Transitions

As my family makes the transition to having three children from two, I’ve been thinking a lot about transitions. As I thought about transitions, it occurred to me that my main goal with the specific ways I parent my newborn babies has been to ease their transitions into this world as much as possible. I hadn’t thought about my parenting choices in that particular light before, but it’s certainly how I’ve practiced them.

The transition from womb to life outside the womb must be one of the most difficult transitions that we humans ever experience. It’s probably rather a good thing that we cannot consciously remember that time of our lives.

The book Magical Child has a wonderful chapter in it that describes how the transition must feel to a newborn baby… coming out of the nice, warm, wet, dark womb into the dry, cold, bright air. Then having the cord cut immediately and, in order to survive, having to immediately draw breath into his lungs that are unaccustomed to air at all. Being handled by several different people and being examined before being held by his mother. If the baby is unlucky enough to be a boy, he also frequently will have to undergo a painful surgical amputation that he definitely feels and equally definitely doesn’t understand before he’s more than a couple of days old.

Then, also, commonly being fed quite infrequently after being used to getting constant nourishment inside the womb. Being left alone in a bed by himself, sometimes to cry pitifully, after being next to his mother and hearing her breathing and heartbeat 24/7 before birth.

How then can this transition be eased? Certainly the baby eventually needs to learn to be independent of his mother and how to sleep by himself and not eat constantly, but just because these things need to be learned eventually doesn’t mean that the transition has to happen immediately. Nor does a gradual transition mean that the child will never learn to do those things.

Choosing a gentle, natural birth when possible can help ease the immediate womb to air transition because the baby is receiving the proper hormones that he was created (or evolved) to receive during this transition. Having dim lights can help the transition from dark to light. Not cutting the cord immediately can help ease the transition from being underwater to breathing air by not cutting off the baby’s supply of oxygenated blood prematurely and allowing him to receive his full blood supply rather than depriving him of up to 40% of it with an immediate cord clamping. Keeping the cord intact for a while also means that the mother gets to hold the baby for a little while before he is whisked away for a newborn exam thus easing his transition from birth to being weighed and measured and poked and prodded by strangers.

Choosing to leave the baby boy with his whole body instead of chopping off a perfectly healthy and normal part of his anatomy not only prevents all the risks that every surgery inherently possesses, but also allows him to grow up with the knowledge that his body is perfect the way it is and doesn’t need to be altered to fit an outdated cultural fad – to “fit in” with only half the boys in the current American generation. Just because his father had a body part amputated, doesn’t mean the son needs to have that same body part amputated. If daddy has brown eyes and son has blue, will daddy wear blue contacts so his son’s eyes will “match?”

Choosing to hold or wear the baby as much as possible and keep a new baby’s crib or cradle in your bedroom – maybe even to co-sleep for a time – helps to ease the transition from being with mom 24/7 to getting used to being with other people and eventually by himself.

Nursing on demand helps to ease the transition from getting constant nourishment to eating only periodically with greater lengths of time between feedings gradually over the first few years. Everyone knows how much toddlers need to snack still and they’ve been born for a while! Nobody I know looks at the clock before eating to determine whether or not they’re hungry – why would we look at the clock to determine whether a newborn baby is hungry? They’re used to eating all the time – of course they’re hungry extremely frequently, especially for the first few months of their lives!

Babies’ needs and wants are the same for the first few months at least – I believe that it’s really on us, as parents, to make sure that all of our babies’ needs are met. They do not only need nourishment and to be comfortable physically, but they need help through their transition. They need us to be responsive and to try and help them to navigate this extremely difficult transition as smoothly as possible. I believe that the more smoothly it goes for them, the easier it will be for us as well.

Not to even mention: They will be independent soon enough… the baby years go by so quickly!

~B.

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