Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Chocolate Teapot Tales, Part One: "The Croasdale Girl Hold"

Shortly after 4thSister was born (and before I was slain by my second bout of postnatal anxiety-meets-depression), I hit upon the idea of writing a book for my girls. I never intended publishing it, even as an e-book - I just wanted them to be able to have a reference manual on babyhood and childhood that both gave them the opportunity to see what worked for me as a mother, and gave a sneak peek at them when they were little. (It would work whether I had departed this earth or not, you see.) I fully intended to title it Chocolate Teapot, though, because sometimes (mostly?!) that's what unsolicited advice is as good as. And then in the wee hours I heard the universe (maybe even God) speaking to me. I don't need to let the project I abandoned languish because it didn't take form as a book. I can post short excerpts on the blog and collate them later for the littles. And it may even benefit other parents. And so it begins!

Welcome to Part One of the Chocolate Teapot Tales - 

The 4Sisters Hold

As I hope to write about in some sort of general introduction one day, before I was a parent, I read a slew of books, magazine and internet advice about how to deal with a newborn. Some of it worked; most of it didn't.

Occasionally I would come across this type of gem - "but remember! a mother knows best. trust your instinct!" and think - this may be true, but what if I don't have instinct? And I know that my grandparents parented differently from my parents. And subsequent generations turned things on their heads. And when it came to things such as feeding, it turned out I didn't have instinct, and needed help.

So what I would say instead is - YOU NEED TO FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU AND YOUR BABY. I will likely to say this in every post in the series. But it has got me through every time (even though I didn't have the confidence to practice it much with 1stSister, or even 2ndSister, but got more used to doing it as they kept coming.) And this is illustrated best with THE 4SISTERS HOLD.

By the time I got to 4thSister, I remembered from 3rdSister that this would work to placate a grizzly baby. Lest it sound too much like a football tackle, let me just say that over the years I found a perfect way that suited my babies to be soothed from the newborn stage. As a new mother, I had no idea that even once fed, babies may not be settled. Even if you are going to use a soother, they may not find it soothing. Even once they are happy with their nappy, they might fuss. And that whole thing about them falling asleep when they are tired - not in my book! Especially after a C-section, swaddling and snuggling your baby is a marathon in itself (although I will post on the swaddling controversy soon.) And imagine what this is like in a hospital ward when your milk hasn't come in, the midwives frown upon the soother you snuggled in yet your sweet girl is crying and can't settle! So - onto technique for THE 4SISTERS HOLD.

Quite simply, this revolves around placing baby near your beating heart. After all, this pulsing sound is something she* experienced in the uterus, and the shock of being away from it not to mention being born itself has been quite a deal for her, obviously. Sometimes just patting my babies gently on the back, in a pulse rhythm, when they were on their side in their cot helped soothe them. But the best way was, with me sitting or standing up, a vertical hold to my front left breastbone, baby's front lying against my chest, baby's head almost peeping over my shoulder, secured by the back of their legs, and using my right hand to gently pat baby. (Yes, sometimes this worked for getting wind up, too!)

Hold your baby at your chest. Allow her legs to rest naturally on either side of her body with her knees bent comfortably. If your baby tries to stand you may need to gently guide her legs to either side of her body.
Illustration of this type of hold
by a OneLoveBabyCarriers model 

This was especially useful for the first couple of days in hospital when I wasn't mobile due to a caesarean, and I could just yank the little 'un out of her cot and hoist her up onto my chest.

But I also have fond memories of my MotherInLaw volunteering to 'walk around with the baby a bit', where she would carry my children in a similar way. Which not only shows that this is a method with history, but that doing it with mobile probably helps, too. It also demonstrates why front slings work well, too (although I will post on the extreme lack of success I had with slings too)! People still tend to think that holding a baby in folded arms is helpful, but I wonder whether this is more to do with the rocking/jiggling motion that arms can make. (I also practised this, especially when a child was desperate to sleep, but it didn't always work the magic. Overtired babies of mine would hate the lying down position.) Again, another MotherInLaw tip - ask the mother of the baby you have been asked to hold, how the baby likes to be held.

I suspect that this hold works best when the midwife-encouraged 'skin on skin' contact occurs - i.e. when both you and baby are chest naked. Google 'shoulder hold' 'snuggle hold', 'cuddle hold', 'chest on chest' or 'tummy on tummy' and you'll find others recommend this type of hold for other reasons too. (Before I started this post I knew I didn't invent this type of hold, but neither did I know it had so many names!) I do remember this promoting bonding and being a lovely and wonderful experience. But again, not necessarily possible if you are in hospital. Or dashing around looking after several other children.

FabDad with 3rdSister, August 2010
Similarly, it will work for fathers, skin on skin
or otherwise, as will the pacing around the floor trying to settle the baby in the wee hours while mum gets an hour or two of sleep. Your older children can try it too (with supervision if you feel it is necessary). Just make sure baby isn't hungry or she may start 'rooting' for the nearest nipple as source of food...

Speaking of which, I'll insert a disclaimer here to say that I don't advise falling asleep yourself with your baby like this. I've done it and lived to tell the tale, but health professionals in 2015 don't advocate falling asleep holding your baby, let alone in a hold like this one. I've been told this in the hospital and baby was returned to her cot by a midwife only to refuse to settle and keep everyone awake. But current advice is not to do this and although co-sleeping isn't advocated by midwives and health visitors either, if you are going to do this anyway there are health service guidelines published on the subject.

Similarly, although as I remember baby tends to do this anyway, some online information on this 'Snuggle Hold' method advises that you ensure baby's head is turned slightly to the side so that they can breathe, so perhaps I should mention it too!

Regrettably I don't have any photographs of me holding my littles like this, possibly because I used it at times when I was trying to comfort them at naptime. I do remember that my learning curve on this evolved, because I had no clue what I was doing with 1stSister who, in retrospect, was incredibly tactile but probably didn't benefit much from this hold because I thought that every time she cried she needed breastfeeding, so soothed her that way initially. And it wasn't until 4thSister that I knew what I was doing - well, with this one hold at least!

For other early 21st century advice on holding a baby, try these links: - promotes the Snuggle Hold but also includes other ways like the cradle hold - a video demonstration

There is also plenty of information out there on how carrying a baby like this or this way in a sling is proven to be better than laying them flat or putting them in a stroller. I'll explore this further when I blog about our attempts with a sling. Just like the advice that promotes the snuggle hold, though, please make sure you don't worry if what someone else says is best doesn't work for you. You and baby will find your own way. And always remember - some advice is as much use as a chocolate teapot!

*I will no doubt use the pronoun she a lot, because I have four girls. Please note this isn't some eway to disappear the male sex from the lexicon. It's just the way I'm going to write.

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