Maternal Instincts

February 22, 2016


Last week, in Mama & Shanti Baby Yoga, one of my newer students approached me at the beginning of class to ask my opinion about her 4 month-old's pediatrician telling her that feeding him at night is unnecessary and that she should immediately start letting him cry it out. This sent me into quite the tirade, first suggesting that she should immediately start shopping for a new pediatrician. Many of the mothers in class chimed in with their pediatrician names and lots of support. It became a really beautiful sharing session in class.


I have a lot of respect for doctors and I have not been through medical school, nor do I want to. That said, pediatricians are general practitioners, specializing in pediatrics. They are not child psychologists. They, generally, are not nutritionists or dieticians. And some of them are not even parents. In my opinion, doctors should only be giving out medical advice. That is what they are trained to do. They should not be giving out parenting advice, especially when it is absolutely wrong. This past May, the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences conducted a study of babies 6-12 months old, asking mothers if their babies woke up through the night and if they fed them when they woke. More than half of those babies woke up and ate during at least one of those wakings. I will repeat that for the pediatricians: More than half of the babies, 6-12 months old, woke up at least once a night and ate at least once during those wakings. My student's baby is only 4 months old! Even the sleep-training books (and I don't agree with many of them) say that sleep training shouldn't start until 5 months, but more of them say 8 months is the minimum.


As a mother of two and working with hundreds of mothers of newborns, infants and toddlers, I want to let all the other mothers out there know that the first year of your baby's life is going to be a roller coaster ride of restful and sleepless nights. The second year of life usually has more restful nights, but there are definitely upsets during teething and meeting new milestones. If you are not a parent yet, or you're a new parent, please accept this as truth. It is a fact. Other countries and societies accept this. Other countries make more allowances for parents to take time off from work because of this very reason. In the United States, we want our infants to behave like adults and sleep like adults. Guess what: we like to sleep with each other and we get up in the middle of the night sometimes too. Some of us have a hard time falling asleep. Some of us are light sleepers. In the United States, even our school systems are expecting elementary school children to be "college ready" and demanding they sit still and listen to lectures for 5 hours of the day and then go home and sit for 1-3 hours and do homework. But I digress. My point is that sleep training wouldn't even be a thing if parents didn't have such a demand on them to return to and perform at work so soon after their babies are born.


In addition to the need for more time at home with baby (and to sleep), there is an aching need for parental bonding and community. What happened in yoga class was beautiful. What happened in class was supportive. What happened in class was nurturing. This mother, who already thought she was doing the right thing, was shaken by her pediatrician's mommy #shaming. Her infant boy is happy, healthy, in the 90th percentile and meeting all of his milestones. Why should she suddenly deny her son a nurturing hold, hug or nursing session if that is what he needs? And all of these mothers in class sat in a circle and told her that it was okay and that her instincts are right. She's a wonderful mother! Her baby is happy! He's healthy. And she left class feeling validated and confident in her ability to #mother her own child, as she should. You can't buy that kind of validation. You cannot bottle that #community and #empowerment. And that is why I'm so passionate about what I do and how yoga, as much as it is exercise, is about community and the union of minds, bodies and souls coming together.


The bonds of motherhood are strong. There is nothing else like it. We end every class with an affirmation of how each of us is a perfect mother for our baby, however flawed we may think we are. Mommies, trust your instincts. Your healthcare providers should be there to listen to you and take what you say and are doing into consideration. If you don't feel like your doctor is listening to you, supporting you or helping you, it's time to find a new doctor. And even if you have a doctor you love, find a mommy group or class so that you'll have a network of support and other women that are going through all the same things you are and can bounce ideas off of or  ask questions. Each of you, however you are choosing to feed or raise your baby, is the perfect mother for your baby, just as your baby is perfect for and to you. Remember that, above all, and you'll be okay. 




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