As Finn turns 10 months old, we’ve already surpassed the point of his infancy when his second nine months, or “exterior gestation,” is complete.
Consider kangaroos and joeys. Once a joey is born, he completes his “exterior gestation” safely tucked inside the warmth of his mother’s pouch. Here the baby kangaroo has access to mammary glands and closeness with his mother until he is ready to emerge independent of the mother.
Similarly, nature intended that human mothers hold their babies close. In fact, “human infants actually remain helpless longer than infants of any other species and, like some marsupials, must also go through a distinct period of gestation outside of the womb,” (Elizabeth Antunovic) Human babies may be born to be separate from their mother, but they still require closeness in order for the healthy physical, emotional, and psychological development of the child.
Preparing for baby these days can be overwhelming. The baby industry is enormous and there are countless contraptions, seats, containers and artificial methods of replacing mother. We’re so overwhelmed with choices that we get caught up in the choosing rather than considering why these items are being used in the first place. Even though I tried to resist the buying of contraptions, and despite my sister’s warning that I wouldn’t use my crib for more than a laundry trap, I still had many options in which to place my child, who refused to settle anywhere other than on my chest or at my breast.
Nature intended for babies to be with their mothers, especially at a time when their brains will grow more than any other time in their lives. (Elizabeth Antunovic)
During pregnancy, my sister brought the idea of exterogestation to my attention by sharing with me this article. Here and through other information she shared with me or that I stumbled upon I began to learn of the benefits of close contact with my baby. I discovered that mothers and babies share a special relationship, called a dyad, in which they share vital information. Through close contact with his mother, an infant’s body has an easier time regulating temperature, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms, immune function, and hormone levels (Antunovic). This relationship is also described in fascinating detail in La Leche League’s book, Sweet Sleep.
Looking back at the past ten months with Finn, I think of the times when I worried over him only sleeping on me or with my nipple accessible. I think of times when I considered transferring him to sleep in the crib. I think of the many times I doubted the parenting methods that left me beyond depleted in order to comfort Finn as he adjusted to life outside the womb, experienced the difficulty of developmental leaps, felt the pangs of growth spurts, and the utter discomfort of teething time and again. I’m grateful to myself for never giving into the doubts, the nagging advice or the expectations of others. I was there for my child. I helped him, comforted him, and touched him in order to ease his transition into this world. I still do.
Tonight as I nursed my child to sleep on the couch of a friend’s, he stayed latched as he slept to ease the teething pain, and his teeth grazed my nipple with each suckle. I cringed through it, and as I did so another mother, whose youngest child is four years old, looked on wistfully commenting to her husband that she missed those days, teeth indents and all.
There are hard days and joyful moments, but each phase is just that: a phase, a moment in time. Mamas, no matter how hard it feels, it’s worth the effort for the emotional and psychological wellbeing of your child. Consider it from the perspective of your baby, who despite being born separate from you, still needs your closeness for another nine months (at least!).
The only way to spoil a baby is to leave him alone without your touch and comfort. Hold all the babies.