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There has been a lot of media regarding introducing solids, and when to wean children and other articles that imply that mothers should all be doing the same thing in raising their children.
So Lets start at the Very Beginning (it is a very good place to start!):
It begins with Birth, and as you’ll see,
when you become a mum it’s not ABC!
So you’ve just given birth, and breastfeeding begins.
Some kind soul will tell you to feed 10 minutes a side, every 4 hours; another will say feed to need; others will say 3hrly; no like this, not like that…so what is normal?
Biologically, some babies will feed 4hrly, 10 minutes a side. Biologically many won’t.
This is because what is biologically normal varies widely. Research shows us that over a 24 hr period, breasts tend to produce the same amount of milk…but it releases the milk differently because not all breasts have the same storage capacity (and this has nothing to do with size). So if you have a small capacity, you will need to feed more often. In addition to this, babies vary. Most newborns have tummies the size of a marble (and given that for the first 3- 5 days they only need colostrum, which comes in small doses, they need to feed often - nigh even constantly - to bring in the mature milk and establish the supply). So 4 hrly feeds in a newborn is probably not normal. Some babies are fast feeders, and others slow feeders. So when you combine a low capacity with a slow feeder, you might need to feed 2 hrly, and feeds might last an hour: THAT IS NORMAL for that pair.
This matrix helps illustrate the variations of normal in breastfeeding pairs:
From this you can see that the normal can be anywhere from short infrequent feeds, to long frequent feeds. And until your baby is born, you will not know which combination you are. This is why it is important to 'feed to need', as you learn which combination you are and watch the urine output to guide you on whether baby is getting enough (the equivalent of 5 wet heavy disposables in 24 hrs is considered good).
So you’ve worked out which combination you are - you are cruising along happily and healthily, when you hit the next ‘normal hurdle’:
How long SHOULD you breastfeed for?
According to helpful and concerned people (some of whom will be in positions of ‘authority’ and influence) there is a definite upper limit. It varies (of course). Some will say 6 mths, some 12 mths, other will say 2 years or more. Some will say the arrival of teeth ends breastfeeding, or walking, or ‘asking for it’…
Many of these suggestions are based on personal experience, some is on science… most on opinion. Studies support exclusive breastfeeding to 6 mths. This does not mean breastfeeding ends at 6 mths, but rather that other foods are introduced from 6 mths (see below).
But this does not answer the question for the age of ceasing to breastfeed. According to Kathy Dettwyler, the natural age of weaning will be between 2.5 and 7 yrs. That’s a big range of normal. And it seems that no rods were created in letting your child wean naturally….
So really breastfeeding should continue for as long as the mother and child involved need to. Sometimes mum needs to stop sooner than bub (and vice versa), there is support through the Australian Breastfeeding Association in whatever way a mother needs.
The next big thing for parenting: SLEEP!
So when do babies sleep through the night? 6 weeks? 6 months? 6 years?
Do you always sleep through the night?
Some babies might sleep though from 6 weeks. Others will be frequent wakers. It is all normal. It is best to accept what you have, and go with the flow, rather than fight the natural rhythm of the child: which only leads to stress and unhappiness for everyone.
There are many studies that show that there are dangers associated with sleep training, see the AAIHMI position statement (it does not support it). Likewise there are many studies that support responsive parenting.
It can help to find a supportive (evidence based) network, such as the ABA, to socialise with.
Now what about teething?
When should bub start getting teeth? It is completely normal for a 4 mth old to start getting teeth, just as it is completely normal for a child nearing 12 months to not have any.
Next comes starting solids: the 4 months vs 6 months debate.
The recommendation is 6 months. But if you are following baby-led solids, you might find that your baby starts a little earlier, or A LOT later. No need to follow a hard and fast rule: use your instinct, trust your baby’s instinct and go with the flow! This works especially if you have been exclusively breastfeeding (as per the biological norm), when you deviate from biological norms (for whatever reason), the game does change. What becomes normal for your child, should be central to your decisions, not some generalised recommendation.
Rolling, crawling, walking and other developmental milestones of the first year or so:
Some babies will walk at 9 mths, other not 'til 18 mths: all normal! Biologically speaking, all normal.
If at any time, as a parent, you are concerned about your child’s development:
Who do you ask?
For breastfeeding and related matters (like sleep), the Australian Breastfeeding Association provides 24/7 support and information: the website, the helpline, email counselling, the forum. You can also go to group meetings.
For developmental delay concerns, or health concerns: your community nurse, GP, or specialist can provide guidance.
Anecdotal evidence (ie: other people's experiences) are not set in stone. What worked or happened with one person may not be the normal for you or the solution you need. It is information. It can help you work out what you need to know. But you need more than one person’s experience.
Competitive mothers groups can damage your confidence, reduce your enjoyment of mothering and make you feel isolated, so ‘shop around’ to find your like-minded group. When you find a group you click with, you will find yourself supported, validated, confident and knowledgeable.
And you might just make some life-long friends.
Just one last thought…
Whilst you might be biologically normal, it doesn’t mean you aren’t wonderfully unique and interesting!