Hold Your Baby

My baby boy, my third child, is now two months old. The “golden period” has begun – the time between the harder first months when you’re trying to get breastfeeding established and the later months when the baby learns to walk. This period is a time of happy babydom, when baby is content to be in mom’s arms, the honeymoon before the intense toddler years.

It is during this honeymoon that I relish in the breastfeeding relationship and the emerging smiles, eye contact, and coos. My babies spend all of their time with me, being held and cosleeping, only being put down for brief periods of cooking food (it scares me to have my baby too close to a hot stove, boiling water, and knives, even in a wrap or sling) and times of personal hygiene in the bathroom (if you know what I mean), and I’m flattered by separation anxiety.

Now that I have three kids, I’m no longer the target of a lot of unwanted parenting advice. I noticed that I received a lot of it with my first baby and was really bothered by it, still received a lot with my second baby although I stopped listening so I was no longer bothered by it, and now don’t even get it. I guess people think I’ve got it figured out by now, or I’m so stuck in my ways that I won’t change. And, in my case, both assumptions are true.

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My babies don’t leave my side for the first four years of their life. Their time as a three-year-old is spent preparing for graduation from toddlerhood, with specific emphasis on transitioning out of the family bed (especially if a new baby is on the way) and potty training. From age one to their third birthday, they’re learning the basics of boundaries and the beginnings of self-control; for this reason, from about 14 months to the second birthday, is what I consider to be the equivalent of the “terrible twos,” mostly because they’re on the move but have very little concept of “no.”

Which brings us back to the wonderful golden first year. For me, the easiest age to parent.

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Recently, at a community event, a grandmotherly type lectured a friend that two-year-olds were really too old to hold (not true at all!) and if she held her son too much, that he’d want to be held all the time. I couldn’t stop myself from blurting out, “So what? I hold my babies all the time, and my kids turn out just fine.” The woman just looked at me. It’s hard to argue with someone whose kids are what the world defines as well-behaved.

I commonly hear of two reasons supporting this argument not to hold your baby or toddler: that he/she will become spoiled, and that the mom won’t be able to get anything else done. People are so concerned that their babies and toddlers “grow up” quickly — that they play on their own, sleep on their own, eat solids, and so forth as soon as possible. To me, it seems rather selfish; there is no scientific basis for this push to independence. Instead, research points to the opposite –- that by trying to make our children grow up too quickly, we’re actually inhibiting their development. They're not learning to sleep on their own because they’re ready for it, and it’ll likely backfire with night fears, bedwetting, and problematic behavior during the day. Same holds true for forcing separation on a child who wants to be held or be by mom; if you ignore the child’s need to be close to you, you’re just making it harder on your child and yourself. His/her anxiety will crop up in other ways, such as clinginess, increased tantrums, biting and hitting other children, and so on.

As adults, we’re conditioned to shun things that “feel too good.” Parents, take it from so many attached families (those families who practice the Attachment Parenting approach) who’ve discovered this before you, there is no harm in holding your baby all the time, cosleeping, and breastfeeding on demand –- and it makes parenting in these early years infinitely easier.

Right now, my baby boy is draped across my lap as I work on the computer. His sisters, both past their toddler years now, no longer want to be held all the time or sleep next to me at night. The infant and toddler years are so intense but they’re so short, just a blip in the 20 years of childhood; enjoy these early years while you can.

Rita Brhel

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