Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Scheduling in Some Sanity


When Jr was born, he was ready to eat.  Within ten minutes of entering the world, he was latching on to my breast and sucking away.  The delivery nurse made a remark about how quickly he took to nursing and then advised with a smile, "Now, don't become his pacifier.  Feed him again in two hours."  That sounded like good advice. 

But, Jr. wanted to suck constantly.  When he wasn't sucking, he was crying.  While trying to stick to the delivery nurse's advice, I did everything else I could think of to soothe Jr.  Soon, one of the baby nurse's came into my room and suggested that Jr. might be hungry.  "He just ate," I said.  "Well, he's hungry again.  Feed him whenever he's hungry," she sternly advised.  Thus I became aware of one of the oh-too-familiar controversies in new parenting, feeding on schedule or on demand.  I was horribly impressionable, and utterly confused.  So, I started feeding him on demand.  Which was constantly.  My milk came in fast and hard from all that sucking.  And, that was painful.  I went several days with no sleep and ice packs on my breasts due to the constant nursing.

At Jr.'s one week check-up, as I was nursing him for the second time in the pediatrician's office, the doctor suggested I visit with the lactation specialist. "I really love her philosophy," she said with encouragement and a knowing look.  She undoubtedly could see I was exhausted and stressed.  The lactation specialist, who was an older pudgy woman who reminded me of a hedgehog (in a cute way) listened to me ramble about the conflicting messages I'd heard and the difficulty I was having with the constant nursing.  She kindly prescribed a 2 1/2 hour feeding schedule, feeding 15 minutes on each breast.  And, she gave me the permission I needed to introduce the pacifiers I had been so tempted to shove in my little vacuum's mouth, if it wasn't for the dreaded "nipple confusion."

We went home and immediately began our new schedule.  I do not exaggerate when I say there was NO adjustment period.  Jr. and I both took to the schedule right away.  And, since then, I have comfortably fell into sleep scheduling, meal scheduling, cleaning scheduling, shopping scheduling, and just about any other scheduling you can think of.  For me, scheduling is a huge anxiety-reduction strategy.  When I feel out of control, I schedule.  Thus, I gain control, and my anxiety decreases. 

Researchers have found, much to my discomfort, that babies who are fed on demand "do better at school."  Really, the research found that these children scored an average of five IQ points higher than their scheduled peers. The authors share what many suppporters of feeding-on-demand suggest - that a baby learns through on demand feeding that mom responds to his/her needs.  This promotes brain development and attachment.  This is good, responsive parenting.

I totally get that.  Good parents that are responsive and attentive to a baby's needs will probably raise children with good attachment and optimal adjustment.  But, here's the second finding in the study:  Parents who fed their babies on a schedule were more confident and less tearful.  This is totally true for me.  I am a frazzled mess without a schedule, as are many people.  So, what is worse for a baby?  A stressed, anxious, momsie or having to wait for needs to be met? 

In thinking about this, my first thought is, "What is the significance of five IQ points?"  Not much, really.  It may be the difference between your IQ and the person at the neighboring desk at your office.  It may be noticable and "statistically significant," but not critical.  For instance, there is likely a five point difference between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  One wouldn't even notice and either could rule the country.  And, there is SO much more to academic achievement and even life success than IQ.  I'm willing to give up five IQ points for my sanity.

My second thought on this controversy is, scheduling is not bad for everyone.  For certain personality types, schedules and predictability are more comfortable and even necessary for optimal mental health.  It would be more healthy for these types of people to have schedules in their life then to deal with the anxiety that comes with not having predictability.  In children with certain types of behavioral, emotional, and cognitive concerns, I often suggest schedules as a way to decrease tantrums and acting out.  Predictability is really not a bad thing.

So, what's Dr. Momsie's suggestion?  Be an expert on yourself and your baby.  There are few hard-and-fast rules that apply to all people when it comes to these types of controversies.  What is best is to examine your personality and temperament and that of your baby and develop a plan that is responsive to your own unique bend.  Do you suffer emotionally without a schedule and truly feel like you would be a less effective momsie?  Then schedule.  Are you a more care-free type that can flourish with spontaneity?  Then feed on demand.  Does your baby suck the life out of your boobs and your psyche?  Then, maybe a schedule would give them a good boundary. 

One word of caution for those who schedule. I highly recommend "flexible scheduling."  If you set a schedule, and then life happens and the schedule is broken, a person who is too highly tied to their schedule might be in danger of suffering the same type of anxiety they were seeking to avoid.  I always practice a loose schedule, with allowances for out-of-the-ordinary circumstances.  Sometimes, Jr. really was hungry again in an hour.  I would feed him if he was crying and couldn't be consoled with other methods.  This is the type of responsiveness that leads to good attachment and mental health outcomes. 

So, darlingist readers, schedule in some sanity today.  It may be worth five IQ points!

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