Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Godly Symbiosis

The Belgic Confession states that one of the ways we know God is by observing his creation:

"First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20."

I have long operated on the premise that the Bible and nature can be reconciled and that neither will lie to us. If they appear to contradict each other, either our interpretation of the Bible is false or the conclusions we draw from nature are false.

For example, there are folks out there who believe that the Bible's teachings on parenting contradict the needs that our children naturally and biologically require. They teach that, because parents need to establish their authority from birth, parents must feed their infant on a rigid schedule and must only attend to their needs when they cry. For example, only pick up a crying baby if they need to be changed or fed. A child's cry is their sinful way of trying to manipulate the parent, therefore, the parent must assess what the child wants or needs based on the type of cry.

Of course, the fact that parents are their children's authority is totally biblical. Parents have been charged with raising their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. They are to teach and instruct their children in God's ways day and night. We are to admonish them and discipline them.

Does this mean, however, that we must follow Gary Ezzo's way of parenting in order to establish that authority?

I believe that we can look to the way God created mothers and babies to determine whether or not Ezzo parenting is Godly and, therefore, valid.

God has designed breastfeeding as the primary way mothers feed their babies- and for good reason. Human milk contains all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and fat that a baby needs in order to grow and develop. The exact make-up of the milk is changes for each child based on what they need. No two children will have the same milk from their mother. Breastmilk digests much more quickly than artificial baby milk. It usually takes between one and three hours for a baby to digest his meal, so it is entirely within the realm of possibility that he will be hungry again an hour after he is fed. The content of breastmilk changes throughout the day. In the evening, breastmilk tends to be fattier so the baby will feel full longer. As babies begin to learn the difference between night and day, they will often nurse longer in the evening in order to get the benefit of more hindmilk which will keep them feeling full for longer periods of time.

In other words, just like adults, infants are hungry at different times during the day and sometimes more often than usual depending on when they last ate and the content of the milk.

Milk production is stimulated by the nursing infant. The more the baby nurses, the more milk the mother will produce. Over time, as babies nurse less, mother produces less milk. Every few weeks or so, babies experience a growth spurt and require more milk from their mothers. They will naturally breastfeed more often and for longer periods of time in order to create a larger supply. If a baby is nursed every three hours or so and for only 20 minutes at a time, the mother's supply will not keep up with what the baby requires to grow. Supply drops. Nursing usually ends long before what is best for the baby.

In other words, God has designed the baby to tell the mother's body what it needs nutritionally.

Most women feel what is known as "let down" when their baby nurses. After a few minutes of rapid sucking, the milk moves from the upper ducts down into the middle part of the breast. But a baby need not suck for a mother to let down. Oftentimes, it is the baby's cry that will bring down a mother's milk. I've heard several stories from women who have been out on a quick errand and feel their milk let down. They come back home to find that the baby is fussing and is ready to eat.

Babies give cues when they are ready to eat. They are not capable of demanding to be fed, but they are capable of telling us when they need to nurse. Babies root and suck on things other than the breast. They squirm. They cry. They aren't demanding. They are do what they were created to do in order to let their mother's know that they need to nurse.

In other words, a mother's body is designed to respond physically to her baby's requirement for food and a baby's body is designed to signal his mother that he needs to nurse.

However, nursing for nutrition is not the only biological reason we breastfeed. Human babies also nurse for comfort. Their sucking reflex is so strong that if they are not pacified orally, then nothing will soothe them. Nursing for comfort is not an infant's attempt to manipulate his mother. He isn't physically capable of performing that kind of cognitive function yet let alone carry it out. Babies operate on instinct, much like animals. I know this troubles a lot of Christians and I understand that, but I think there's no denying that humans do share a number of physical characteristics with animals. All mammals nurse their infants. This is by God's design. Do all mammals nurse for comfort? I don't know. Probably not. Some mammals are capable of nurturing their young like humans do, but most do not, at least not in a way that we would find valuable. We are different from animals, after all.

Babies cry for all kinds of reasons- not just because they're hungry. This is their only way to communicate that something isn't right with them. Crying is not manipulative. How else is a baby supposed to tell you that his foot itches and he can't scratch it? How else is a baby supposed to tell you that he is lonely and wants some company? How else is a baby supposed to tell you that he likes the way fleece feels against his skin rather than polyester? His only method of communication is to cry. Its not a battle of wills- he isn't trying to force his parent to do what he wants. He is trying to communicate that he has a need.

Babies who are left to "cry it out", especially in the first few weeks, will eventually stop- not because they have learned their lesson- but because they have learned its of no use. Their parent isn't coming so there's no point. What Gary Ezzo points to as an establishment of parental authority is actually a child who has given up.

In other words, human mothers are designed by God to comfort their children with the breast. Babies are designed to be comforted orally and by physical closeness with the parent. Think about it- a baby has just spent nearly 10 months curled up in a ball surrounded by amniotic fluid and muscle. He hears constant noise 24 hours a day for most of that time. He is born and all of a sudden he's supposed to stretch out and soothe himself? Babies are designed by God to cry when they need something- and comfort is a major need for babies. I'm sure most of us would not appreciate it if, when we are upset, our closest loved one told us to soothe ourselves.

And finally, babies are not designed to sleep through the night for most, if not all, of the first six months of life (or longer!). Babies awaken at night as a sort of defense mechanism against SIDS. It is not ideal for an infant to fall into the deepest stages of sleep. His nervous system is still developing. Babies who fall into a deep sleep will often forget to breathe. One of the reasons breastmilk is so quickly digested is so that the baby will not sleep through the night but awaken to eat. Babies physically require a minimum of 6 feedings in a 24 hour period. If you're not night- nuring, you're skipping at least one of those feedings.... minimum. Its one thing of the baby establishes that pattern himself. Its quite another to have that pattern forced on him by a parent who is intent on telling their baby when to be hungry and when to sleep.

Personally, I'm not at all impressed when someone says their two month old infant sleeps through the night. My first thought is- at what cost? And considering that God has not designed our babies to sleep through the night, I question why parents are so eager to force this unnatural pattern on their children. Well, I know why- they want to sleep! But really, its only for a season.

God has created a wonderful symbiosis between parent and child and, more specifically, between mother and child. He has designed our breasts to feed our young. They fill with milk especially designed for the specific baby. Milk supply is established based by the baby based on how often and how long they nurse. Babies are designed to be comforted orally and they are not physically or psychologically capable of manipulating their parents. They are also designed to awaken in the night. Aside from the fact that young infants physically need to be fed at night in order to optimally grow and develop.

Parental authority is important- I'm not trying to downplay that- but I think it behooves us to really consider how we establish that authority and at what cost. I believe we must look at the Bible and nature to tell us how to nurture our children. Our children, by nature, cue feed, cry for comfort, and wake up at night. And mothers, by nature, use their breasts and their arms to offer that comfort.


  1. Thanks for your post. I found it via another blog or two (starting at SortaCrunchy). Anyhow, I had an every-hour nurser at the beginning as well as a poor sleeper. I tried to make Baby Wise work and praise God it was clear very quickly that it would not work for us. My pediatrician told me,"He seems hungry, I think you need to demand feed" and that gave me so much freedom. It was as though I needed permission to NOT have him on a rigid schedule. Taking that book out of the equation made me much happier. Still tired but much happier both in the short term and in the long run. At 9 months he still wakes up to nurse and because I said "goodbye" to that book, this does not freak me out. I cherish it.

  2. Thank you for this insightful post! I have been amazed at how little is communicated to new mothers about how breast production functions as I've talked to my friends. I will send them all to this post!
    I have noticed with my own kids that when they fall over (I have one learning to walk and another who likes to climb) the best thing to comfort them is to nurse, even if they've just eaten. Their crying stops immediately.
    Also, with regards to babies waking in the night, I feel it is imperative that they wake otherwise they are at risk for dehydration. If my 10 month old started to sleep 12 hours a night, I would still go in and nurse her at least once, just to protect her immune system.

  3. I like & agree with your post. My son is 3 months old and I've been sleeping thru the night for a while now...'cuz we do the co-sleeping and he wakes & nurses whenever he needs. All I have to do is turn over & switch sides a couple times. Not for everyone, but works great for us. =)

    I'm a firm believer in the trust factor. We can help our kids to recognize our authority by showing them they can trust us to meet their needs.

  4. Oh man, nursing in bed saved my sanity. Its tricky to learn, but when you learn it, the sleep returns! Isn't breastfeeding such a blessing? Moms AND babies get to sleep without the baby (or the mom!) having to suffer.

  5. great words of wisdom. glad that you addressed the need for authority/discipline... but that it is separate from nursing/comforting/not scheduling babe.

  6. uh-oh... do i dare comment? i really don't want to stir the pot, but i have to say that some of the principles in baby-wise kept me sane. i truly respect any well thought out, caring and Godly efforts at parenting, and would not suggest that scheduled feeding would work for all, but it worked for us. i guess we actually tried a "schedule" approach realizing that there would be times when the "demand" must override. there were times when i had a hungry baby that wasn't "supposed" to be hungry yet, and of course i fed him.

    in my case i felt it was important not to use nursing as the "go-to" method for comforting or hushing a crying baby. the fact that a soothing voice, or a hug, or swinging, or a pacifier, or some other kind of distraction was employed allowed for my sons to receive comfort from the other people in their lives who love them very much and wanted to comfort and love them.

    on another point, i respectfully submit that "crying it out" worked for us. it happened once with both boys. it was about a 45 minute experience with both. while i was quite sensitive with the feeding schedule, nap time was not up for discussion. i knew that as fatigued as i was, my own health and well being lay in the balance. during both of those 45 minute episodes, i had a child that i knew was exhausted and stubborn. so, every 3 minutes, for 45 minutes or so, i would calmly walk back into the room, lay the child down in his crib, explain that it was time to lay still and be quiet, explain that i would let him know as soon as it was time to get up, and then leave the room. i never let either of them reach the panic stage of crying. i was always there to offer reassurance, but i also let it be known that nap time was mommy's decision, not theirs.

    i now have a 6 yr old who still naps as needed (as directed), and an 8 yr old who simply stopped needing to nap around age 3. he has had "quiet time" as needed (as directed) ever since. mine are not children who have "given up". they have simply been molded to fit into the requirements of our daily family life. they both understand that they are a very important PART of our family. a "part" but not the "whole".

    please understand that i offer these comments simply as another point of view, and though i may differ with the other readers, my intent is not to criticize.

    jennifer, thank you for a well thought-out post!