Newborn Care Choices 

Although parenting begins as soon as you discover you are pregnant, your parenting choices begin most dramatically at birth. In those first few hours and days, and the days and weeks leading up to them, you must make many decisions about your baby’s care. In hospital births, there are procedures that are often done routinely, which you may want to consider refusing. Even in home births, you must make decisions about how you want your baby treated immediately after birth.

Here are some newborn care choices to think about:

Cord Clamping

In many hospitals (and with some birthing center and homebirth midwives) the umbilical cord is clamped and cut almost immediately upon birth. Unfortunately, this practice deprives babies of a large percentage of the blood volume they could receive through the cord. That blood is rich in oxygen, as well as iron, which is important for babies in their first year of life since breastmilk is naturally low in iron. Allowing the baby to stay attached to the cord until it stops pulsing gives them their best chance at optimal health. As long as the baby doesn’t need to be resuscitated, or have some other life-saving procedure done immediately, there is no reason to clamp the cord prematurely.

Eye Ointment

After birth, it is common procedure to treat newborns’ eyes with erythromycin ointment. This is done to prevent blindness as a result of an infection caused by gonnorhea transmission from the mother to the baby. If the mother has gonnorhea, or doesn’t know if she has it, then this might be a good idea—although it is still not the only option. Transmission of the virus is not guaranteed, and even if it does happen, babies can be treated for infection with antibiotics. The reasons for refusing this treatment may be as simple as wanting to avoid unnecessary medications for your baby. There are also concerns about the blurriness caused by the ointment interfering with the immediate bonding time between mother and baby. A bigger concern may be the use of other types of eye ointments, for the same purposes, which have not been proven as safe.

Bathing

Cleaning newborns shortly after birth is another common practice. The benefit, I suppose, is that the baby is “clean.” The drawbacks are that it isn’t necessary, takes the baby away from the mother at an optimal time for bonding, and it removes a protective substance called vernix from the baby’s skin. Although it may look gross, that white cheesy substance may benefit the baby by protecting against harmful bacteria, helping regulate body temperature, and keeping the skin moisturized. (For me, it wasn’t something I even noticed because I was so enthralled with my new baby.)

Hep-B Immunization

A vaccination for Hepatitis B is usually given to babies at birth, or shortly after. This prevents babies from becoming sick from Hep-B, which can be contracted from mothers who have the virus. If a mother has Hep-B, or if she doesn’t know if she does, then this vaccination is beneficial to protect the baby. However, if a mother does not have Hep-B, and knows that for sure, then this vaccine is completely unnecessary. Like any vaccine, there are certain risks to receiving it; however, most vaccines are statistically safe and supported by scientific evidence.

Circumcision

As far as I know, circumcision is not a standard procedure anymore, meaning hospitals don’t just do it automatically. However, if you have a baby boy, you will need to decide whether you wish to have him circumcised. Currently, there is no medical or health reason supporting the practice. It is more of a personal choice, or for some a matter of religion. While it is a minor surgical procedure, it is a surgery, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Vitamin K 

Babies are given vitamin K injections at birth to prevent a condition called Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding. This condition is rare, but can happen without warning and have severe outcomes, such as brain damage or even death. Essentially, young babies can become deficient in vitamin K, for various reasons including the fact that breastmilk is low in it, and the body doesn’t store it easily or manufacture it. Since vitamin K is responsible for blood clotting, being deficient in it can result in uncontrolled bleeding, particularly internally. The vitamin K shot given at birth offers almost complete protection from this disorder, and there has been no evidence of harmful side effects from the injection. The only drawback is that the injection may be painful for the baby.

Feeding

One parenting decision that must be made early on is how to feed the baby. Breastfeeding is an amazingly beneficial option. If the mother is able and willing, she should allow her new baby to start nursing as soon as either she or the baby desires after birth. Often, mom and baby might need a little guidance from an experienced care provider, such as a nurse, midwife, or lactation consultant. If choosing to breastfeed, make sure you avoid artificial nipples such as bottles or pacifiers, and have any care providers do the same. These things can disrupt the nursing learning process. Even if you wish to formula feed long term, you might consider breastfeeding in the early days, weeks, or months. If this is not an option for you, you and your partner can still feed your new baby with love and care, through a bottle. Use this time to bond with your precious little one!

Skin-to-Skin Contact

Whether bottle-feeding or nursing, skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth is a very special experience. I would encourage all parents to postpone any newborn procedures, including weighing, cleaning, examination, and so on, until after an hour or so of skin-to-skin time with the baby. Mom can be cared for and cleaned up with her baby on her chest, as long as both are in good condition.

Rooming In

Rooming in is another option parents can choose, to support optimal bonding with their newborn. Although many hospitals have nurseries and can take the baby away for some time to allow parents to rest, it is also becoming more common for hospitals to offer or even insist on babies rooming-in with their parents. Not only does staying together encourage breastfeeding, it protects the special time of bonding. To combat exhaustion, parents should take advantage of the fact that newborns spend most of their time sleeping, and use that time to catch up on sleep themselves! Sharing responsibility for the baby’s care between the parents, and perhaps other visiting family and friends, can also help make this time easier.

Nursing As a Parenting Tool

It isn’t hard to find information about the benefits of breastfeeding. There are so many! Breastfeeding provides health benefits for baby and mom, from optimal nutrition to cancer risk reduction. It helps babies’ brains develop better. It helps mom and baby bond. It’s convenient!

Those are all great reasons to breastfeed, and I’m sure you’ve heard them before. So in this post, I’d like to share some of the benefits from a day-to-day perspective—the reasons why breastfeeding is an excellent parenting tool.

  1. Nursing bonds moms to their babies.

Not only does nursing help mom and baby bond together, but it specifically bonds the mom to the baby. It causes chemical reactions in the body and hormonal changes which help mom feel a deeper connection and affection for her baby. This is probably one of the reasons why breastfeeding reduces the risk of postpartum depression. This strengthened bond is also so important to surviving those difficult fussy days and nights with interrupted sleep—it’s easier to handle those challenges when there is a rock-solid bond between mother and baby.

  1. Nursing is a natural pacifier.

In my experience, most crying can be calmed with the offer to nurse. Babies cry to express their needs, and nursing fulfills multiple needs at the same time—nourishment, comfort, closeness, security, physical touch, social interaction, and more. While it can be tiring to nurse as frequently as baby requests, it helps to shift perspective and realize that this high-need time in a baby’s life is very short and fleeting. It will pass—which is both a blessing, and a sad fact.

  1. Nursing offers complete nutrition, and is a natural multivitamin.

One of the best benefits of breastfeeding is that it provides perfect nutrition for babies, and breastmilk even naturally changes composition as baby grows to meet changing nutritional needs. Babies thrive on breastmilk, and can continue to nurse exclusively for a year or more with no nutritional deficits—so introducing solid food can be free of pressure or stress. Any food added to the diet is a bonus to the healthy foundation of breastmilk, until baby starts eating more solids than milk, and eventually weans, at his or her own pace. For toddlers who nurse to supplement their diet rather than provide the bulk of it, breastmilk turns into a multivitamin providing important nutrients and filling in the gaps from his or her regular eating habits.

  1. Nursing is a natural immunization.

Another incredible benefit of nursing is that breastmilk contains antibodies to help babies fight infections. When mom is exposed to all of the same germs as her baby, her body will begin making antibodies for those germs, which will then be transferred to baby in the breastmilk. This is why breastfed babies get sick less and can fight illnesses more effectively. Breastmilk provides extra protection for babies’ immune systems!

  1. Nursing supports sleep for mom and baby.

Nursing is, for many babies, a very effective way to induce sleep. Putting a baby down for a nap or bedtime can be a breeze when baby is nursed to sleep, and gently transferred to bed. (It doesn’t work for all babies, but it’s work a try—or several tries!) Nursing at night, if also co-sleeping, is an easy way to get more sleep with a baby who wakes frequently. Mom can roll over and nurse baby back to sleep without disrupting her own sleep very seriously; as opposed to a bottle-fed baby or a baby in their own crib, who would require mom or dad to get up, go to them, prepare a bottle, feed them, lull them back to sleep, return them to their crib, and finally go back to bed. Night nursing is more convenient than bottle feeding, and it doesn’t involve any form of “cry it out” sleep training. For many parents, that makes it the optimal choice.

(Personal note: Even though nursing 4-6 times per night for over two years now hasn’t been easy for me, I’ve never been sleep deprived because of my choice to breastfeed on-demand and our family’s choice to co-sleep. And for some babies, nursing once or twice at night will be enough, or they will even night-wean themselves because the comfort of sleeping close to their parents is all that they need to sleep happily through the night.)

There truly are a vast number of benefits to breastfeeding, and it is incredibly useful parenting tool. It’s not always easy, especially in the beginning, but for mothers who are able to and choose to breastfeed, it may become one of the most cherished aspects of early parenting. And the attachment it encourages will continue to have benefits throughout a child’s early years.

Attachment Parenting

I’ve always been fascinated by parenting theories, and eager to learn and practice them for myself. Although my son is only two, I have already learned a lot about parenting, and my partner and I have continued to refine and adjust our strategies as we go.

From the beginning, we were attracted to the attachment parenting style. This is a model for approaching parenthood that supports a strong and loving attachment between parents and children as a primary focus of parenting. It includes some specific practices that support and encourage children’s emotional development and a strong bond.

The eight principles of attachment parenting defined by Attachment Parenting International are:

  1. Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting
  2. Feed with love and respect
  3. Respond with sensitivity
  4. Use nurturing touch
  5. Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally
  6. Provide consistent and loving care
  7. Practice positive discipline
  8. Strive for balance in your personal and family life

The first principle means being mindful about choices during pregnancy, birth, and parenting. It means considering what is best for both the mother, baby, and family as a whole. Many attachment parents choose to hire a midwife for care during pregnancy and to have a natural birth, because of the many benefits both offer. Attachment parents are also encouraged to be mindful as parents, by being aware of developmental stages of childhood and always seeking to learn and grow in parenting skills.

The second principle means breastfeeding on-demand and for an extended time when possible, or bottle feeding with love as an alternative. It also means respecting children’s signals regarding when they are hungry and full, and practicing good nutrition for the whole family.

The third principle means responding to baby’s cries (as opposed to letting babies “cry it out”), as well as responding sensitively to older children’s emotions and needs.

The fourth principle means offering plenty of physical affection and touch through baby-wearing, snuggles, hugs, physical play, and even baby-massage. These forms of loving contact help strengthen the parent-child bond.

The fifth principle means considering co-sleeping, if it suits your family and you can do so safely. Attachment parents are also discouraged from sleep training, especially forms involving “cry it out” methods, because of the potential negative emotional and physical effects.

The sixth principle means considering having one parent stay home to care for the children, or as an alternative, choosing a caregiver who can bond with the child and provide consistent care. It also means keeping schedules flexible, and limiting separations.

The seventh principle means using positive discipline tools that are kind and respectful, enforcing reasonable limits, and keeping communication open. Attachment parents are discouraged from using punishment, threats, or bribery to control behavior, and physical punishment especially is never used.

The eight principle means taking time to care for your own needs, as the parent, as well as establishing boundaries that respect the needs of all family members.

I like attachment parenting because it frees parents to love and attach to their kids as they are designed to do, rather than following society’s pressure to focus on early independence. Interestingly, one of the purposes of attachment parenting is to build a strong foundation of security from which children can eventually launch themselves into independence.

As I’ve experienced the ups and downs of parenthood over the past few years, I have come to realize that adopting an attachment parenting philosophy has one very big benefit; it changes your perspective in a way that allows you to be the best parent you can be.

What I mean by this is simply that when you choose to be an attachment parent, you choose to accept your child’s needs and your responsibility to meet them, with joy and purpose rather than reluctance. You can take it in stride or even find yourself enjoying the precious time with your child when they are demanding a lot from you.

You are happy to be a parent meeting your child’s vital needs during those hard times; when you’re nursing your baby every hour because that’s what he asks for; when you have to sit in the church nursery with your toddler during service because she isn’t emotionally ready for separation; when you go to sleep at night right next to your squirmy, warm, beautiful child, because he wants to sleep in your bed; and when you resist the temptation to punish your kid for misbehaving, and instead push yourself to find positive discipline strategies that work without harming anybody’s dignity. Parenting becomes the beautiful, challenging, purposeful adventure that it was meant to be. That is why I am an attachment parent, and why I hope more and more parents will adopt these principles for their own families as well.