We’re undecided about how to handle our baby’s sucking obsession. He constantly wants the breast. We’re hoping he will learn to suck his thumb, but he’s coming up on three months soon and it’s not looking promising. If we’re going to do the pacifier, how long should we wait before giving him one? Is there anything we should know beforehand? – Mother of a SuckerDear Mother of a Sucker,
The pacifier is a real double-edged sword. In some ways, it’s a perfect solution to the insatiable desires of an infant: a simple piece of silicone that can bring peace to your home and free up your boobs for other pursuits. In other ways, it’s a huge pain in the ass. Once the baby gets used to having his mouth full, he’s hooked. But he probably won’t be able to keep the thing in his mouth as much as he wants to, which means you’re doomed to a life of constant retrieval and reinsertion, or some version of the same unsatisfied cries that got you here in the first place. That’s what’s worse about pacifiers than thumbs. Thumbs don’t get lost. But the very thing that people like about thumbsucking (the baby controls his need, rather than being plugged up by others) is also the thing people hate about it (you can take away a pacifier at your discretion, but thumbsucking is a force beyond your control).
In terms of when to introduce, the sooner you do it, the more likely your baby will go for it. Once you’re past the first month, pacifier use supposedly doesn’t interfere with breastfeeding. You may need to monitor your baby’s weight gain to be sure you’re not mistaking bona fide hunger for a need to suck. Regular pacifier use is likely to derail the thumbsucking possibility; some give pacifiers for this very reason. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends pacifiers due to a study saying SIDS risk is reduced when babies use them. But they also say parents should use them to help babies get to sleep but shouldn’t put them back in when they fall out during the night, which seems a rather unrealistic recommendation. The good news for parents of pacifier users is that eventually babies usually figure out how to find and insert their own pacifiers, even though this may mean they’re sleeping with ten of them in the crib. The bad news is this doesn’t usually happen until they’re at least six months old.
I don’t get weaning. How do I even begin to approach it? I know all babies are different, but isn’t it super confusing for the baby? I have a ten-month-old and I need to start making a plan, but I have no idea how to start. – Got No Plans
Dear Got No Plans,
There are lots of ways of weaning. Generally, gradual is preferable, unless you have a reason to rush things. A clean break may be appealing if you’re feeling fed up, but cold turkey weaning will result in major boob pain. This is especially true if you’re breastfeeding a fair amount when you stop. It may also be harder for the baby, depending on his attachment to nursing.
A good first step to try is the technique known as “don’t offer, don’t refuse.” This just means you nurse when your baby makes it known that he wants to, but don’t initiate breastfeeding yourself. This method is driven by your baby’s needs. At the least, it will help you understand his needs better, which can inform your next move. If you want to step up the process, you can pay attention to when he seems to want to nurse, and try to avoid those situations. If he has regular feedings, you can decide to cut them out one at a time, replacing them with bottles of formula or milk in a cup. Think about the substitutions for the boob – you may be better off switching up locations, offering exciting new vistas with exciting new sippy cups. If there’s a special nursing chair, you may want to avoid it for a while.
Weaning is one of those things that tends to look a lot easier on paper than it is when you try it yourself. “Just cut out one feeding at a time” might sound simple, but if your baby is very into the boob, you may find that he’s not going to give it up that easily. Some say weaning should be done gently and that the baby’s resistance means he’s not ready. Others say weaning is an inevitably painful process, and the mother’s need to separate is as valid a reason as any to move beyond breastfeeding.
You’re doing the right thing by thinking ahead. If there’s a point by which you want to be completely weaned, it’s a good idea to give yourself some time to get there. Weaning can sometimes be a one-step-forward, two-steps-back situation. You can decide as you go whether the plan you make is one you want to stick to.
Do stroller naps “not count”? I heard they are no good, but my baby sleeps in the stroller and the car quite frequently during the day. – Count Me In
Dear Count Me In,
The source of your information may have been Dr. Marc Weissbluth (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child). He describes stroller napping as “junk sleep” – a light and insubstantial sleep tainted by movement and changes in the environment. For some parents, this theory rings true: their baby doesn’t tend to sleep for long in the stroller and/or wakes up cranky. But not all strollers (or babies) are created with the exact same features. If a stroller is flat, reclined, and not moving, is it not, essentially, a bed? If a baby zonks out the moment she’s strapped into her little caboose, sleeps for a long stretch and wakes up happy, is it not reasonable to think that the cozy environment has a tranquilizing and rejuvenating effect? Strollers and car seats have been a godsend to the parents of colicky babies since the beginning of time (or at least since the invention of the wheel). A brisk stroller walk/nap can soothe an exhausted parent’s rattled brain as much as a baby’s. It’s also pretty difficult to prevent some stroller or car-seat napping if you ever want to leave the house with a young baby! Napping in motion may not be ideal, but a slightly inferior nap is a hell of a lot better than no nap at all. And never leaving the house is a recipe for misery.
The infant car-seat nap has just taken a hit from another source. A recent New Zealand study revealed that very young infants sleeping in car seats that have been moved inside (and left unattended) may be at risk of getting less oxygen than babies who are woken up or moved to a crib. The issue is that parents may not notice that their baby’s head has slumped forward in a way that can impair optimal breathing. (One more tool in the arsenal of sleep maneuvers down the tubes.)
Our advice: As long you keep an eye on your baby (checking to see that her chin is not smooshed to her chest), the car can be a fine napping zone. And assess your baby’s mood upon waking from a stroller nap. If she seems well-rested, chances are excellent that she is, indeed, well-rested!
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