know, if you lived in a situation with rats in your house, you are not going to put your baby down in a bassinet, you know. Exactly. And so there were just these huge cultural changes, especially around the Victorian era that happened to really push people to separate from their babies.

Yeah. I mean, that’s when prams or strollers were invented. Right. And there’s nothing wrong with using a stroller. We’re just trying to paint the picture for you here of when this started to change. And it really wasn’t that long ago. So what we’re saying is, baby does not have wants they have needs, but also you have needs, but also have wants.

So like, you might want to go take a shower by yourself, but what your body actually needs in order for your stress hormones to calm down and your temperature to stabilize and your body to be making the milk that your baby needs, you actually need to hold that baby. If you are bleeding postpartum, for example, holding your baby helps your bleeding.

It helps your uterus contract through hormone response. So you actually need to hold your baby too, even though you want to go do something else. Yeah. You know, I had a couple of birth experiences where we’re managing like a, not a hemorrhage yet, but heavy bleeding and the immediate postpartum and say, dad holds the baby and is close to, you know, their partner, their birthing partner.

But, you know, and I say like, would you actually put that baby on her chest please? And they’re kind of like, why? Isn’t it in the way? I’m like, no, it actually will help her stop bleeding right now. You know, even though yeah, as a provider, it’s more convenient for me not to have to worry about a newborn on this body that I’m trying to control bleeding in, but the newborn is one of those mechanisms that’s going to control the bleeding.

It’s pretty wild whenever you put a baby belly to belly with a postpartum mom, you’ll see their little legs start to kick down exactly where the uterus is. And. You, I think maybe it was you or Joe, who said, if you see those feet doing that, they’re massaging the fundus of the uterus for you. And it’s just like, you get a surge of oxytocin when you touch your baby and oxytocin, clamps down the muscle of your uterus, which clamps off those capillaries, which are bleeding. Super cool.

So, I mean, it goes well beyond the first postpartum moments also. So like you continue to get benefits from holding your baby and especially with breastfeeding, touch does help milk supply. Yeah. And this is something we see so often with exclusive pumpers or people who have to pump while their baby’s in the NICU.

It is so much harder for them to build up that milk supply because they’re just spending more time not holding their babies, even if their babies are there, because they’re pumping. And that’s why kangaroo care in recent years has been so popular. Where it’s like, is this a situation where the nurse or the physician can actually do what they need to do with the baby while they’re on your chest?

Okay. So let’s talk about this first few weeks of life. So now we know that it’s a primal time for baby, and it’s a primal time for your body. Let’s just remind you, this is like the fourth trimester. You are technically still one person, you are sharing. There can’t be one without the other at this point.

Like you literally need each other in order to make it to the next step. So this is not a time to train your baby in any way. It won’t work. No. They don’t have the hormonal capabilities to regulate sleep. This is, you do not sleep train until at the very minimum six weeks. Minimum. And I’m like, Oh, that makes me cringe.

You need to let it go. I mean, let it go. If you are type A, you just need to go ahead and tell yourself this first six weeks, all bets are off. You don’t have time. There’s no clocks. We are just listening to our bodies. You have one goal, the mutual survival goal. Mutual survival goal. And I like it. So we are not training your baby.

We are going to put baby to your breast and they are going to train your body to meet their needs. And that’s it. Yeah. And that’s the only training that should happen. That is, you know, kind of our ideal world. And don’t think about that as manipulation. Your newborn cannot manipulate you. Yes. They cannot manipulate you.

Now that doesn’t mean that your baby doesn’t have a personality. No. So there’s a difference here. So yeah, I mean, honestly, they don’t have much personality then, I’m just saying like, they’re all kind of little blobs of primal need, but like yeah. They develop. Yeah. I mean, they definitely, so for example, And I will use my son as an example.

So he was a 36 weeker, jaundice, low blood sugar, the whole cascade of shit. Right. And so listen, he had to be in the Bili bed. We didn’t do as much skin to skin as we should have done. I was a first time mom and also I had people telling me that I needed to be careful not to spoil him because he was one of those babies because he cried all the time.

Be careful. He’s one of those babies that you need to train, otherwise you’re not going to have a life. And I listened. So I had all the baby apparatuses. And let me tell you what? He cried all the time. You’re like, and actually it didn’t change. Because all he really needed was me and these late preterm babies need more reassurance because they have higher stress hormones. Because primally, they know that they have a higher risk of dying because they need more food frequently.

 I mean, they just decompensate very quickly, right? They do. They don’t have enough brown fat on their bodies. They just, they know in their primal brains that they cannot survive long without their parent. And, you know, on the other hand, like my son was born after his due date, you know, theoretically, those tend to be easier babies to settle, but he was not, right.

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He had these like tongue and lip ties that we didn’t realize for a long time. He also would have cried all the time, but I literally just held him and fed him constantly for like three months. And while that sucked, it also meant too like, we took him somewhere and people were like, yeah. Oh, what a good baby!

You know, like what, what ridiculous messaging we’re getting. Like your baby just never cries. And I’m like, yeah, cause my tit is in his mouth literally all the time. How could he cry? I mean, and on the flip side, I’m struggling with postpartum anxiety and depression and I’m constantly trying different things to put my child in, to see if it will calm him down.

I had like a thousand square foot apartment. And I probably had five different apparatuses to sit him in. And I remember folding laundry with him in the swing, just screaming at the top of his lungs. And I was actually denying my primal need to pick him up because I thought it was my job to keep folding the fucking clothes.

Right. You know what? I’m, I’m really glad I didn’t quite put myself through that. I mean, I had some of the swings and the bouncers and shit, but I did really quickly realize they like didn’t work. I think I’m a slow learner and I was also exhausted and I also didn’t have a partner that really understood what was going on at all.

And I just felt really isolated and lost. And my only, you know, way of learning for some reason was just the other maternal influences in my life. And how they learned was from a very Victorian grandmother of mine. Totally. And, and I always remind myself too, when older people give you shitty parenting advice that’s full of shame like that, that is how they were taught.

You know, a lot of them went to their doctor and their doctor was like, Oh, you want to breastfeed? No, you need to be formula feeding now. We have developed formulas that are just superior to your shitty breast milk. So you can gain your life back.

Yeah. And like, you need to get your figure back for your husband. Like yeah. B S. The husband stitch and a tighter vagina. Yeah. Right. So it’s like, it’s, it’s not like your mother-in-law or whatever just randomly thought of some way to shame you. It’s like, Oh, great. That’s how she was shamed when she was a new parent and every single piece of marketing and messaging she ever saw reinforced that.

So now what else does she have to say to you? Yeah. That’s the best advice that they possibly have for you. So whenever I start to feel like something is uncomfortable for me, that is a really good indicator that I need to explore what my body is telling me. Yeah. I mean, you might not know all of the little nitty gritty things that Maureen and I know as lactation professionals, but you know when something feels off. And so if some advice feels wrong or you feel an overwhelming urge to pick up your child, pick them up.

If you feel an overwhelming urge to lay down with your baby, take a bath with your baby and you will, I mean, some of these urges are just so biologically primal that you feel them in your gut. Don’t fight it. Yeah. Yeah. And I will say too, you know, a lot of people have kind of trained themselves to dissociate from bodily urges.

So when we say these kinds of things, they may not apply to you and that’s okay. So, you know, in that case, like your baby hasn’t had that training yet. Right. And they haven’t lived a life where, you know, they figured that out. So pay attention to them, you know, if they’re upset being put down and they’re two weeks old, pick them up.

It’s okay. And it doesn’t have to be you all the time, you know? Yeah. You have the breast milk, but your partner is a great option. And actually the more you encourage your baby and partner to baby wear together, the more your baby is going to also include that in the list of things that make them feel safe.

And it’s going to give you a little bit of space. And I mean, honestly, one of my best friends, Lindsey shout out to Lindsay Chanel, she would come over all the time. And baby wear my baby, so I could work. And so then I’d breastfeed and she’d just come and hang out and baby wear and just like, hang out and just eat lunch and hang out with me.

And my baby learned to absolutely trust her 1000%. And now to this day, when she walks in the house, my daughter runs up to her and gives her a big kiss and a hug. She says, I love Ooh. And you know, like there there’s a light at the end of the tunnel guys. You can, when your baby is, you know, getting to that year mark, you can make some boundaries.

It’s okay. Yeah. You know, I really feel like everybody gets to a point where they look at their baby and they’re like, Whoa, you’re a real human. You know what you want. You know, when you get to that point, it’s okay then to start thinking, Oh, like maybe I am kind of overindulging here. You know, like that’s when you can make those changes, if you want to.

And it’s not too late to make them when you realize that, you know, your 10 month old is not going to be spoiled for life. Right. And, and also it’s okay if you don’t do that, then either I’m going to be totally real. You know, like I feel like I realized very late in the game, like my kid was like two before I was like, wow, maybe I don’t have to do like, everything you want me to do.

Right. And, and yeah, like. He is five now, obviously he’s not, behaviorally perfect. Cause what five-year-old is? But he’s also very independent now, you know, he’s like, I want to go outside and I’m like, cool. Get dressed. He goes up, picks out his own clothes, comes down and you know, tries to get his shoes on, whether or not he can depends on what shoes he’s chosen.

You know? Or he’s like, I’m going to go upstairs and play with my trains. And I’m like, Oh, do you want, you don’t want me to come? See, I think my, my thing was, I didn’t understand that my son did not have the ability to have abstract thought, you know what? My husband who’s a philosophy major was so into like that part of our child’s development.

Like I remember at some point he was like, this is it. Like, this is the end of his like primal innocence. Like he has abstract thought now. That doesn’t happen until minimum nine months. I remember it was maybe later. I think it was honestly like around the time he started being verbal. Because then you can actually see it demonstrated.

Do you know what I mean? Because then like, literally just language is abstract thought, you know? So when he started expressing language, I think, I dunno my husband is probably going to listen and be like, you are incorrect. I mean, we’re not, you know, we’re lactation professionals. We are not childhood behavioralists or whatever, but I do know that it too, they are not afraid of the dark until the age of two because they cannot have that abstract thought that something that they saw might be coming to get them in the dark, you know.

 A really helpful book that I liked to kind of help me understand the science behind brain development was called The Toddler Brain. And it is, the kind of subtitle is, the surprising science behind your child’s development from birth to age five. And it’s written by Laura Jana. She’s a doctor. I watched a presentation by her at the perinatal conference a couple of years ago go and I loved this book.

It was very reaffirming of a lot of the things that we’re talking about. Where creating safety is more important than discipline. And then it also kind of helps you understand, like when is discipline important in context with when your baby and your small child is then like pruning neural pathways. You know, like things like that matter because trying it before then, like isn’t going to be effective, after then is not as effective.

You know what I mean? Like there’s these windows of time when all your baby is doing is exploring new behaviors. And then there’s a point where their brain starts to say, all right. All right. All right. We have like, billions of neuropathways. We do not need this many. We’re going to start pruning them.

Like that’s the time you actually want to make boundaries and behavioral changes because then the brain is going to be like, Oh, that behavior has not been enforced in the way that we find positive. So we will prune that pathway and never do it again. Yeah.

Yep. And I think that people that have like a whole mess of kids, you know, people that have like six plus children, they just don’t worry about stuff like this. It all works out. It all works out. They just, their kids are just as fine as the only child who got all the attention. True. Okay. I mean, they literally don’t have time to read the books and like plan out a behavior chart and stuff.

So they did with their first, everybody does this. Like a lot of first time moms are going to be the ones still listening at this point in the episode, you know. Everybody who’s got like three or four kids is like, whatever. I don’t even have time. I can’t sleep. It doesn’t matter. Yeah. So for those of you out there that are wondering like people that have no time, because they just have so many kids, they have no other option other than to just trust their gut.

And their gut is linked to their primal body and the baby’s primal body. And it tends to work out. Like if you really listen and pay attention to what’s going on, physically, emotionally, spiritually, everybody meets their milestones. Yeah. Yeah. That is probably the best parenting lesson I’ve ever gotten from anybody is to just worry less.

You know, and especially with making the choice to homeschool my son. Obviously I’ve had a lot of insecurities about that, you know, and reached out to a lot of, thankfully I knew a lot of like teenagers who were homeschooled that I taught in the outdoor school that I work at sometimes. And so I had to like reach out to their parents and be like, what happened when they were five?

 You know, whatever. And they’d be like, we did nothing when they were five. They played. They went outside and played. And if they wanted to learn the ABCs, we’d learn them. You know, it’s like, that’s okay. Your baby does not need very structured, absolutely disciplined, like developmentally, you know, perfect stimulation or whatever.

Like they’re going to be fine. They just want you. Keep them alive. Love them and create a secure environment. They just want you. They want your attention because they love you unconditionally because you are their entire world. Yeah. And they’re all going to have some behavioral problem at some point anyway, but you know, we can deal with it then. It’s okay.

If you can prevent it, great. You’ll never know if you prevented it or if it just didn’t happen. Yeah. Name one human out there that’s perfect. Yeah. And I always think like, okay, maybe at least I can make different mistakes from my parents made. Right? Like maybe at least I can learn from that or these mistakes that friends of mine who are older and have their children are grown.

Like maybe I can learn from those mistakes. And I’ll just, I’ll just make new ones. Like somebody told me this once and I mean, I’m not like super woo woo. But I do enjoy dabbling from time to time in the thought that maybe there is a plan, I don’t know. And somebody told me once that your child picked you.

Like, I like the idea of that. Like they’re floating around, out there and they’re like, that one is the one that I need in order to achieve as a soul, what I need to do in my life. And I, and I really enjoyed that thought, you know, whether or not I believe it is another thing, but the thought that I am perfect for my child because of my imperfections makes me feel good.

You know, those philosophies, the way I see them, cause I don’t really believe in a lot of that particularly. But, but the way I see it is if that is comforting to you, and it’s also helpful in some way, then you should stick with it. You know, like believing that is not going to damage you or your child.

It’s probably just going to make you feel better on really bad days. Yep. And it works. That’s what works for me. So if it, if it works for you to just have that visualization, when you’re looking at your child, who’s like being an absolute monster that day. You can just say, that kid picked me because I have a constitution that’s able to get them through whatever this is right now.

Yeah. You can only hope so. Right, right, right. So good luck everybody. And don’t listen to dicks. Yeah. I mean, if somebody says you’re spoiling your baby and you’re sitting there breastfeeding your eight week old baby, you can tell them to fuck right off. Yep.

Step one: look at that person and see if that’s the kind of parent that you want to be.

Step two: mentally create a boundary between that bad advice and what you actually have going on.

Step three: check in with your gut. What does your gut tell you about what you need to be doing right now?

And then I’m pretty sure the answer is going to be, keep doing what you’re doing. Yeah, so good luck everybody. Before we go, though, we got to give our award in the outcome. Yeah.

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Okay. This week’s Milk Minute award in the alcove goes to Carolyn for six months exclusively breastfeeding. Good job, Carolyn. That’s amazing. Yeah. I mean, that’s like, that’s the goal. You know, that’s, that’s pretty much a universal breastfeeding goal there and it’s awesome.

And you know, I, I just, I’m really proud when people get there. Yeah. I mean, I think that a lot of times mentally people are like, I just want to make it six months and then when they get to six months and it’s awesome, they’re like, wow. You know what? A year and beyond, let’s do it. And then they just move that goal up the timeline.

Yeah. So, great job, Carolyn. We’re here with you, clapping for you and the award we’re going to give you is, the award you get this is the six month smile. Oh, a six months smile. Oh, that does make me smile. All right, everyone. Well, thank you so much. Don’t forget to share your breastfeeding wins with us or your questions at [email protected]

Yep. And we’ll see you next week. Yep. Goodbye.

Thanks for listening linked to The Milk Minute. If you haven’t already please like, subscribe and review our podcast wherever you listen. If you’d like to support our podcast, you can find us on Patreon at Patreon.com/MilkMinutePodcast. To send us feedback, personal stories, or just to chat, you can send us an email at [email protected]

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