Before my baby was born in April, I had carefully been reading and rereading Gina Ford’s The Contented Little Baby Book. It consists of several routines for feeding and sleeping from newborn to one year. I made little “cheat sheets” of printed out routines, ready to go and ready to follow. However, I started becoming so obsessed when I couldn’t get my baby anywhere close to following the routines in the first month that I had to stop reading the book.
Then I read another book: Berry Brazelton’s Touchpoints Birth to Three. This made me realize that I had been treating the baby as a feeding tube and not as a person. As a person, the most important thing is relationship. The book wonderfully illustrates this, by drawing attention to the communication that develops between parents (and others) and baby. It describes how the parents are nervous at their first doctor’s visit and then progressively gain more confidence as they get to know the baby. They begin to understand the baby’s communication, in which even arm movements can communicate something. There are no rules, the author explains, because we are raising people and not clones.
Apparently most first-time parents are way too focused on the “technicality” of getting their baby to eat and sleep and are unable to appreciate the new relationship and have fun learning their baby’s language. I’m not the only one! Brazelton explains that even eating and sleeping are wrapped up in relationship and communication. In fact, some studies show that milk is better digested if the baby has had a pleasant feeding.
“Our discussion of feeding leads into the most important point of all: Getting the baby fed is only half of the job. Learning to communicate with the baby – touching, holding, rocking, talking, and following the baby’s bids for interaction and for a break – are as important as getting him fed. […] If the baby is fed in my office, I try to point out the burst-pause rhythm. As mentioned earlier, a baby starts sucking initially with regular sucks. After thirty seconds or more, he will fall into a different pattern – a burst of sucks followed by a pause. It is helpful for parents to know that when they reward pauses with a smile, a touch, or another social signal the baby prolongs the pauses, as if he actually wants social communication – as well as the feeding. Just food is not enough!” (p. 58)
And my point is: if this is how it works for babies, the same goes for adults. How much do we value our meals and our rest? Is work (or something else) such a priority that meals are “fast-food”: as quick as possible and whatever works?
Studies show that meals eaten while watching TV are linked to obesity (source), as is eating irregularly or on the run (source). Also, “frequent family meals can reduce the likelihood that teenagers, particularly girls, will develop problems ranging from alcohol and tobacco use to eating disorders and depression” (source). And how about rest? Active rest is just as important for cell renewal and general health as food is (source). Watching TV doesn’t count as active rest. Instead it should be social, mental, physical or spiritual.
People aren’t feeding tubes, neither babies nor adults. How we eat and how we rest are essential to our well-being, not just annoying routines to get through during the day. Let’s take a tip from Jesus, who made meals and rest sacred. He ate with his friends, so much so that “he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35). He made a meal for them when He appeared after his resurrection: “When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread” (Jn 21: 9) He founded the meal of all meals and said, “Do this in memory of me.” And what about rest? Not only did Jesus set the example with his moments of rest and prayer, but the Sabbath day of rest was founded from the beginning of creation.
Babies do not thrive if they are fed and dealt with mechanically and without love, relationship and communication. Neither can we! Let’s rethink our priorities and make meals and rest central to our family life. More importantly, let’s make how we eat and rest central to our lives.