Two weeks ago we welcomed our third child, a girl, into the family. We've enjoyed the days at home together as a family, resting, bonding, and adjusting to our new dynamic. As any new parent knows, newborns spend the majority of their time eating and sleeping. I'd forgotten, however, just how much of my time would be spent feeding her.
At first, feeding times provided much appreciated breaks while my husband entertained the other two kids. I was so enchanted with our daughter that I could just sit and watch her the whole time she ate. Yet after about 80 of these feeding sessions, the exhaustion began to set in and I started to feel antsy. I found myself cycling through social media more and more while nursing. Mindlessly scrolling on my phone does not make me feel smarter, happier, or more fulfilled, and it certainly doesn’t bond me to my infant. I decided it was time to come up with some new nursing activities that would benefit me and my newborn. So far, the following activities have been a great fit for us.
Many mothers find themselves watching their infants admiringly while they sleep, nurse, or coo, and it’s not just because they are so cute. When a mother looks at her baby or even a picture of her baby, the reward center of the brain lights up. The effect that seeing her infant has on a mother’s brain is similar to the effect that romantic love has on the brain: it activates some of the same areas that are rich in oxytocin and vasopressin receptors. The chemical reactions in her brain create feelings of happiness and attachment. It turns out staring at your infant for an hour is not a waste of time at all.
It may feel natural to sing to your infant, even if you can’t carry a tune, and there are good reasons for it. Several studies surrounding the effects of music on babies have found that singing calms babies more than talking does, creates stronger bonds with parents, improves health, and may increase future language fluency. Even if you don’t see a Broadway audition in your future, a little “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “You Are My Sunshine” will benefit your baby both now and in the future.
Tell your baby about your day, how you met your spouse, or how you came up with her name. Take the opportunity to hone your storytelling skills or to unload whatever is on your mind. Ann Fernald, a psychology professor at Stanford, has found in her research that infants whose caregivers talk to them often have increased language processing abilities and larger vocabularies at 18 months when compared with children whose caregivers do not talk to them as often.
Often, nursing time is when I catch up on news, read articles I am interested in, or sneak in a chapter of whatever I'm reading. I keep a couple books of poetry close by because poetry is easy to pick up and put down without interrupting a storyline. The benefits of reading are pretty well-known, but did you know that your infant may benefit from you reading aloud to them? A recent study showed that reading to babies regularly may improve their vocabulary and literacy skills for years into the future.
I am a list maker and find myself even more reliant on to-do lists when I'm tired or overwhelmed. Nursing sessions provide me with a good opportunity to check in with my to-do list and update it. I love the feeling of crossing off an item, adding a few, and planning for the following day or week. Science shows that using to-do lists to plan activities reduces the stress load on the brain. Parents of newborns have a lot to keep tabs on mentally. Using feeding times to update to-do lists can relieve you of some of the load.