Anyone expecting a new baby can also expect to be inundated with long expensive lists of all the things that the baby will absolutely need. I would like to take a moment to explain what you are really buying when you use these items.
First of all, most of the items listed for babies, other than clothing or diapers, can be lumped under the category of "Mother Substitutes". This grouping includes cribs, bassinets, cradles, playpens, portable cribs, swings, carriages, strollers, pacifiers, bottles and toys. I'm not including carseats in this category because their purpose is to keep the baby safe, not to free up the mother. All the rest of the items I have mentioned serve the sole purpose of freeing either the mother's arms or her time. Now, don't get me wrong, mothers' arms do get tired and there are things that can't be done very easily while holding an infant. It can be extremely useful to have a safe place to put the baby. So, while I'm not trying to suggest that it is wrong to ever use any of these contraptions, I do think they should be used with caution and awareness.
Let's take something that's considered to be pleasurable for the baby, or certainly harmless: the stroller or baby carriage. What could be wrong with a stroller? Well, think about it for a moment. When you put an infant in a stroller, she is no longer in your arms. This means that the three dimensional movement that she had been experiencing as you moved has been reduced to a two dimensional movement, mostly in the forward direction. Because of her much lower vantage point, her view is also greatly reduced. Often small babies in a carriage can see nothing but the sides or tops of their own carriage. In contrast, an infant in her mother's arms or sling can see in all directions. For both these reasons, the stroller is simply much less enriching for the child. Finally, being separated from the mother so that the baby cannot smell or touch her can cause anxiety in some babies. In short, the stroller is not as good for the baby's mental development as being carried. On top of that, a stroller can be a pain in the neck. If you look around, you'll often see people trying to drag empty strollers after toddlers who insist on walking, or trying to push empty strollers while carrying children who insist on being held.
Does this mean that you should never use a stroller? If your child enjoys a stroller ride or you have extra packages to carry, a stroller can be very useful. However, don't fool yourself into thinking it is equivalent to a ride in your arms.
The crib is even more controversial. In my opinion, young children should not be sleeping away from their mothers. Any early humans who came upon the idea of having their children sleep in another area probably did not end up contributing anything to the gene pool. Nowadays, our houses are so secure that we can worry more about a good night sleep than about the safety of our children. That doesn't make it right for our species. Humans are highly gregarious, and human children are among the least well developed at birth, requiring care for longer than any other species. Most people don't like to sleep alone, and most children require some care during the night. Enough said.
If there is one type of mother substitute that I would be especially cautious of, it's the pacifier. Although pacifiers can give mothers a few moments of peace, they often lead to early weaning, a serious health threat. The human milk supply requires a positive feedback mechanism. That means that the more the baby suckles at the breast, the more milk is made. Children often need to increase their nursing before a growth spurt to stimulate the breasts to make enough milk. Any sucking that is done on a pacifier, or a bottle for that matter, is sucking that is not being done on the breast and is therefore not helping to maintain or increase the milk supply. Some babies can maintain the mother's milk supply despite spending a fair amount of time sucking on a pacifier, but most cannot.
Besides not stimulating the mother's breast, pacifiers can cause even greater harm to the breastfeeding relationship if the baby gets "nipple confusion". This occurs when the baby confuses the breast with the pacifier. Sucking on a pacifier or a bottle requires completely different mouth positions than sucking at the breast. If the baby tries to suck on your nipple the same way he has been sucking on a pacifier, he won't get any milk and you will be in a great deal of pain.
Finally, pacifiers have also been linked to ear infections in babies. I therefore recommend that pacifiers (and bottles) be used sparingly, if at all.
Toys can also be mother substitutes. If you give your infant a soft toy or blanket (also called a "lovie") in the hopes that she will attach to that toy, you are giving her a mother substitute. That way, she won't care if you leave her; she'll have her toy to comfort her. Like all the other mother substitutes, this can be very useful for the mother, and even pleasurable for the baby. However, children should get the bulk of their comforting from other human beings, not from inanimate objects.
If all these common products are "mother substitutes" that increase separation between mothers and babies, are there any products that increase attachment? I can think of only one: the baby carrier. Baby carriers make it easier for mothers to carry their babies. The best ones allow you to "wear" your baby all day as you go about your business. Most babies are extremely happy with this arrangement, and you won't need any of the other stuff I've mentioned.
Obviously, I have covered only a handful of baby products among the thousands that are out there. These are the one I feel the strongest about, either negatively or positively. Unless a product is essential, I recommend not buying it until after the baby is born and you have some time to see if it will fit into your household or routine. Also, babies have different preferences, and yours may hate a product that all your friends' babies adore.
Written by Kathryn Orlinsky, Ph.D, Editor of Beyond One Year
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