Not long ago, some new research was released on breast feeding babies. After studying questionnaires filled in by mothers of babies aged 3 months, the researchers concluded that breast fed babies were harder to soothe, less likely to smile or laugh and more likely to be distressed. This research received wide publicity in the media, and triggered much debate and discussion amongst my peer group.
I am massively pro-breast, and find this type of research to be truly alarming. Not because I am worried my baby may be ‘difficult’, but because I am worried it will influence new mothers decisions about breast feeding.
So is the research right?
Only more research could confirm that. However, there are some glaring issues with the methods used, and the findings highlight to me some societal issues with breast feeding. The research was exploratory, and in my view missed many important aspects of the mother-baby relationship. As an example, it does not appear that sleep was covered. Any new mother can tell you the effects on her mood and outlook that a lack of sleep causes. As breasted babies wake more frequently, it is likely their mothers are a little more tired, and perhaps more sensitive to their babies ‘behaviour’. I know when my girl wakes a lot, I find her more difficult the next day. I’m sure she is not – but it seems like that to my tired brain. There is also no information on the timing of breast feeds, and whether mothers were attempting to follow a routine with their baby.
But all this debate over validity aside, I think there is a more important message to take away from this. The researchers found this extra crying by the breastfed babies was COMMUNICATION! They were not unhappy by nature it seems, they just needed to tell their mummy something. And most likely that something was ‘more boobie please’. This to me highlights the importance of listening to our babies, breastfeeding on demand and remembering that frequent feeding is normal and natural. If I was to give an expectant mother advice about breastfeeding, this research tells me it should be that learning to read her babies cues is more important than any routine. And from my personal experience, I’d also describe to her the look of pure bliss on my baby’s face after she has just finished a feed and is nestled against my breast. That can’t be bad!