I’m feeling a bit serious this week and I wanted to touch upon the subject, “Mother Knows Best,” when it comes to the health and well-being of our children.
New mothers are bombarded with a barrage of information on how to keep little ones healthy, safe, and happy. The information is readily available in a wide array of publications. Googling WebMD when a child has a fever is sometimes easier than waiting for a call-back from the pediatrician. As mothers we have so much information available to us that sometimes we feel like we can just diagnose our children (or ourselves for that matter). And in some cases we can…
Years ago, sleeping a baby on his belly was the way to go. Babies suffered less cases of acid reflux. In an effort to reduce the SIDs epidemic, babies are now only to be put to bed on their backs. SIDs rates are down, but many more babies have uncomfortable bellies and acid reflux. Armed with the fear of SIDs, parents are told never to sleep with their infants, not to use bumpers, not to smoke around their children (okay, that’s a no brainer and let’s not even get me started on the idiocy that exists amongst parents who think that is acceptable!), no blankets, pillows, etc.
Parents are told not to feed their babies solid food until four to six months old, differing from years ago, when baby bottles were filled with rice cereal early on to thicken the milk, hence making babies less hungry through the night, and often times, producing chunkier babies. Mother’s are encouraged to breastfeed for a year, where as years ago, breastfeeding was definitely considered taboo and formula was the way to go.
Years ago, children weren’t medicated for every problem they encountered. Now, all across America, ADHD medicine is being prescribed at a young age for hyper children in an effort to keep them calm and focused. However, these medications deliver unappealing side effects, some of which stifle a child’s ability to actually be the person he thinks he should be. I know firsthand, as a HS teacher, that many of my students diagnosed with ADD/ADHD were actually much better students and happier individuals when they were no longer on their medication and receiving services (FYI – I am by no means advocating against proper medications/protocols for children and adults alike when needed. I live with someone that suffers from ADD and I know that medication can do wonders when properly prescribed).
As new parents, we refer to our pediatricians for knowledge on how to handle everything from breastfeeding issues, fevers, sleep-training, toilet-training, speech problems, physical ailments, etc. Many times, we take what our pediatricians say at face-value and we try to adhere to their advice. However, through experience, I’ve learned that it’s okay to take all that we learn from our doctors and our reading materials with a grain of salt. It’s okay to ask questions and seek out more information. It’s actually smarter to make fully-informed decisions that work for your particular child (or yourself) than to take base information applicable to all children.
I’ll give you a few personal examples. When J was starting solids, I cooked and pureed all of his foods for him. He loved his fruits and a few vegetables. However, when he hit a year and stopped nursing, got teeth, didn’t love the tastes of all of his foods, and refused whole milk, I was a bit panicked. I consulted my pediatrician and his advise was, “Don’t offer him anything else to drink. When he’s thirsty enough, he’ll eventually drink the whole milk. No kid ever died from a day or two without drinking. At the most he’ll get a little dehydrated.” I was shocked. But my doctor gave his advice and as a “rule-follower,” I considered it, even though my gut told me this wasn’t the right choice for my child. I consulted another doctor in the practice for an additional perspective and I consulted message boards online. The other doctor suggested calcium alternatives such as extra cheeses, vanilla ice cream daily, calcium fortified orange juice. Those options sounded more appealing to me and I took her advice. To this day, J refuses milk, but he meets his calcium requirements through vitamins, OJ, and cheese.
Another example, J was an amazing sleeper, sleeping through the night from two to five months old. At five months old, he got an ear infection that wreaked havoc on his sleep patterns. He was night-waking again. Being my first and only child at the time, I had no problem with him waking up once or twice a night to nurse because he would fall back to sleep and sleep well. My doctors said I was going to create an individual with sleep problems. I didn’t feel like the cry-it-out method that they suggested was appropriate for my child at his age. It felt unnatural to hold a baby so close to my chest nursing throughout the day to let him lay in his crib screaming for me and for milk all night. At a year old, I had a change of heart and felt he was ready to learn to sleep on his own. I let him cry-it-out and after a few days of heartbreak, he was sleeping on his own again. It worked, but it worked on my time-frame, not the one set by the doctors.
When J was three, he suffered chronic sinus infections and was on an abundance of antibiotics. There was maybe one week out of every month that he was not on medication and he actually sounded normal and not nasal. It continued to get worse and the pediatricians suggested seeing an ENT. The ENT was quick to recommend surgery, but I was not comfortable with that outcome. I did research, tried herbal teas from acupuncture, and sought out an immunologist. The immunologist found immunological issues and suggested holding off on surgery until we figured out the other pressing issues. Why was his iron low? Why was his body rejecting vaccines he received as an infant? There had to be more to the story. I liked his philosophy and invested in his course of action/treatment, admonishing the ENT’s quick surgical solution. It took a year of re-vaccinating and re-evaluating before E and I considered surgery again for J. This time, we had come to the table with more knowledge, a healthier child, and we were ready. The surgery went well and we couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome. But again, the outcome was on our terms.
Our middle, suffers terrible eczema. I noticed a direct correlation when I breastfed him and ate any orange food (sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.). The doctors said that it was absolutely unrelated. I disagreed. For the months that I stayed away from the orange foods, he suffered very mildly. Whenever I slipped or reintroduced the orange foods, the eczema worsened.
Now I have little M, with his gastro issues and his sleeping problems and the pressure from my pediatricians to get him out of my bed, sleeping through the night without nursing, on his back, in his crib. It all sounds amazing, right? Of course, I would love him to be sleeping through the night so that I could actually be sleeping through the night again too. But right now, it’s just not working for him. He is still hungry. He still seems to need the comfort too. He still has an upset belly and writhes around in agony when I leave him flat on his back for too long. I almost feel like a failure at motherhood by not having him sleeping through the night as the pediatricians deem I should. I spoke to another breastfeeding mama and she suggested I reach out to La Leche League for guidance. Here’s the response I got:
“It is VERY common for babies that young to need contact with their parents at night. Not all babies do, but most do more often than not (your first two were the easy ones!). Both of mine did, and lots of moms I help have babies that only sleep well when they are with their mothers. And 3-4 hour stretches are wonderful at this age! The idea that a four month old should sleep through the night is a myth. All babies will get their when they are ready. It’s like walking and talking — all on their own schedule.” – WW @ La Leche League
So I decided that for now, I am just going to go with the flow of things and let the chips fall where they may. As I’ve said before, M won’t be sleeping with me until he’s in college. For now, if he needs the extra comfort, so be it. He’s got a bum rap with the belly issues and I am willing to afford him a little extra TLC. I’ll deal with the sleep issues a little later on.
So again, this all leads back to the idea that Mother Knows Best is an important way for all new moms to lead their lives. We are the ones that know our children. We are the ones that have to deal with the issues our children face. We are the ones there for the scrapes and bad dreams and bullies and new foods, etc. We should be advocates for our children and for their health and well being. We should come to the table armed with all the knowledge we get from our doctors, from reading, from our personal experiences. Even recently, one pediatrician in my practice said to me that her advice was simply that, ADVICE. It wasn’t the end all be all and it wasn’t necessarily what she would do with her own child (she may or may not). It was the advice she received in her medical training and after all, she is my doctor and I came to her for medical advice. So she gave it and told me to take it at face-value and work with it the way that it works best for my family.
So I extend a hand of support to all the mamas young and old out there that advocate for their child/children and I am here to join you in the journey of discovering what works best for your family. I’m always here to toss around ideas and to listen if you ever need to reach out…
I’ll be posting soon about the importance of advocating for our own health-care and well-being too. Stay tuned…
And for now, go break all the rules – cuddle with your sleeping newborn throughout the night. Give your child OJ instead of whole milk… It will all work out in the end 🙂