Dr. Julie Carroll Lumeng
Professor, Pediatric Medicine
Michigan C.S. Mott
It can be hard for new parents to understand how to respond to their infant. Is the baby crying because she is hungry? Or is she tired? Or does she need something else?
Dr. Julie Lumeng, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, is researching infant eating patterns as they relate to childhood obesity. Lumeng recently addressed questions related to her research on infant eating, which has revealed that infants bring an inborn style of eating to the table.
“We tend to think that babies eat the way they do entirely because of the way the mother takes care of them. In some instances this may be true, but mothers also have good instincts and sometimes babies eat the way they do just because that was the way they were born– they have different eating styles just like babies have different personalities,” Lumeng explained. Through generations a lot of instinct goes into mothering infants and responding to their needs.
Do you have tips on how mothers should respond to their infants in terms of feeding?
The current mothering climate contains so much messaging to mothers that can make them feel less confident that they are caring for their baby the “right way.” For example, sometimes feeding is used to soothe babies when the baby could be soothed in other ways– and when that happens, babies can gain weight too fast. Some mothers whose babies are gaining weight quickly wonder if they are not doing a good job soothing their baby in other ways. However, it is probably also true that there are some babies who are truly just hungrier than others. If your baby is truly hungry and seems to want to eat frequently, no matter how much you try to soothe your baby in other ways, it is important to follow your instincts and feed your baby.
Could you explain what temperament means, how parents know what temperament their infant has, and how to respond accordingly?
Temperament explains how infants, children, and adults naturally respond to the world. For my study, we recorded mothers responding to their babies. There are different dimensions of temperament that include:
Regularity– Some infants are very predictable. You know they are going to become sleepy at the same time each day, have a stool at the same time, and their routines are like clockwork. Yet, some babies are much less regular.
Persistence– Some babies cry and cry and never give up until they get what they want. Other babies have lower persistence and may be easier to distract.
Mood– Some infants’ moods are generally positive and happy. Other infants are more serious. A baby who is always happy-go-lucky may be easier to soothe. Babies with less positive moods may be more difficult to soothe.
Where can parents learn strategies for working with their infants, in terms of responsive parenting intervention techniques?
The responsive parenting intervention we used in my research study is based on Dr. Harvey Karp’s research that is founded on the 5 S’s for soothing a baby: swaddle, side or stomach position, shush, swing, and suck. The book The Happiest Baby on the Block gives more details including responsive parenting technique strategies for parents.
For parents with a newborn, figuring out how to respond to your infant can become emotionally overwhelming. What are some coping strategies for parents to stay emotionally stable during this time?
Children are usually most comfortable with their mother and father, so this means that they are usually most comfortable expressing that they are upset with their parents than anyone else. Just because your child is more “difficult” with you than with the babysitter or grandparents does not mean that you are less capable of calming your child than they are. My advice is to ask for help when your baby’s crying becomes overwhelming and skip out for a minute and don’t think of it as a failure. Giving yourself a break and letting someone else take care of the baby is so helpful. Frame the break you give yourself as, “Wow- I have been working really hard and I deserve to recharge a little bit.”
For parents, it is vital to understand that babies’ temperament, eating patterns, and needs are unique to every individual baby. Embracing responsive parenting techniques and following mothering instincts can help families learn their infants different demands.