Listening to Your Baby–Are You Withholding Nourishment if You Don’t Nurse for Comfort?

“But I feel like I’m withholding nourishment when I just hold and listen to my baby cry”

Have you ever said this? (That’s crying beyond hunger.)

I’m dealing with some food intolerances. It feels like some foods are both helpful and hurtful to me at the same time–even some “healthy” veggies.

It makes me acutely aware of what it means to nourish. What if what you thought was nourishing turns out not to be, and what you never thought could be, is?

Or, maybe it’s really this: could “nourishment” possibly not be the answer every time? Are there other ways to “nourish”? What is your baby’s true need?

What if you’ve been trying to meet a need for nourishment when really the need is something else–something you may not have received fully yourself and may have to learn?

If you’ve ever nursed “for comfort,” or perhaps are doing so now, and you’re familiar with the perspective that crying beyond immediate needs is communication and stress release (from Aware Parenting), I bet this question has crossed your mind too.

 “But I feel like I’m withholding nourishment when I just hold and listen to my baby cry.” 
Does this pic pull on your heartstrings? :) This is a moment when Mama could nurse 'for comfort.' But look at their eye contact and deep connection. I can verify that this child's hunger needs are met--nursing/nourishment is not being withheld. Consider the level of trust being built in these moments. Sometimes we just need to let it out and be loved in the process!

Does this pic pull on your heartstrings? This is a moment when Mama could nurse ‘for comfort.’ But look at their eye contact and deep connection. I can verify that this child’s hunger needs are met–nursing/nourishment is not being withheld. Consider the level of trust being built in these moments. Sometimes we just need to let it out and be loved in the process!

This is the #1 personal quandary I hear from mamas wanting to shift toward keeping nursing for hunger, but listening when it’s stress release. (For more information about “crying in arms,” see my post Crying Is a Need Too).

If this is your quandary too, it’s not that you’re not nourishing your baby. It’s that you’re meeting your baby’s true need for connection, presence, honest face-to-face communication, his need to be listened to and accepted for all his thoughts and feelings, her built-in mechanism for releasing and healing stress.

What an immense gift!

When was the last time someone really sat down and was 100% present with you? If you’ve had this in your life, it’s so fulfilling, isn’t it? It’s affirming, satisfying, and we feel better.

Satisfying:

That’s also a word I use with food. I’m a hungry person… Sometimes after eating, I don’t feel “satisfied.” Is there something I’m missing? So, nourishment is nutrients. Can nourishment–or being “satisfied”–also come from being truly listened to?

There’s no denying the body needs nutrients. But look at this crossover in terms of how your baby feels “nourished” in light of his/her needs being met.

Being present with someone and listening to his/her honest feelings–and sharing your own–have not been particularly valued in society (at least here in the States), although that’s changing in some arenas. Stopping the crying/raging, however, has habitually been valued and taught. We’ve learned that crying can’t be good; so then we may nurse “for comfort” (or “comfort food”); which confuses ‘comfort’ with ‘nourishment.’

I hereby grant you permission to reclaim the value of presence for you and your baby or toddler. 

You’re not withholding nourishment if the need is to communicate and heal. In fact, think about all the potential effects of continually offering a solution that doesn’t truly match the need. So don’t be afraid to ignore society’s training that you’re withholding anything from your baby by being present and listening (do meet immediate needs always).

What an immense, soul-nourishing gift you’re giving your baby by doing so!

Also–it’s another thing that’s not always valued–but reach out for support if you need or want it, or if you have questions or ‘gut feelings’ or aren’t sure what’s hunger and what’s not. 

About Eliza Parker

A certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator, Aware Parenting Instructor, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, spiritual counselor, and trained Feldenkrais® practitioner, Eliza respects babies as whole people who enter the world knowing how to communicate, learn, and self-heal. Her Conscious Baby practice employs a unique approach to natural “I can do it myself” milestone development and attunement to non-verbal cues and crying. Eliza’s life-changing perspectives and respectful solutions toward common parenting questions transcend “typical” parenting advice. Her work addresses babies on the “well baby” spectrum and those experiencing challenges such as motor delay, difficulty in tummy time, and hip dysplasia.

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