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  • Cleo Marchese, IBCLC, RLC

Primitive Babies, Modern Parents: How to better understand your baby.


I always find it amusing when I’m describing the difference between active nursing and non-nutritive nursing and a new mom has an epiphany. She says, Oh, so my baby is using me as a pacifier. NO!!! There are different reasons for a newborn to stay at the breast, some are doing a great job nursing and use the extra time to spend with you. Others are not nursing well and are doing the best they can. But neither baby is using their mother as a pacifier.

In our modern world, we often have a disconnect between what babies needs are and from what society believes they need. New mothers are often told don’t hold you baby all the time or they will be spoiled. Don’t feed your baby on demand, you are teaching them bad habits, to eat when they feel like it. Don’t let them sleep in your room even in a bassinet, they will become dependent on you and never learn to self soothe or become independent.

There are entire industries based on helping the modern mother “get her life back” as soon as possible. Most mammals fall into two groups for parenting infants. Cache animals like wolves, foxes or great cats whose babies are left behind in a den while the mother leaves to find food They do not cry out, they only urinate or defecate when stimulated by the mother to control smells that might attract predators. Their mothers have high protein – high fat milk to keep them full during her extended absence. They have internal controls to regulate their body temperature even in cold climates.

In contrast, humans are a carry species. All carry species like great apes or primates have extremely immature infants that need to be held to feel secure. Their milk is low in protein and fat. Feedings are frequent to keep blood sugar levels constant and meet their energy needs for optimum growth and development. Ironically, frequent feedings encourage constant physical contact and nurturing to meet the infant’s social and cognitive development so they can learn how to function in complex social groups. The first three months after birth is called the fourth trimester in humans for a reason.

Western societies have developed compensations for a few of the immunological benefits of breastfeeding with antibiotics, vaccines, modern medicine, and sanitation. But none of these can replace the physical, cognitive, and emotional needs of infants received from their parents.

This begins at birth, but the amount of care newborns need can often seem to interfere with modern adult life. Newborns can nurse 8-12 times a day in the first weeks, making new mothers feel drained or "touched out" by the end of the day. Newborns also have shorter sleep cycles than adults. Leaving both parents tired and impatient. Infant sleep cycles help them to rouse frequently to feed and keep them from sleeping too deeply which can prevent SIDS. Babies cry not to manipulate you but to alert you to a need. They may be hungry, wet, cold or just need to be held. All humans are extremely social creatures that cannot thrive without constant love and care.

Newborn babies are primitive creatures who lack the emotional ability to manipulate. So next time you feel frustrated when your baby cries. Remember, you are their whole world. They love you unconditionally. They believe you know everything, and only you can help them feel better. They get distressed when they are separated from you because as parents and especially their mother. Your body was their first home, their shelter, their source of food, love and protection. To your baby, you are fierce warrior princess that smells and taste yummy too

"A baby's wants are a baby's needs." ~ Beth Ayers


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