When Baby Won’t Let You Put Him Down
When I was pregnant with my first child, I, like so many first time mothers, had plans and expectations for how caring for a baby would go. I read the books, sought out advice from other mothers, and felt fairly confident in my knowledge of child development as a nurse practitioner. And like many first time mothers before me, all those plans and expectations evaporated into thin air when I met my beautiful firstborn and learned that he did not care about any of my preconceived ideas about motherhood. At all.
I found myself unprepared for a baby that wanted to breastfeed every 30-50 minutes, not the 2-3 hours I had been led to believe, and who could go from being completely milk-drunk asleep to crying pitifully whenever I tried to put him down. He was content if being held, feeding, or just snuggling with me, but he did not like to be set down or even held by others for long. He was feeding easily, gaining weight well, and my husband and family helped me keep my sanity for the most part. I wasn’t really struggling or unhappy, but I, unfortunately, let the comments of others get to me; “Didn’t he just eat, how can he be hungry again?” “He’s going to be spoiled.” “My kids all slept 4-5 hours through the night from day one.” “He’s needy.”
Though we were content, I was caught up in the exhaustion of new motherhood and wondered if he really could be a “better” baby as others suggested. I tried all the things friends, family, and the internet suggested about feeding and sleeping schedules, swaddling, pacifiers, habit formation, etc. None of it changed that my baby was happiest snuggled up with me.
Around the same time, I had decided to expand my professional life and enrolled in a course to become a certified lactation counselor. This week-long course included some of the best advice I had been given for understanding mother-baby relationships and I suddenly questioned the strange desire for his feeding and sleeping habits to fit inside what others expected.
My aha-moment at that conference was when the instructor began talking about the different types of breastfeeding relationships among mammals. She categorized two main types of mammals when it comes to breastfeeding, nesters, and carriers.
Nesting mammals produce milk that is high in fat content and satisfies their babies for long periods of time (deer, rabbits, and mice). They typically feed their babies a few times a day and then leave them, concealed and safe in nests, for many hours while they go search for food.
On the other hand, carrying mammals (like apes and kangaroos) produce milk that is low in fat and digests quickly. They carry their babies around nearly constantly and feed around the clock. Attempting to leave these young animals alone for any length of time results in distress to baby and an interruption of their natural feeding process.
Then she went on to explain that as humans, we often try to act like nesting mammals; creating beautiful “nests” or nurseries, investing in all sorts of gadgets and “containers” for our babies to sleep and play in, and measuring how “good” a baby is by how many hours they will lie or sleep alone. There are endless resources out there about feeding and sleeping schedules, crib training, self-soothing, and how to correct “needy” or “clingy” behavior. But almost all of this is based on one big misconception…because in reality humans are (you guessed it) carrying mammals! Our babies are born with an intrinsic need to be close to their mothers, to regulate stress levels and body temperature based on biological responses to mama, to feed on demand and fine-tune milk supply, and to just feel safe and loved next to the heartbeat they’ve heard from the very beginning.
I had already come to learn my own version of this, but having it explained in such simple terms and normalized was life-changing for me. I learned that it was okay (and preferable!) to judge how we were doing by listening to my baby and following his cues, not by the opinions of others on how many hours of sleep I was getting. Having this knowledge from the beginning would have been so empowering and taken away so many hours of stress and worry. I couldn’t go back and change those early weeks with my firstborn, but I was able to approach my second baby with so much more confidence and ease.
So if you are in this phase or know a mama who is, if your baby is rejecting the “nest” or only wants you, know that they are totally and completely normal and that you are helping them build a strong foundation of trust and confidence in their little world, regardless of anyone else’s opinion about what they “should” be doing. Snuggle them, carry them, wear them in a wrap, breastfeed as often as they want, and love and grow them in whichever way you choose with the knowledge that you are the only nest they need.