Monday, April 19, 2010

A Letter From Jane: Babies

Dear Readers,

We’ve talked a lot about love on this blog—about the importance of not just loving our children, but of making sure that they feel our love continually. Naturally that connection begins long before our children can understand the words, “I love you.” I believe that we begin making that connection before our children are born. New breakthroughs in science are proving that when an expectant mother loves and wants her baby, she emits high levels of serotonin which actually contribute to her baby’s brain formation. That means that when you feel excitement and pleasure just dreaming about your baby—your baby receives physiological benefits as he develops within you. What an astonishing thought! And of course when you take good care of yourself during pregnancy--eating nutritious foods, exercising and avoiding harmful substances, your baby is the recipient. I used to love taking a walk in the sunshine, breathing in the fresh air and feeling that sense of well-being that went deeper than just me.

When babies are loved and wanted before they ever come, they arrive with a great start. But I’ve come to believe that the first year of life is perhaps the most important one of all. I remember holding my own first baby for the first time—all the mixture of feelings—amazement, awe, recognition and a bit of inadequacy. Never had anyone needed me so much. He was all made out of…me. His skin, his fluffy hair, his little bright eyes. Here he was breathing, squinting around, trying to find food and I was what he wanted. When he was a few days old, I was marveling to my sister about how connected and intertwined we were—him needing to eat, me needing to feed him, how much he loved to be with me, how much I craved his feel and smell. She made a comment that set a course for my life as a mother. She said, “I read once that babies don’t realize that they are separate people from their mothers. As far as they’re concerned, you and he are the same person.” Yes. That’s exactly what it felt like.

For each of my babies, the first year of life is a time of very close, tight nurturing. They sleep near me (or with me), they bathe with me, they eat when they are hungry, I hold them when they want, they go where I go. I am definitely an attached parent. For each of our 11 children, I have basically given myself over to them for the first year. And through the years, I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about bonding. It’s just a fascinating subject for me. Imagine how excited I was when I stumbled upon a book one day at the library called, “The Biology of Love”. It’s written by a Dr. Arthur Janov who has developed therapies over the years to help people who got off to a bad start in life. He demonstrates in the book that during the first year of life, the brain is still very much in formative stages and that the parents complete the important connections that will last through their child’s life-time.

The book is intense but here is my best summation of it. I know it’s an over-simplification, but just tell me that it doesn’t make perfect sense to you. The brain is very complex but is divided into two hemispheres. One controls emotions and feelings while the other controls logical reasoning and thinking. When a baby is born, the logical side is dormant. It won’t kick in for about two years. But the feeling side is entirely active. A baby may not understand anything we say, but they are fully attuned to our voice, our expression, our smell, our touch. They cry and we respond—and as we do, we are building connections. The mechanisms in their brain that produce serotonin and dopamine are set. When babies are routinely neglected, there are whole sections of brain connections that are “pruned out” and unrecoverable. These babies grow up with hungers and needs that they can’t explain so they often turn to drugs or alcohol for relief. I realize that none of you neglect your babies to that extent. But I really believe that it’s impossible to give a child too much love or to respond too much in the first year. Dr. Janov points out that the process of nurturing a baby is labor-intensive but that we will put in the time now or later—now in building what he calls “a loved brain” that functions well and responds appropriately to life—or later, trying to understand and remedy problems from early neglect.

My sister’s casual comment was true. Our babies really are incomplete with only half of a brain—the feeling half. We provide the logical side until theirs is functional. It’s up to us to meet the needs that they can’t articulate or meet themselves. And it’s helpful to realize that they are not logical enough to have an agenda—to manipulate us. They only know that they need something, and often that “something” is just to be with us.

When a baby emerges from their first year with “a loved brain”—the feeling side of their brain fully connected and formed, the logical side of the brain begins to develop. Connections form between the two sides of the brain to create an emotionally healthy person. A person with a loved brain is more likely to be able to form strong, meaningful relationships throughout his life, to cope with and solve difficult problems he will encounter in life and to have a deeper ability to perceive right and wrong—because he understands and “feels” the impact of his actions on others.

I believe this. There is evidence of it all around us. And while it may seem like a burdensome bit of information, it is, for me, truly freeing and motivating. I am free to love my babies without reservation. And I am doing everything I can to insure a happy life for them. I know they’ll have hardships and difficulties as we all do. I can’t spare them those things. But I can give them their best chance to handle those things well.

I was talking to a young mother in our ward a few years ago. She was frustrated because she hadn’t done a thing for three days except hold her 2-month old baby—who was unusually fussy. The house was falling down around her and she couldn’t get anything done. I shared some excerpts with her from “The Biology of Love” and reassured her that though it didn’t seem like it, she was doing something permanently good as she rocked and soothed her baby. Later she told me how helpful that information was—that it had really changed her perspective. That’s what I hope this is for you—just a deeper understanding of the role you’re playing.

Over my lifetime as a mother, I’ve seen a quiet, concerted movement aimed at separating babies from mothers. In our society, women are cautioned to look after their own interests first. Modern methods encourage mothers to teach their babies to soothe themselves—that the ultimate success is to make your baby as independent as early as possible. Why is that success? A neat compartmentalized life doesn’t work with babies. Their needs vary from day to day and their deepest needs are often met at inconvenient times.

I know that you’re picturing a mother run ragged trying to meet the demands of her new baby as well as the rest of the family. But it really hasn’t been like that for me. I’ve found great personal pleasure in that first year and a deep sense of accomplishment. My husband is wonderful with babies—and I think it’s partly because I’ve shown him how to enjoy them. My other children have learned (without any formal lessons) that babies are precious and wonderful. Babies uniquely bind a family together. One of my favorite memories was bringing our seventh baby home from the hospital and laying him on my bed. The children all came in and gathered around. One of them said, “It’s like he’s a little fire and we’re all getting warm.”

Sometimes I want to say to young mothers: “Throw all the books away and follow your instincts.” Tie that baby on and take him with you. Don’t dole out love in measured doses. Just make it as natural as air. Kiss, snuggle, smell, whisper to, caress that baby all that you want to. Picture their little brain lighting up and thriving.

I’m including two pictures with this post. These are two of the few pieces of art that I own. The first you might recognize as “The Responsible Woman” by James Christensen. I love that with all of her other responsibilities, her baby is cradled in and content.

The second is a statue that my son Nick brought home to me from his mission to Bolivia. I guess he knew what I would love! I love how simple and primitive this relationship looks—no car seats or strollers or swings or fancy nursery—just this essential mother/baby relationship that transcends worldly trends and trappings.

Of course, this “immersion in love” that takes place in the first year, naturally segues into the loving approach we’ve discussed as our children grow older.

If you are still reading, you deserve a medal! This post has been a small book. But I hope there is something in it that will encourage you forward in this great work. Ezra Taft Benson, in summing up the ten ways a mother could be effective in her child’s life, ended with this jewel.

“Tenth and finally, mothers, take the time to truly love your children. A mother's unqualified love approaches Christlike love."

Here is a beautiful tribute by a son to his mother:

"I don't remember much about her views of voting nor her social prestige; and what her ideas on child training, diet, and eugenics were, I cannot recall. The main thing that sifts back to me now through the thick undergrowth of years is that she loved me. She liked to lie on the grass with me and tell stories, or to run and hide with us children. She was always hugging me. . . . And I liked it. She had a sunny face. To me it was like God, and all the beatitudes saints tell of Him. And sing! Of all the sensations pleasurable to my life nothing can compare with the rapture of crawling up into her lap and going to sleep while she swung to and fro in her rocking chair and sang. Thinking of this, I wonder if the woman of today, with all her tremendous notions and plans, realizes what an almighty factor she is in shaping of her child for weal or woe? I wonder if she realizes how much sheer love and attention count for in a child's life."

Sheer love. I like that. And let me just add, at the risk of sounding patronizing—that I love you as well. Through the miracle of blogging, I’ve visited many of your homes and seen your babies. Each of you melt my heart. Good, good things are happening out there! Thank you for your dedication to this process.

All my love,



  1. Love that post. Although, I am not an attachment parenting type, I spend lots of time loving and holding my kids/babies. When #3 was born, I thought it would put me over the top. I thought that it would be too much for me. But the more I loved him and held him, the more joy I felt. Therefore, the more happiness I found in my calling of mother. I have more love for my other children as well. Granted, my bathrooms are a little less clean, but it's worth it. I have found great joy in being a mother. I believe I found that by pouring love into the little souls around me.

  2. I love the idea of this book, because it resounds true with my soul. The "cry it out" method, especially at the tender age of two or three months made me feel physically ill as a new mother, and I just couldn't try it. As I responded to all my son's needs, I loved him more and more and felt our bond grow immensely. Babies are just that, helpless babies, they need to be "babied" and not expected to fend for themselves, which is what I think the idea of independent babies is! They'll thrive off gaining independence as toddlers- don't rush it!!!

  3. Okay, Jane. I believe you. But I need help The last little while I've thought I need to be better for my baby. She's 12 mo old now, but has never been too good of a sleeper. I guess this goes with the last post, but I just tried putting her down for a nap without letting her cry, and I decided I wasn't going to make her cry. So here it is almost 11:00 and she won't go down for a nap unless I let her cry for a little bit. Just the last few days I've thought I shouldn't let her cry it out. I've done CIO several times throughout her babyhood, and it doesn't really work for her. It helps sometimes, but I hate it. I HATE it. It was so easy for my son. Took one night, then he was sleeping for 14 hours a night and went down for naps without any fuss whatsoever EVER. Now my girl... anyway, I know what you said about the bottle. But what about naps? I don't give her cows milk (I think she's allergic, and it increases chances of Type 1 diabetes, which is in our family). I suppose I could give her rice milk. But what do you do for naps? Granted, she's 12 mo old, but sometimes I think I need to revert back to being more of an attached parent for a little while to make up for it. Not that I was detatched, but the sleeping thing I was. Or help from anyone. It's time for her nap... :) Thanks.

  4. I am the mother of a three month old baby girl and I must say how pleasantly surprised I was at how much I loved having a baby. Before she was born, I had oodles of friends telling me how the first several months are so hard and that I probably wouldn't enjoy it. Even now, when she needs to be rocked or snuggled, fed or changed, i get comments from so many mothers about how it's so hard to have to meet the demands of a baby. And in my mind all I can think about it what a pleasure it is, what a gift it is to be able to hold my little one in my arms (even if I'm tired and have been holding her all day) and help her to feel loved. I think it's wonderful that we, as mothers, get to help our children learn about the world. We get to help them feel how much love there is and I believe that by loving our babies, we can help them feel the Saviors love as well. It makes me sad that the first year of life is looked upon so negatively by so many. Yes, babies have a large dependence on us, but these needs are so simple to fill. I know as she grows bigger, her problems will get more and more complex and harder for me to guide her through, but I delight in the fact that right now her "struggles" are so easy for me to fix. I love nurturing this baby!

  5. Thanks so much for taking the time to write all this out. I feel like with each of my babies I've come to love that first year more and more, it has become more natural and less structured and stressful for me.

    Erin - Yes, I give my boys bottles for naps too. And as Jane's daughter, I can assure you that is what she did as well. After nursing, my son didn't like a milk bottle very well so I asked my mom how to get him to like it more. She suggested adding sugar to the bottle for a few days, then stopping once he got used to the bottle. It worked like a charm and now my 13 month old goes down without a fuss with a milk bottle.

  6. What a wonderful post- I need to be a little more nurturing during that first year, what great insights you have.

    Erin- I don't give my kids Cow's milk either. I would actually try Almond Milk (it is more nutritious than Rice) and it is more filling, a little thicker. I alternate between Rice and Almond with my kids.

  7. I think the tricky part about that first year is having realistic expectations about what you can do and not letting guilt keep you down. Its ok to leave a crying baby in the other room while you collect your thoughts, say a prayer for strength, and try to stop shaking. (anyone who has had a colicky baby knows what I'm talking about)

    In my case, sleep is a huge priority because I simply cannot function without it- I lose my sanity and my temper. So I had to separate myself from my baby at night so that I could be a loving competent mother during the day.

    Also, with older kids you have to make an extra effort to prove they are not being replaced. Sometimes the baby's needs must be met first but I try to put the others first when I can. For example even if baby is already fussing for a feeding I can get out some snacks for the other kids first.

    Its a juggling act, and if you try too many balls they will all end up on the floor. That's what I have realized so far is my own limitations and being ok with it. Always striving for improvement but not comparing myself to other mothers or feeling like a failure because my baby isn't 100% happy 100% of the time.

    You have such unique insights on mothering, Jane, and it inspires me to be better.

  8. Love this! Love it love it love it!! When I told some of my girlfriends that my babies sleep with me for the first 6 months (or more), they looked at me like I was crazy! This is so validating to read. Thank you!

  9. What a beautiful post! Thanks for helping all of us keep the proper perspective! With the right perspective the details aren't nearly as troubling! Love you, and love 'Asking Jane'!

  10. Well, I'm thinking the sleeping thing doesn't make much sense to me, I guess. I tried not letting her cry, I tried giving her something to drink. I still nurse, so I nursed, story, song... She just doesn't like going down and cries. She already missed her morning nap (because I didn't want to let her cry) and probably would have missed her afternoon nap if I didn't let her cry for 30 seconds. If your child puts up a fuss about naps, do you just let them miss? She doesn't cry all the time or anything, just if I'm inconsistent - like try putting her down, and she gets mad, so i pick her back up. It seems like it makes it worse. A lot worse. So what does this attachment parenting thing look like for sleep anyway? Obviously my kids go to bed earlier than I do, and I don't take naps.

  11. Jane, I usually agree with you on EVERYTHING. I am a devoted Mom and I love my babies more than ANYTHING in the world. I have had really good babies. They have been pleasant and content. When I brought my first child home from the hospital I set up camp in our bedroom and didn't want him out of my sight or reach. The problem was that I discovered something: it was absolutely impossible for either of us to get good sleep in this way. Once I moved him to his own bedroom, plopped him on his little tummy, and closed the door, I became the happiest mother in the world and you know what, he became the happiest baby in the whole world. My kids have all been champion sleepers and I hope you don't think I'm a bad mom because I love my kids enough to keep them well rested and myself well rested as well. I devote every WAKING moment to them, I can assure you.

    I really agree with what you said about babies knowing if they are wanted or not and the emotional benefits of that from the moment of conception.

  12. "It's like he's a little fire and we're all getting warm." That made me get really teary. What a sweet thing for a child to say about a new baby brother!

  13. I also love that quote about the "little fire"... how precious! I really love this post about nurturing babies... I feel that often in our culture, independence is pushed at the expense of connection. We do need to learn to be independent, but we also need to learn how to truly connect and love people... which is the most important lesson of babyhood.

    And Erin, I feel your frustration about a resistant napper, and I sympathize! For me, I have used slings and wraps with my kids since they were born, and even now with my 17 month old when he resists napping but is obviously tired, I will wrap him (the usual routine is lunch, books, lay in bed to nurse, binkie and cuddle to sleep) ... I get some major fussing at first if he is worked up and not wanting to sleep, but he will inevitably pass out within 5-10 minutes. I say be consistent with your daughter about the time of day and naptime routine (just like having a bedtime routine) and then stick with her (whether that's rocking, or standing next to her and patting her back, or laying with her in a bed etc). At 12 months you can be gentle but firm "it's time to go night night." Being an attached parent doesn't mean your child will never fuss if they don't like something, but it's different than just leaving her alone in her room to cry for an hour before falling asleep. I think if she is literally fussing for 30 seconds then falling asleep, there is not much harm in that. Good luck! =)

  14. thank you jane. my spirit just leaped with a huge resounding amen.
    i have forwarded your post along to many of my friends.

  15. Thanks Janerbee. That's helpful. At naps it's only about 30 seconds or a minute she fusses (if she fusses). But I have done cio several times, and I just don't want to do it anymore. And sometimes in the middle of the night it's fussing until I pick her up and feed her. But she's a year old... Honestly, I wouldn't mind feeding a 1 year old once at night. But if I feed her once tonight, it'll be twice tomorrow night, and 3 times the next night. I don't know why, but she'll keep waking up more and more. When it gets to the point where she wakes up every hour and a half, I start to get sort of a depression. I can't function during the day and I'm not as happy. It's such a hard balance. Every child is so different, that is one thing I sure am learning. :)

  16. Amen and amen! I agree with every word. When I was pregnant with my first I read somewhere that the first 9 months of a baby's life are like a second pregnancy. They need to be held close and kept near always just as when they were in the womb. I tell every new mom I know that you can't spoil a baby. I'm really looking forward to the birth of my next little one so I can have a baby to hold close all the time. Luckily my toddler likes to cuddle still too!

  17. I really just have to thank you for this post! Everything you say resonates true to my soul and I wish there was more advice like this out there for new mothers. I want to highlight, quote and add exclamation points to every paragraph! seems as though some readers feel a tad defensive, which I think is common and easy to do when reading a blog post, because no single post can completely and totally address all issues and nuances of a single subject. I would encourage people to not get hung up on the details of things like if, for how long, and to what degree you do or don't sleep with your baby etc.

    I think the point of this is just to give some insight as to why its so vitally important to nurture our babies without reservation, even though the pervasive attitude might be that independence at all costs is the most important thing when it comes to parenting.

    There is no one size fits all answer to any family or child...and we all have to do the best we can given our physical limitations as humans (which I think is the message I am hearing over and over here). I think that taking this advice to heart and changing our attitude about nurturing our babies its what's important...not how that specifically translates in your life or family.

    Thanks Jane for all the time and energy you give. I feel that your efforts are important and so valuable for those who receive them. I can't help linking you often;)

  18. What a wonderful love letter about the beginnings of motherhood. I loved it! Thanks for sharing your ideas and feelings. I wouldn't have thought that I would be an attachment parent, but I have turned out to be one in many respects, but not all. I just do what feels best and works best for our little family... and guess what? My instincts have never led me astray! I'm glad you said that about not reading the books and following your gut, it is so true! Actually, I've read several books and read a TON online, but then I just do what feels right and treat my reading like anecdotal advice. Take it all in with a grain of salt, and do your best. I love my baby girl SO much! She's going to be 11 months next week and I'm so excited to add to our family and do it all again. Thanks!

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  20. Sorry. I meant to say. I Love the little fire comment and the boys LOVE having a new baby they have been WONDERFUL! We love OUR little chub!

  21. Erin, just remember that there's a difference between a baby fussing for a second because she's tired and doesn't want to miss out on the fun, and one who's crying because she genuinely doesn't want to be in bed. If she's not fussing every time, my guess would be that you waited too long to put her down for a nap that time, and if you keep picking her up every time she makes a noise, it'll just make her more tired and cranky, and therefor fussy.

    I agree, there's no point putting a baby to bed if you can tell from her crying that she's not going to go to sleep, but just make herself upset. But if it's just a little fussing to help herself sleep, then you're doing her a disservice by not allowing her to sleep.

  22. Oh Erin I feel your pain! My first was the non-sleeper from birth. Once she got older, it was give an inch take a mile (think 18 mo). I think you have to just decide. Decide what to do and stick too it whatever that is. I developed a sleep routine with my daughter around 5 months as I was EXAUSTED (she didn't sleep - e-v-e-r)(healthy sleep habits, happy child was a huge help - my friend gave it to me) and just did it - and she is a great sleeper and much more flexible now as a 3 year old - really since she turned 2 she has been a breeze in this area. It was torture at some points and I constantly questioned myself and my choices. But I can tell you she is a happy, well rounded, sweet little girl. She and I are best friends. My son has been much less of a struggle, and so I think it is just some personalities, you know? She needed her sleep and I had to help facilitate that. Look for the cues like someone else said - maybe she's dropping her morning nap... My daughter did at 10 months, my son at 13. Have you tried an earlier bed time (can't remember if you said that?) of between 6:30 and 7pm. It sounds crazy, but if a child wakes up more rested, then the actually sleep better later in the day. Last thing - nap sleep and night sleep are different so you may need to take a different approach for each.
    You just do what you know is the right choice for you. After all that I just wanted you to know I totally understand!!!


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