How to SOUL Feed: Skin-to-Skin, Oxytocin, Unplug, Listen
When parents have shame and guilt around not being able to or not wanting to breastfeed or there are adopted parents and male parents that can’t breastfeed, we are driving a wedge between these parents and babies. Let’s lift the pressure to breastfeed exclusively, and support parents & caregivers to bond with children,
We might actually have an effect of more breastfeeding from a place of empowerment rather than a place of guilt. But, right now, many women are simply spending their time crying over not breastfeeding. Or they spend way too much time with the breast pump when they could be spending that time bonding with their child instead. I personally spent countless hours trying to increase my milk supply. Even after my son weaned, I was so convinced of the magic powers of breastmilk, that I went through a month of trying to revive my supply while producing no more than a drop of milk and basically making myself insane from the fluctuating hormones. Yet, time and again, when my husband spent the most skin to skin time with my son, my child always chose my husband over me in a crisis. When I was spending time cuddling and skin to skin, then he would prefer to go to me in a rough time. I know the strong bond that is created through touch.
You can also read here — my own story with breastfeeding and formula and shared insights from research as to why this is important, but let’s now talk about what to do. To help improve outcomes for children later in life, let’s work to ditch the distracted feeding practices and instead incorporate SOUL feeding (Skin-to-skin, Oxytocin, Unplug & Listen).
This is not an easy society shift to make when many lives revolve around cell phones and computers and TV. There are so many gadgets in our modern society that accelerate our lives, but when it comes to a newborn baby — we MUST slow down. If we ignore our children while we are feeding them, this is what is going to cause harm later in life. It’s not the formula.
In a research study by Allison Ventura, she showed that infants of parents who were using “non-responsive” feeding practices (not holding the baby while feeding and also being distracted by technology during feeding) had a higher risk of weight gain and obesity. If you are paying attention to your child while they are eating, you can better respond to their cues of hunger and you will be less likely to overfeed them. This will set you up well for when you start feeding them solid foods. If you are tuned in to your eating — without distractions — then you and your child will learn to better understand and pay attention to hunger cues. This is especially interesting because one of the touted benefits of breastfeeding is less obesity later in life, but I really think it’s about infant-caregiver interactions.
“Thus, it is well established that an important foundation for promoting healthy development during early childhood is the promotion of caregivers’ sensitivity and responsiveness during caregiver-infant interactions.”
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So, if you are wondering how to create this bonded feeding time in your family, here some tips:
Skin to Skin
- Minimum once per day for 60 minutes at a time with your baby.
- Baby’s bare skin to parent’s bare chest.
- Always hold your baby close when feeding, practice skin to skin when possible.
- The soothing power of touch is needed by both us and our baby.
- It helps aid in digestion and absorption of nutrients.
- Toddlers and older children need closeness and cuddling even when they are no longer bottle or breastfeeding.
Here’s a great article specifically on skin to skin or Kangaroo care as it is also called:
Oxytocin — We all need this feel-good hormone and you need support from others — for caregiving, household chores and feeding — so that you can give from a full place.
- Feed yourself before you feed your child.
- Prioritize your health and intuition.
- Reach out to others for support. We need hugs and positive touch from adults, we need downtime, and we need to feel appreciated.
- Sniffing your baby creates oxytocin, and being skin to skin while feeding will give you plenty of time to stop and sniff.
- Enlist the help of your partner, wise women, grandparents and other helpers to get you through the first period of adjusting to feeding (get help for breastfeeding issues if needed and feed formula if you have low milk supply or feel you will do better overall without breastfeeding).
- Don’t try to tough it out alone, and trust your instincts if your doctor or midwife is not giving you the answers you seek. Find different helpers.
- Share the chores in the household. If you are exclusively breastfeeding, make sure your partner is helping with chores and baby care. It’s not possible to do everything baby-related and chores as well without serious burnout. If you are a single parent, enlist help with some of those other aspects so you can have time to yourself.
- Be present and aware in the moment of feeding and then allow yourself time to disengage when the baby is taking a nap or playing on the floor. It’s ok to take time for yourself.
- When feeding, put the phone, computer, TV and other distractions away.
- Bonding comes when you tune in to your child and tune out the rest of the world.
- Excuse yourself from conversations with toxic or stressed out people.
- Find a calm space. Sometimes out in public, this is difficult, but if you practice tuning in to your child at home, then you can do that even in a crowded place.
- Help your child create calm in the middle of a distracted world. They will learn from what you do more than what you later say.
- When you are eating, put the phone or handheld devices away and turn off the TV. This practice has been proven to help decrease the risk of obesity later in life.
- Practicing mindfulness in eating and feeding for both you and your child, will set your child up for healthy habits later in life. Pay attention while you are eating, so that you are aware of when you are full. Then, if you pay attention to your child without distractions while they are eating, you can also tell when they are full.
- Communicate with your baby. Babies might not be talking yet, but they are communicating from the moment they are in your womb. Some souls might have even made a connection with you (and your partner), long before the moment of conception.
- Recognize that they are here for a purpose and that you wish to tune in to them. Honor their wisdom and intelligence by listening — with all your senses — to what they are saying to you.
- If your baby is crying after feedings, and seeming distressed and losing weight, check with your doctor to see if you need to supplement breastfeeding or if you need to switch to a different formula due to allergies. Learn the risk factors for insufficient milk production so that you can be prepared to supplement if that’s what your child needs.
- Try to feel your child’s spirit/presence through your skin to skin time and through the feeding. Take this as a chance to slow down a moment and form this special bond with your child.
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When my toddler is acting out, he is almost always sad about something that happened, is tired or has an upset stomach. When I stop and cuddle him and hold him and talk to him and look him in the eye, his mood changes. My mood changes. We reconnect.
It does take a whole village to raise a child and in this increasingly technology-oriented and global society, we have to also remember the fundamental law of connection between each other. As we work to be present with our children and bond with them, they will grow into the children of tomorrow that will help to remind us of our humanity and connectedness.