Parenting, natural law style

Check out this article on the perils of trying to parent according to arbitrary, deterministic schedules rather than the natural and organic needs of one’s baby (h/t The Thinking Housewife):

By feeding on a schedule mothers risk again a diagnosis of failure to thrive: baby does not get enough milk, moms milk supply drops, baby stops gaining weight. Sadly I have seen this situation occur more than once. Most mothers catch the fact that their baby is hungry before failure to thrive is diagnosed. They supplement with formula and eventually give up on breastfeeding altogether. They don’t make the connection between the schedule and their lowered milk supply. These mothers blame their body, “I just couldn’t make enough milk.” I hear this statement nearly every time I go out and interact with other mothers.

The effect on the mother of the interrupted breastfeeding relationship that often accompanies cry it out is depression. Gordon Gallup and associates found a higher incidence of depression in mothers who bottle fed when compared with mother’s who breastfed. This makes sense when you consider the hormones released in the mother each time she brings baby to breast, hormones that promote bonding and feelings of love for her baby. In the absence of the release of these hormones via breastfeeding, the mother may experience depression.

And worse! Read the whole thing.

I admit I’ve had babies on the mind lately. I’m past the age where I should’ve started having them. And I’ve often wondered if I’d be a good father. My own father was largely absent from our lives, spotted at dinner time only; I actually grew up thinking he lived somewhere else (that fathers in general lived apart from their families), so I didn’t have much in the way of a role model.

Nonetheless, there’s something reassuring in applying the basic principles of natural law ethics to parenting, namely that what is good for us is ordained in our natures and expressed organically through it. A crying baby needs something — even if that something is just you. It makes me think any schmuck can be a good dad, if only he obeys “the body’s promise” and “the mind’s amen.”

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11 thoughts on “Parenting, natural law style

  1. I remember with our first baby, the doctors at the hospital told us she only needed to be breastfed every four hours. So we went home and followed the rules, but she would not stop crying. We held her, rocked her, did everything! Finally, we figured out she was just hungry and started feeding her every two hours instead. It didn’t take us more than a day to figure out that the doctors didn’t really know everything.

  2. Breastfeeding and natural parenting were not the norm when I was born in ’75, and even though BF’ing is becoming more accepted and is promoted, many women don’t do it. Some give up after only a single day or never try at all, or think a week or so is fine then find the bottle more convenient, when I found nursing to be the most convenient thing to do. I also practiced baby-wearing (baby in a sling or wrap to keep her close to you and comforted at all times). This seems natural and normal to me, the best thing a woman can do for herself and her baby, but as with most things in our modern life, the baby is an afterthought to concerns about work, career, weight loss, etc.

    The list of excuses is long, some are petty and some are involved, but most are bunk. I can think of only one exception I would make, and that is for a woman who cannot produce milk (a small number cannot, and I know one woman who had to have life-saving breast surgery in high school whose ducts were unfortunately severed). Otherwise, “it hurts,” or “he’s always too hungry,” or “I can’t be attached to him night and day!” are just selfishness and a denial of motherhood. It does not just flout natural law, it denies that the child is even yours to care for and love, and denies that as its mother, the child has every right to expect your full attention at all hours.

    I’ve nursed two babies for over a year each and will soon nurse our third. Practicing natural parenting has been a wonderful and enlightening experience. My kids brought me back to God, too, and this issue has me thinking about other things critical to a Christian worldview.

    Of concern to me is also the issue of stewardship and how Christians ought to view environmental concerns. I have long been a gardener, camper, hiker, angler, and lover of trees and small furry things (even as I stalk them for food). Natural parenting is the start of good stewardship of family and resources. I wonder how Christians, Catholics, should view environmentalism. The Catholic church of late has advocated many liberal, humanist causes, but it seems to me that advocating good stewardship of God’s Earth and its resources would go a long way to solving some of our problems, i.e. hunger, shelter, clothing, and warmth. I’m not talking about redistribution or taking from one to feed another, but good care and use and education so all may benefit. It seems to me that an awareness of and care for the health of our natural physical environments is not incompatible with Catholic worldview, but I have not found anything that indicates a position on the matter. The Earth is God’s creation as much as humans are a special creation, and to not take a place in its ecology is wrong – I don’t mean living like animals and trying to save all the whales – rather, understanding the ties and how our lives can disrupt or harmonize with those ties. Perhaps this is a topic better suited for a different place, but if you or another author would care to tackle the issue, I would appreciate your thoughts.

    • Otherwise, “it hurts,” or “he’s always too hungry,” or “I can’t be attached to him night and day!” are just selfishness and a denial of motherhood. It does not just flout natural law, it denies that the child is even yours to care for and love, and denies that as its mother, the child has every right to expect your full attention at all hours.

      I’ve nursed two babies for over a year each and will soon nurse our third.

      The attitude of someone for whom breastfeeding was easy, so “it cant be that hard for anyone else, either; they’re just lazy”. Breastfeeding is exceedingly difficult for a good number of women, and the benefits, while real, are greatly exaggerated. Breastfeeding Nazis need to cool it.

      • Of course breastfeeding is difficult. But it’s also part of our natural design. Women are made to start with the attempt to feed the baby by breast for the initial months and years of life. This idea that ‘the benefits are exaggerated’ is just buying into the world’s dismissal of God’s glory.

        Part of the reason breastfeeding is difficult is delayed childbearing, extended chemical birth control use, fad diets that deplete women of protein and fat and trace minerals and pollution stemming from urban living and lack of access to enough regular movement. These are all things that women totally have control over, and yet refuse to take responsibility for the consequences of their own lifestyle choices. Modernity has consequences, not least is a reduced ability to use one’s body in the natural fashions God designed it for.

      • I agree with you, Lady. Modernity is harmful to the healthy development of the person, the family, or the society.

        Breastfeeding isn’t complicated. It’s only complicated because people have made it that way.

  3. I should say there is nothing easy about getting started with BF’ing. It becomes easy as mother and child become accustomed to it. Nothing worth doing is easy, but it does have rewards.

    The first two weeks to a month can make a mother feel like “this baby is going to be attached every two hours for the rest of my life!” Sensitive body parts crack and bleed, milk leaks all over, and there is swelling and tenderness so awful that even slight movements cause pain. Forget sleeping and trying to roll over. More laundry than one ever though possible will need to be washed, and the house will be messy unless you enlist some help. Yes, the first month after a baby comes home is exhausting, messy, painful, and if you don’t have your head on straight, can make you feel like giving up altogether. And in our increasingly atomized society, living far away from parents or other relatives who could or would help with the transition of having a new baby in the house, some things are just out of one woman’s realm to accomplish every day.

    But it gets better, if you stick with it. Like anything else. But I think the temptation to go straight to the bottle is a big one, given the challenges (bottle feeding will not make these problems disappear). The baby still needs you, you will still be exhausted, and if you have other kids in the house, kiss clean floors good-bye for a bit. It’s a natural part of “natural parenting” to prioritize and let some things go, or to enlist a spouse, relative, or hire outside help to keep the house moving along while the adjustment happens. But, its almost magical, after that first month, that your body and the baby adjust to one another, feedings slow down, sleep improves for everyone, and life finds it rhythm.

  4. In the Greek Orthodox Church there is a tradition in which a new mother does not leave the house for forty days after childbirth. She then goes to Church for a blessing. I have heard this described as misogynist. In fact, it is the church and tradition acknowledging that the first month is difficult, joyful, and very important. A new mother has the right to ignore all extraneous calls and friends and family have an obligation to offer help and support.

    If given support and encouragement the first month can be a delightfully exhausting time, with all the thrills of falling in love. The crime of our society is that we attempt to deny the importance of this period to both mother and child. We pretend it is something that the superwoman can fit into her schedule like a new hobby. Heartbreaking.

  5. Pingback: Dads, Breastfeeding and Intimacy | Progressive Parenting

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