“What is Wrong with my Baby?”
Over the past month Meili felt increasingly confident about being a mother. Her baby, just turning four months old, is now predictable and fun! Over the past month, Meili’s daughter seems to have developed a “fast food” approach to breastfeeding. Yan nurses for ten minutes, intently and efficiently, from each breast … and then she’s done. For three weeks now, Yan has been getting up only once at night, when she nurses and then returns to a comfortable sleep.
But, all of a sudden things seem unpredictable and crazy again. Meili’s delightful child has become grumpy over the past week. This week Yan was up breastfeeding three times at night.
Her daytime breastfeeding is equally odd. Yan seems to have transitioned from a “fast food” to a “casual dining” approach to breastfeeding. She will go to the breast a minute or two and then come off to reach up and explore her mother’s face. Back to the breast she goes for a few minutes–until her father enters the room, when Yan comes off the breast and twists all the way around to see and smile at her dad. If the couple attempts a conversation, the baby sits straight up, as if her input had been requested!
Meili is exhausted, confused and frustrated. Though Meili had planned to breastfeed until her daughter was a year old, this young mother now assumes that her baby’s behavior shows that it’s now time to wean her. Indeed, her mother-in-law has told her just this!
The Science: “Touchpoints” – When Developmental Surges Trigger a new Sense of Chaos in a Baby and her Family!
When life with baby get confusing and/or frustrating to parents, a grandparent might reassure them that “the baby is just going through a phase.” Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a gifted Harvard pediatrician, has studied, taught and written about when and why these “phases” occur and about how parents can respond most effectively to them.
One of Dr. Brazelton’s central concepts, Touchpoints, explains how a baby’s developmental surges cause a sense of “disorganization” in a child. This unsettled feeling in the child may disrupt her eating, sleeping and general behavior.
Often parents see such changes in a baby’s behavior before they even notice that a baby is learning something new. Without an understanding of what is happening with a growing child, a parent can feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and even angry that the child’s behavior seems to be regressing.
The good news is that these developmental changes are predictable. Parents can learn when these changes might occur, anticipate the temporary disruption they may cause, and prevent expected short-term “disorganization” from becoming a persistent problem.
- Newborn: Sorting out active from deep sleep. (See previous newsletter.)
- 3-4 months old: Becoming distracted during feeding. This is NOT a sign that the baby is ready to wean.
- 6 months old: Energized by starting solid foods and participating in feeding herself.
- 9 months old: Experiencing stranger/separation anxiety.
- 9-12 months old: Beginning to walk.
Around and during these developmental surges, a baby may wake up more at night, be less predictable about her eating, and/or have slight (or sometimes, quite impressive) changes in her general behavior.
Meili is reassured that the changes in her baby are normal and expected. In fact, her family doctor explains with great enthusiasm that these changes indicate an important surge in the baby’s cognitive abilities. “She is getting smarter and more attuned to the world around her,” the doctor explains. “I would worry if she were NOT showing signs of more distractibility during feeding and of more interest in being a part of every conversation.”
Meili is encouraged to feed Yan in a quieter room and to avoid having conversations with Father during feeding (for just a week or so). With these small changes in the breastfeeding routine, Yan quickly returns to her “fast food” approach to life, after which she is eager for play time with her parents. Within a week Yan resumes her usual nursing pattern and seems more settled and happy.
Breastfeeding Tips for This Month
Surprising fact for breastfeeding mothers: It’s not time to wean! Although initial breastfeeding has benefits, even greater and more numerous benefits are associated with providing breastmilk for two years, as recommended by the World Health Organization.
The four-month growth spurt goes unnoticed by many breastfeeding mothers. A baby may increase the frequency of nursing for a day or two and then return to her routine nursing pattern. Typically, a baby increases his breastmilk intake by 2-4 ounces a day during this month. Then his intake remains fairly steady until six months, when he is ready to begin “solids.”
© HUG Your Baby 2018