FIVE WAYS SCIENCE PROVES A NEW MOTHER CAN TRUST HER INSTINCTS

Photography: Brandi Johnson

By Tracy Gillett

The pain is unbearable as I sit on the edge of our couch, shaking as tears stream down my face. I can’t do this every two hours, I think. How can this possibly be normal? But, looking down at my five-day-old baby as he nurses I’m in awe of how my body is able to nourish him.

His little blue eyes lock with mine and I recall a parenting gem I read while I was pregnant. A newborn’s range of vision is 8-15 inches, which happens to be the distance between a mother and baby’s face while breastfeeding. It’s thought this distance most likely evolved because of breastfeeding. It brings me comfort and helps me dig a little deeper, knowing not only am I feeding my baby but also nurturing his evolving vision.

As new parents we’re eternally stretched to new limits we didn’t know existed, and then we’re stretched a little more.

Contemplating little known miracles like these helped me trust my instincts, drown out external judgment and find strength through many sleepless nights and long nap-less days. I hope sharing a few of them may help you too, no matter where you find yourself on this magical adventure called parenting.

  1. IT’S HEALTHY TO BE ADDICTED TO YOUR BABY

A newborn’s smell is scientifically proven to be addictive to new mothers. A University of Montreal study looked at the brains of 15 new mothers using MRI technology and revealed the smell of a newborn triggered a pleasurable physiological response similar to food cravings.

Johannes Frasnelli, of the University of Montreal says, “The olfactory – thus non-verbal and non-visual – chemical signals for communication between mother and child are intense. The mother-child bond that is part of the feeling of maternal love is a product of evolution through natural selection in an environment where such a bond is essential for the newborn’s survival.”

The response is also beneficial to mothers. “For those first few months babies are mostly just needing to be cared for and we don’t get much positive feedback from them,” said maternal health psychologist Diane Sanford, “So the fact that the pleasure centers are activated makes it more rewarding at a time when parenthood is very intensive and depleting”.

  1. MOTHERS ARE PERFECT: NOT TOO HOT, NOT TOO COLD

When you hold your baby, especially skin-to-skin, her body temperature depends on you. The warmth of a mother’s breasts are naturally modulated to keep her baby at the perfect temperature promoting restful sleep, optimal oxygen saturation and saving her baby the energy it takes to stay warm. This redirects valuable calories into more critical things like growth.

Breast temperature can rise and fall rapidly as your baby is warmed. As your baby starts to cool, your breasts heat up again-as much as 2 degrees Celsius in two minutes. So, cuddle your baby if she has a fever and cool her down. Wear your baby and keep her at the perfect temperature when it’s cold outside. And sleep with your baby keeping her warm in the wee small hours of the morning.

  1. BABIES ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT

It’s NORMAL that your baby (or toddler) isn’t sleeping through the night. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s going to be like this for a while. Having realistic expectations around night time parenting makes it easier to accept the realities of infant sleep and to resist potentially dangerous techniques like cry it out.

One reason babies don’t sleep through the night is because humans are naturally biphasic sleepers, experiencing a “first sleep” (from sunset until midnight-ish) and a “second sleep” (from 1 or 2 am until dawn). With the invention of electricity our natural pattern changed, enabling us to stay up later meaning adults began consolidating sleep into one 8-hour stretch.

Eventually, your baby’s sleep patterns will consolidate, too. Until then, trust your instincts, turn out the lights early and crawl into bed with your baby so waking up at midnight doesn’t feel so exhausting. And remember there are a myriad of benefits to your baby’s NORMAL behaviour of waking through the night: it protects against SIDS, promotes healthy feeding and growth and encourages milk supply.

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