What have we done in five days? A little bit of laundry. I showered once so far, and I might shower again today. I have changed a hundred million diapers. We go out for short walks so I don't get cabin fever, but mostly we stay in bed, napping, or at the very least she sleeps skin-to-skin on my chest while I do some reading, knitting or kicking around on the internet in a lazy manner.
When we do go out, it is a slow walk where we make lots of new friends. A tiny squishy fresh newborn is a magnet. It sets off something primitive in the backs of peoples brains - from a time when the whole group of primates needed to band together to protect and care for the newborn. People want to come see her, marvel at her, and ask this series of questions "boy or girl?" "What's her name?" "Is she a good baby? Is she a good sleeper?"
Those last two questions? They make me uncomfortable. They make me annoyed. And if you ask me on the street if she's a good baby or a good sleeper, I can't give you my full answer because we are just meeting in passing and you aren't up to being bombarded by my full explanation anyway. I am uncertain how to answer these questions in a 3-second long conversation, because they are long answers, and, quite frankly, those are entirely the wrong questions to be asking.
She's perfect. Everything about her is perfect. If she was missing a limb she would still be perfect to me, because we are her parents and we are totally smitten. Its a chemical thing.
But when you ask "is she a good baby?" you are implying that there could be bad babies somewhere in the world. What would make a baby "a bad baby" exactly? Would it be a baby who cries "too much", a colicky baby, a highly sensitive baby? Maybe its a baby with bad reflux? Maybe its a baby with some physical challenge, or a very medically fragile baby? Can someone please tell me the definition of bad baby because I'm certain that out of every baby I have ever met in my whole life, I have never seen a bad one. Ever.
Lets get right to the answer here: There are no bad babies. There are just babies. All babies are babies. They do the things they need to do in order to ensure their survival, in order to thrive, in order to make us all fall head-over-heals in love so that we will care for them. Its true that there might be some babies that, for one reason or another, or sometimes a whole host of reasons, may be more difficult to care for. But they are still not bad babies either. So since there are no bad babies, you can all stop asking me if this one is a good one, because your question is moot.
Is she a good sleeper?
Well she sleeps most of the time, and she likes to sleep upright on my chest, and at night she sleeps for maybe two hours at a stretch and wakes up to nurse again. If she's sleeping on my chest and I try to put her down often she wakes up. She likes to nurse herself to sleep, and squeaks at me if i take my breast away before shes finished with it. She sometimes has a really hard time falling asleep, and she absolutely doesn't fall asleep on her own. I'd say that sounds about right.
She is a breastfed baby. She is five days old. She is doing all of these things for a reason - she wants to sleep on me because her brain tells her to do that. Sleeping on an adult, particularly the parent, ensures that she is going to be taken care of. The food source is right there. She can use my body temperature to regulate her own. She can use my breathing to regulate her own. She can smell me, she can hear my heartbeat, which is a familiar and comforting noise that shes been listening to since she was inside me. New research shows that she can feel my body on specific pressure points on hers, which tells her that she is safe and she can relax. When I put her down she wakes up because all of those things are taken away from her - she gets cold, she can't feel or smell or hear me, and the stress hormone cortisol rises slightly in her brain. She can get scared, feel like she's been abandoned, and she will start to fuss and call out in order to ensure that someone will come pick her up again, rather than leave her for the lions.
At night, she only sleeps for about two hours at a stretch. Breast milk is not meant to stay in a babies system for much longer than that. Breast milk is not super high in fat, not even as close as cows milk. Its designed specifically to support rapid brain growth, and babies need a lot of it. They also have tiny little stomachs and cannot hold gallons and gallons of milk in one go, so they are exquisitely designed (and the parents breasts are also exquisitely designed) to feed often, around the clock, through the night, all the time. No exceptions. It is normal and natural for babies to wake up every few hours to eat, keep up their hydration and blood sugar levels, to be comforted, and to check that a primary caregiver is indeed still there for them. Frequent nursing also stimulates the parents milk supply and keeps a constant flow of a very good cocktail of hormones going in the parent, all of which is in the babies best interests. Scientists and researchers are now pretty certain that this frequent waking up at night also protects babies from sleep apnea and SIDS.
So yes, she's a perfect sleeper. She wakes me up often for a bunch of super important reasons, exactly like she is supposed to do. I'm a little bit tired because of this but i am more than happy to wake up for her whenever she asks right now. But that's probably not the definition of good sleeper you had in mind when you asked me. She wants to sleep on me, she wants to nurse herself to sleep, she can't sleep by herself or on her own and she wakes up often - not because she's a bad sleeper or a bad baby, but because that is the healthy biological norm. If she slept for extensive periods of time and didn't wake up to nurse often, she wouldn't be "a good sleeper", she would be failing to thrive.
When you ask a parent if they have a good baby, or if the baby is a good sleeper, probably what you are really asking is "do they bother you very much? How much do they annoy you with their constant demands?" And that implicit insinuation behind your ridiculous question is what makes me uncomfortable. Consider what you are saying next time.
- Kyla, Doula at Sisterhood Wellness Collective