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Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators: Nine Ideas for Using Knit Breasts in Breastfeeding Classes

August 20th, 2015 by avatar

babe breastfeedingAugust is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month (and August 1-7 was World Breastfeeding Week) and Science & Sensibility covered the WBW theme “Breastfeeding and Work: Let’s Make It Work!” in a post earlier this month.  August’s Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators will continue to increase the awareness about breastfeeding and breastfeeding education.  I would like to talk about how I and the families in my class use a set of  wonderful knitted breasts when I cover breastfeeding topics in my childbirth class.  You can find all the Brilliant Activities for Birth Educator posts here.

I currently teach a seven week series and cover the majority of  the breastfeeding topics on the last week.  The entire series is rich in information about breastfeeding, skin to skin, safe and healthy birth options, and other choices that support getting breastfeeding off on the best path possible.  Week seven is the nuts and bolts of breastfeeding, covering topics like latch, how the breasts make milk, positions for breastfeeding, is your newborn getting enough milk and common problems that new families experience as well as other information.

For the breastfeeding class, I use these wonderful handknitted breasts that I purchased from a talented colleague here in Seattle.  You can find similar patterns to make your own in the links below.  Each breast is unique in skin tone, nipple and areola size, overall size and weight.  Every family receives one breast and one baby. (I use these Ikea dolls, for their affordability, size and softness.)  Using these knitted breasts and dolls allows the families to experience common breastfeeding situations in a comfortable and humorous way, while gaining experience positioning themselves and their babies for comfortable and supportive breastfeeding.

Nine Breastfeeding Teaching Ideas Using a Knitted Breast

1. Having different size breasts with different size nipples and areolas gives me an opportunity to share that breastfeeding can be successful no matter the size of a person’s breast tissue or breast anatomy.  Large and small breasts can both feed a baby quite satisfactorily.  My collection is quite varied.

2. When a person uses their finger to press in on the tissue around the baby’s nose in order to “make space for air”during breastfeeding, it can change the angle of the nipple in the baby’s mouth and create unnecessary discomfort.

3. Supporting the breast with the “c-hold” and placing the fingers well back from the areola will help the baby to have a deeper latch and pull more breast tissue into their mouth.

4. Shaping and supporting the breast “like a hamburger” so the baby can get a good latch can reduce nipple pain and help the baby to transfer milk.

5. The five most common positions to breastfeed – laidback breastfeeding, cross cradle, cradle, football and side lying can feel awkward, but with practice will become second nature.  Everyone gets to try them using their “breast” and “baby”.  They can practice holding and positioning the knitted breast in the best way for each position.

6. Placing lots of pillows for proper support for the dyad can help keep breastfeeding comfortable.

7. A baby can nurse “around the clock” on the breast, with sometimes subtle position changes that allows the baby to stimulate and remove milk from all parts of the breast.

8. There is a small bead sewn into each of these weighted knitted breasts.  I can ask the families to find the little pea sized lump and can discuss how this might be a sign of a clogged duct, and how to resolve it.

9. Hand expressing milk if parents are separated from their baby after birth, can help with overall supply and volume while supplying valuable colostrum for their baby.  They can also use this skill to increase supply, or if they are experiencing engorgement.  Learning this skill on the knitted breast in class is great.

Open Mouthed Ikea Doll

If you are extra creative, there is a great “hack” that can be done to the Ikea doll to make the mouth open and include a tongue, (which can even be “tongue-tied”) to make the knitted breast/doll demo even more realistic.  Find this clever idea created by Tova Ovits, CLC here on Galactablog.

Bonus Diaper

© Sharon Muza

© Sharon Muza

I also use a knitted diaper that shows how a newborn baby’s stool changes over time from dark meconium to mustardy breastfed baby stool. A great visual aid and always gets lots of comments from families.  Thanks Betsy Hoffmeister, IBCLC,  for making me such a great tool to use in my Lamaze classes.

Family Reactions

At first, families may feel a little awkward handling the knitted breast, and may laugh if it is particularly large or small, or as an unusually large nipple.  But over the course of the night, they become comfortable in handing the breast, confident in finger placement and are eager to try different positions and experiment with their own additional suggestions for comfortable and useful techniques.  We all have fun, they leave class excited and ready to get breastfeeding off to a good start and knowledgeable in some of the basics to help them do so.

Knitted Breast Patterns

LCGB Knitted Breast Pattern

Breastfeeding Network Pattern

What interesting techniques and tools do you use to help your families during your breastfeeding instruction?  Share your ideas and resources in our comments section below.

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Series: Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators , , , , ,

Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week – Are You Up to Date?

February 10th, 2015 by avatar

 By Elias Kass, ND, CPM, LM

© Tammi Johnson

© Tammi Johnson

This week is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness week.  Critical Congenital Heart Defect screening can help identify and save the lives of newborns born with previously undetected but serious malformations of the heart that can significantly impact them as they transition to life on the outside.  Families can learn about the simple screening procedure in a childbirth education class and be prepared to discuss the screening with their health care providers.  Dr. Elias Kass, naturopath and midwife, shares 2015 information and updates on screening, stats on the incidence of CCHDs and how you can help spread the word on the importance of all newborns being screened. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility 

There’s a new newborn screening being implemented in many birth settings – critical congenital heart defect screening, or CCHD. What is this screening? What does it look for, and how can you educate and prepare your childbirth education students for the screening and possible results?

Critical congenital heart defects refer to heart defects that babies are born with and that require surgical intervention within the first month (or year, depending on the defining organization). About 1 in 100 babies have heart defects (1%), and about 1 in 4 of those with a heart defect have a defect so severe that it needs to be corrected immediately (0.25% of all babies) Only some of these defects will be picked up by prenatal ultrasound, and they may not show up on exam before the baby goes home (or the midwife leaves in the case of a home birth). Depending on the defect, some babies may be able to compensate with structures that were in place during the fetal period but begin to go away after the baby is born.

Fetal circulation and changes after birth

By KellyPhD (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By KellyPhD (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Because a fetus receives oxygen through the placenta and umbilical cord, there’s no need for him to send a significant amount of blood to the lungs, so a fetus has very different heart and lung circulation than they will after making the transition to life on the outside. One of the big differences (simplified for this article) is the ductus arteriosis – this is a bypass that takes blood from the pulmonary artery and provides a shortcut to the aorta, instead of continuing on to the lungs. Another big difference is the foramen ovale – this is an oval-shaped window between the right atrium and left atrium, which allows blood to bypass being pumped out to the lungs entirely. After birth, pressure changes cause massive changes in flow. Pressure increases in the left atrium cause a flap to slam shut across the foramen ovale. Blood also finds it easier to flow to the lungs, so less blood flows through the ductus arteriosus. Over the course of days and weeks, the foramen ovale seals shut and the ductus arteriosus starts to shrivel.

Typically blood being pumped out to the body is loaded with oxygen. If there are structural problems, it’s possible that this blood would be a mix of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood – there would be less oxygen available in this blood, but at least it’s getting out to the body. Sometimes those fetal structures are what allows that mixed blood to circulate. So what if the baby was really depending on those shortcuts and bypasses? And then the shortcuts and bypasses go away? These babies may look well and do fine, until the fetal structures start to go away.

This March of Dimes article describes seven conditions considered to be part of CCHD:

  1. Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (also called HLHS)
  2. Pulmonary atresia (also called PA)
  3. Tetralogy of Fallot (also called TOF)
  4. Total anomalous pulmonary venous return (also called TAPV or TAPVR)
  5. Transposition of the great arteries (also called TGA)
  6. Tricuspid atresia (also called TA)
  7. Truncus arteriosis

See page for author [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Circulation after birth [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

CCHD screening of the newborn is intended to catch babies who might need intervention, before they decompensate and their heart defects are made obvious.

The screening process

CCHD screening involves using a pulse oximeter at two locations — the right hand (or wrist), and either foot. The right arm receives its blood supply before the ductus arteriosus enters the aorta, so it’s known as “pre-ductal.” The left hand and the lower body receive “post-ductal” blood.

The pulse oximeter senses oxygen saturation by shining light through the skin. Red blood cells that are loaded with oxygen deflect light differently than red blood cells without oxygen. The opposite sensor collects the light and calculates how much was lost. By using multiple wavelengths of light, the unit can isolate arterial flow and disregard venous flow (veins return blood to the heart after the tissues have ‘used’ the oxygen the blood was carrying). For babies, an adhesive probe is typically wrapped around the hand or wrist, and then around a foot. The thin strip might be covered with a foam band to help block out the room light. Some facilities use reusable probes that are more like clips. Not all pulse oximeters are well suited for this purpose – they need to be able to sense low saturations and not be confused by an infant’s constant motion.

There are three possible results from the screening – pass, fail, and an in between, or “try again.”

If a baby’s oxygen saturation is ≥ 95% in the right hand or foot, and there is less than a 3% difference between the two readings, then she passes the screening.

For a baby whose saturations are between 90-95%, or has a greater than 3% difference between the right hand and foot, the screening test is repeated in an hour. If she still doesn’t pass or fail, she can have one more chance. If she still doesn’t pass after three tries (one initial and two retries), that’s considered a fail, and she should be evaluated.

If a baby’s oxygen saturation is under 90% in either the right hand or foot, or she didn’t pass in three tries, this is considered a fail, or a positive screening. This baby should be referred to a pediatric cardiologist who can assess her and do an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), and/or other workup. Depending on her health at the time, that might mean an immediate consult, or it might mean having her scheduled for a visit soon.

In Washington state, Seattle Children’s Hospital and the other regional pediatric cardiology groups are available to talk with the clinician who has a patient with a problematic screening and help figure out when and where the baby should be seen. If there is no local pediatric cardiology group, some cardiology groups can do telemetry or read studies remotely. Before implementing screening in their practice or facility, there should be a clear process for how to obtain consultation and referral (who should be called, how to contact them, how to transmit images if able, etc). Evaluation should be arranged before the baby is discharged because a baby’s condition can deteriorate rapidly.

There are tools available to help with this algorithm. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a flow chart to help guide the screening process, and Children’s Health Care of Atlanta has a web site and Pulse Ox Tool app to help guide providers.

When should the screening be done?

The screening should be done between 24-48 hours after birth. Before 24 hours, there is an increased incidence of false positives, but a baby who passes before 24 hours is still considered to have passed (i.e., it still “counts”). If a baby is being discharged before 24 hours, the recommendation is to do it as close to discharge as possible. For babies born at home, this screening should be done at the 24-48 hour home visit, along with the metabolic screening. For the screening to be most accurate, baby should be awake and calm, but not feeding. (Feeding causes some decrease in oxygen saturation even in normal term newborns.)

What about a failed screen?

It’s helpful to know that not all babies with a failed screen have a critical congenital heart defect. Like all screening tools, this screening has false positives. The false positive rate overall is about 1/200 (0.5%), but it falls to 1/2000 (.05%) when the screening is performed after 24 hours of age according to the FAQ on the Seattle Children’s Hospital Pulse Oximetry Screening for Newborns resource page for providers. About a quarter of the babies who fail the screening truly have a Critical Congenital Heart Defect(true positive), while half have condition that causes low blood oxygen, like pneumonia and sepsis, and a quarter are well (false positive).

Who should be screened?

All babies should be screened, unless the baby is already known to have a critical congenital heart defect, identified during ultrasounds done during the pregnancy or immediately after birth. Most states mandate screening, either by legislation or regulatory guidance. One state has an executive order. Several states, including Washington, have introduced legislation that is currently being voted on. In states without mandated screenings, most birth settings have adopted the screening, but not all. For some settings there are logistical challenges in terms of purchasing equipment (particularly independent midwives who might not have other use for the pulse oximeter, although since it was recommended to be used as part of neonatal resuscitation that has begun to change), arranging for consultation (particularly in rural areas or regions without adequate pediatric cardiology support), or logistical challenges in terms of who will do the screening and when. The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recommended that CCHD screening be added to the newborn screening panel (like metabolic screening and hearing screening). The American Academy of Pediatrics also supports the universal adoption of this screening.

Cost can be a barrier in offering this screening. There is currently no procedure (CPT) code for this screening, and insurance companies are generally bundling it into the general newborn care (and not reimbursing for it as a separate service), though there are groups working to change this, since there is significant up-front investment and on-going costs in terms of probes and staff time to provide the screening. Most appropriate pulse oximeters start at $500 and the disposable probes around $3-5. Using reusable probes can decrease the cost of providing this screening.

If the hospital or midwife doesn’t provide this screening, parents can ask their pediatric provider to perform the screening at the baby’s first office visit. The goal is to catch these conditions as quickly as possible, ideally before the baby’s condition decompensates. Getting a screening a little later is better than not getting it at all.The screening is no less accurate later on.

The childbirth educator perspective

As a childbirth educator, you can share information about this quick screening test, when you discuss other newborn care procedures. You can encourage your students to ask their midwife or doctor about the screening, or ask on the hospital tour. If the hospital or health care provider hasn’t yet implemented this screening, families can ask why not, and if there’s anyone they can talk to encourage implementation. Facilities and providers should hear from families that they know about this screening and expect it as part of their newborn’s care.  Universal screening will go a long way to identifying those children who were not previously diagnosed with a Critical Congenital Heart Defect and who can begin to receive care for the CCHD as soon as possible by pediatric cardiologists.  Your childbirth class may be the only opportunity for these families to hear about and understand the importance of the CCHD screening test.

Are you already talking about this screening test for CCHD in your classes? If not, might you begin to share this information as a result of what you learned today?  Are providers and facilities in your area already offering this test as part of normal newborn screening? Do you know any families who have had this screening and their baby was diagnosed with an heart defect? Share your experiences in our comments and let’s discuss.- SM

References and Resources

March of Dimes, with general information about CCHD screening targeted towards families
American Academy of Pediatrics – detailed information about screening and implementation, targeted towards providers and facilities
Dr. Amy Schultz (a pediatric cardiologist at Seattle Children’s) frequently presents on CCHD screening – this presentation, with detailed information about critical congenital heart defects and screening, was recorded and can be streamed online

About Dr. Elias Kass

elias kass head shot

Elias Kass, ND, LM, CPM

Elias Kass, ND, LM, CPM, is a naturopathic physician and licensed midwife practicing as part of One Sky Family Medicine in Seattle, Washington. He provides integrative family primary care for children and their parents, focusing on pediatric care. He loves working with babies! Practice information and Dr Kass’s contact info is available at One Sky Family Medicine.

Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Neonatology, Newborns , , , ,

Breastfeeding & Racial Disparities in Infant Mortality: Celebrating Successes & Overcoming Barriers

August 28th, 2014 by avatar
© mochamanual.com

© mochamanual.com

August has been designated as World Breastfeeding Month, and Science & Sensibility was happy to recognize this with a post earlier this month that included a fun quiz to test your knowledge of current breastfeeding information.  Today, we continue on this topic and celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week 2014 with a post from regular contributor, Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC, FAPA sharing information about the increased breastfeeding rates rates among African American women.  Kathleen also discusses some of the areas where improvements can help this rate to continue to increase. 

Celebrating Successes

Many exciting changes occurred in 2013 in the breastfeeding world. One of the best trends was the increase in breastfeeding rates in the African American community. The CDC indicated that increased breastfeeding rate in African American women narrowed the gap in infant mortality rates.  As the CDC noted:

From 2000 to 2008, breastfeeding initiation increased…from 47.4% to 58.9% among blacks. Breastfeeding duration at 6 months increased from…16.9% to 30.1% among blacks. Breastfeeding duration at 12 months increased from… 6.3% to 12.5% among blacks.

Much of this wonderful increase in breastfeeding rates among African Americans has come from efforts within that community. In 2013, we saw the first Black Breastfeeding Week become part of World Breastfeeding Week in the U.S. Programs, such as A More Excellent Way, Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE), and Free to Breastfeed, offer peer-counselor programs for African American women.


We can celebrate these successes. But there is still more to do. Although the rates of infant mortality have dropped, African Americans babies are still twice as likely to die. In addition, although rates of breastfeeding have increased among African Americans, they are still lower than they are other ethnic groups.

For each of the 2000–2008 birth years, breastfeeding initiation and duration prevalences were significantly lower among black infants compared with white and Hispanic infants. However, the gap between black and white breastfeeding initiation narrowed from 24.4 percentage points in 2000 to 16.3 percentage points in 2008.

Barriers to Overcome

In order to continue this wonderful upward trend in breastfeeding rates, we need to acknowledge possible barriers to breastfeeding among African American women. Here are a couple I’ve observed. They are not the only ones, surely. But they are ones I’ve consistently encountered. They will not be quick fixes, but they can be overcome if we recognize them and take appropriate action.

1) Pathways for IBCLCs of Color

In their book, Birth Ambassadors: Doulas and the Re-Emergence of Women-Supported Birth in America, Christine Morton and Elayne Clift highlight a problem in the doula world that also has relevance for the lactation world: most doulas (and IBCLCs) are white, middle-class women. And there is a very practical reason for this. This is the only demographic of women that can afford to become doulas (or IBCLCs). The low pay, or lack of job opportunities for IBCLCs who are not also nurses, means that there are limited opportunities for women without other sources of income to be in this profession. Also, as we limit tracks for peer-counselors to become IBCLCs, we also limit the opportunities for women of color to join our field. I recently met a young African American woman who told me that she would love to become an IBCLC, but couldn’t get the contact hours needed to sit for the exam. That’s a shame. (I did refer her to someone I knew could help.)

2) We need to have some dialogue about how we can bring along the next generation of IBCLCs. We need to recognize the structural barriers that make it difficult for young women of color to enter our field. ILCA has started this dialogue and held its first Lactation Summit in July to begin addressing these issues.

These discussions can start with you. Sherry Payne, in her recent webinar, Welcoming African American Women into Your Practice, recommends that professionals who work in communities of color find their replacement from the communities they serve.  Even if you only mentor one woman to become an IBCLC, you can have a tremendous impact in your community. If we all do the same, we can change the face of our field. (Note, here is a wonderful interview with Sherry as she discusses “Fighting Breastfeeding Disparities with Support.”)

3) Bedsharing and Breastfeeding

 This is an issue that I expect will become more heated over the next couple of years. But it is a reality. As we encourage more women to breastfeed, a higher percentage of women will bedshare. As recent studies have repeatedly found, bedsharing increases breastfeeding duration. This is particularly true for exclusive breastfeeding.

Bedsharing is a particular concern when we are talking about breastfeeding in the African American community. Of all ethnic groups studied, bedsharing is most common in African Americans. It is unrealistic to think that we are going to simultaneously increase breastfeeding rates while decreasing bedsharing rates in this community. The likely scenario is that breastfeeding would falter. It’s interesting that another recent CDC report, Public Health Approaches to Reducing U.S. Infant Mortality, talks quite a bit about safe-sleep messaging, with barely a mention of breastfeeding in decreasing infant mortality.  A more constructive approach might be to talk about being safe while bedsharing. But as long as the message is simply “never bedshare,” there is likely to be little progress, and it could potentially become a barrier to breastfeeding.


Reason to Hope

BBW-Logo-AugustDates3Even with these barriers, and others I haven’t listed, Baby-Friendly Hospitals are having a positive effect. When hospitals have Baby-Friendly policies in place, racial disparities in breastfeeding rates seem to disappear. For example, a study of 32 U.S. Baby-Friendly hospitals revealed breastfeeding initiation rates of 83.8% compared to the national average of 69.5%. In-hospital exclusive breastfeeding rates were 78.4% compared with a national rate of 46.3%. Rates were similar even for hospitals with high proportions of black or low-income patients (Merewood, Mehta, Chamberlain, Phillipp, & Bauchner, 2005). This is a very hopeful sign, especially as more hospitals in the U.S. go Baby-Friendly.

http://kcur.org/post/kc-group-fights-breast-feeding-disparities-education-support

In summary, we have made significant strides in reducing the high rates of infant mortality, particularly among African Americans. I am encouraged by the large interest in this topic and the number of different groups working towards this goal. Keep up the good work. I think we are reaching critical mass.

Additional resource: Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Breastfeeding Campaign for African American families.

References

Merewood, A., Mehta, S. D., Chamberlain, L. B., Phillipp, B. L., & Bauchner, H. (2005). Breastfeeding rates in U.S. Baby-Friendly hospitals: Results of a national survey. Pediatrics, 116(3), 628-634.

Reprinted with permission from Clinical Lactation, Vol. 5-1. http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/2158-0782.5.1.7

About Kathleen Kendall-Tackett

kendall-tackett 2014-smallKathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC, FAPA is a health psychologist, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Fellow of the American Psychologial Association in both the divisions of Health and Trauma Psychology. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is President-Elect of the Division of Trauma Psychology, Editor-in-Chief of Clinical Lactation, clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, and Owner/Editor-in-Chief of Praeclarus Press, a small press specializing in women’s health. Dr. Kendall-Tackett has authored more than 310 articles or chapters and is the author or editor of 22 books on women’s health, maternal depression, family violence and breastfeeding. Dr. Kendall-Tackett and Dr. Tom Hale received the 2011 John Kennell and Marshall Klaus Award for Research Excellence from DONA International. You can find more from her at Uppity Science Chick

 

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts , , , , , , , ,

World Breastfeeding Week 2014 – Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal for Life

August 5th, 2014 by avatar

wbw2014-logo3August 1-7, 2014 is World Breastfeeding Week and this year’s theme is Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal for Life.  This year’s theme builds upon the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) developed by the United Nations and global partners.  Breastfeeding plays a critical role in achieving all eight of the MDGs.  The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action created a dynamic and clear graphic demonstrating how increasing global breastfeeding rates has the ability to impact every single one of the MDGs.

With this in mind, the World Breastfeeding Week theme, “Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal for Life” calls on celebrants to “Protect, Promote and Support Breastfeeding: It is a Vital Life-saving Goal.”  The theme recognizes the critical role that excellent support plays in achieving this goal and childbirth educators are right up there as one of the critical players, as childbirth educators are prepared and qualified to help new families learn about breastfeeding in their childbirth education classes.

Lamaze International supports getting breastfeeding off to a good start with the sixth Healthy Birth Practice: “Keep mother and baby together – It’s best for mother, baby and breastfeeding.”  Your role as a childbirth educator in normalizing breastfeeding, providing prenatal instruction on breastfeeding basics and sharing additional breastfeeding resources for families to utilize after their baby arrives contributes to the Millenium Development Goals with each and every family  you reach.

wbw2014-goals

Childbirth educators, along with doctors, midwives, labor & delivery nurses, lactation consultants, doulas, and others help support families in reaching their breastfeeding goals, and celebrate breastfeeding with every mother and new family they reach. Breastfeeding is a team effort and everyone plays a critical role.

Have you shared World Breastfeeding Week information with your families that are in your childbirth education classes?  Can you recall the times when a family followed up with you and thanked you for the evidence based information that you provided in their childbirth class, helping them to be prepared to breastfeed their baby after birth. What you do matters every day to mothers and babies and that includes the efforts to share accurate information about breastfeeding and breastfeeding resources with your students.  Thank you, childbirth educators, for making a difference. For more information about World Breastfeeding Week 2014, check out the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action website.

 

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Healthy Birth Practices, Lamaze International, Newborns, Uncategorized , , , , ,

11 Ideas to Share with Families that Encourage Father-Baby Bonding

June 12th, 2014 by avatar
flickr.com/photos/44068064@N04/8587557448

flickr.com/photos/44068064@N04/8587557448

With Father’s Day right around the corner, now is a great time to check in with your curriculum and confirm that you share lots of information on how fathers can connect with their new babies.  In the early days and weeks after birth, mothers spend a lot of time with their newborns, getting breastfeeding well established and recovering from childbirth with their babies by their side.  And this is as it should be.  Fathers often can feel left out or excluded, simply because of frequent nursings and the comfort that babies get from being close to their mothers.

It is good to share with fathers that there are many ways to connect and bond with their newborns and young infants.  I like to cover many of these topics throughout my childbirth education classes, so that the fathers leave feeling excited and positive about connecting with their children in these very special ways.

1. Early interaction

Connecting fathers and their newborns early in the first hours can help cement the bond between a father and his child.  Dr. John Klaus and Phyllis Klaus, in their book, “Your Amazing Newborn” state that when a father is given the opportunity to play with his newborn in the first hours after birth, and make eye to eye contact, he spends considerably more time with his child in the first three months than fathers who did not have this intimate connection in the first hours.  When the mother gets up to take her first shower is a wonderful time for fathers to share this early bonding time with their newborns.

2. Skin to skin

The benefits of skin to skin with a newborn are well known; temperature regulation, stress reduction, stabilization of blood sugar, release of oxytocin (the love hormone), comfort and security.  Fathers can and should have skin to skin time with their newborns as soon as it makes sense to do so.  Getting a new father settled in a comfortable chair, with his shirt off, a naked baby on his chest and both of them covered by a cozy blanket is a wonderful opportunity for both of them to benefit from the oxytocin release that will occur.  And is there really anything better than the smell and touch of a just born baby?

3. Singing to baby

Penny Simkin has written here before on the benefits to singing to your baby in utero, and then using that familiar song once baby has been born to calm and sooth the newborn.  Fathers can choose a special song or two and sing it to the baby  frequently during pregnancy, and then that can become his special song to sing to the baby on the outside. A wonderful opportunity for connection and bonding between the two.

4. Bathing with baby

New babies love nothing more than taking a bath safely cradled in the arms of a parent.  While most newborns don’t require frequent bathing, having the father take a bath in body temperature water with the baby on their chest is a wonderful way to relax and bond.  The baby feels secure and comforted and the father can enjoy a relaxing bath while focusing on enjoying time with their newborn.  Remember, safety first!  Always have another adult available to hand the baby off to when entering and exiting the tub.  Babies are slippery when wet.

5. Paternity leave

While the United States is hardly known for its generous leave for parents after the birth of a baby, both mothers and fathers are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off in the first year after the birth (or adoption) of a child according to the Family and Medical Leave Act and still have job protection.  Fathers can plan to utilize this benefit and even consider using some of this leave when (and if) the mother returns to work, taking the opportunity to be the primary parent for a period of time. Planning ahead for this leave both from a financial and workload standpoint would be helpful.

6. Reading to baby

Fathers can make time everyday to read to their baby.  Certainly, when very young, the baby is not understanding the words, but nevertheless, newborns and young infants are fascinated with the sound of human voices and are very comforted by being held close and listening to the voice of their father, safe and familiar.  In the beginning, it is not even important what is being read, just that time is set aside to do so.  Read your favorite novel, magazine or newspaper if you like!  As the baby gets a bit older, you can start reading more age appropriate books with pictures that are attractive to infants.

flickr.com/photos/beccaplusmolly/2652566750

7. Babywearing

Babywearing offers a great opportunity for fathers and babies (even newborns) to connect and bond.  Most babies love to be worn, and when a father does so safely it is a chance to further strengthen the bond between a father and his child.  Additionally, wearing a baby makes it easy to be out in public or doing tasks and chores around the home, or even working, depending on what type of job the father may have.  There are many types of carriers on the market and families should always make sure they are using a carrier safely and responsibly, and that it fits both father and baby well.  In my classroom, I have several different types of baby carriers hung on a wall, for families to try and I provide a weighted doll so that folks can get an idea of what it really feels like.

8. Exercising

Fathers can find ways to get their much needed exercise in while also spending time with their baby.  When their baby is very young, talking the baby for a walk, in a baby carrier or a stroller, is a great way to get out and burn some calories while being with their child.  As the baby gets older, putting them in a child seat on a bike, using a jogging stroller, or a bike trailer, is another alternative allowing dad to pick up the pace.  Consideration should always be taken to follow the instructions and age/weight guidelines that come with the equipment to prevent injury to the child.

9. Establish returning home rituals

Returning home from work after a long day offers fathers a chance to connect with and bond with their baby.  Encourage fathers to have a clear transition from work to home and taking a deep breath before getting ready to be fully present with their baby when they walk in the door.  Have a special ritual of greeting, welcoming the child into your arms and taking a few minutes to reconnect after a day (or night) of separation can make for a lovely opportunity for bonding and easing back into being home with those you love.

10. Father-child traditions

Fathers may want to continue traditions and special activities that they did with their fathers when they were children or consider starting some new ones of their own.  Going to the donut shop for Sunday morning goodies, Friday night family movie night, attending certain community activities and sporting events all offer quality time for children to further connect with their fathers.  Encourage the fathers in your class to recall the special traditions they had with their fathers or male role model, and continue the activities with their own children, or create their own new ones.

11. Parenting – not babysitting

One of my pet peeves is when I hear parents (both mothers and fathers do this) talk about how the father is “babysitting” or “watching” their children.  In my mind, a father no more babysits their child than the mother does.  They parent their child and sometimes that means being alone with the child and sometimes that is jointly with the other parent.  I model this speech by using the term parenting vs the other alternatives that imply that spending time with their children is not something that fathers regularly do.

It can be easy to forget, especially in the sometimes chaotic first weeks and months of welcoming a baby, that fathers have a lot to offer to their new child and it benefits both the parents and the baby to establish this connection and enhance bonding early and often.  Do you take the opportunity to share ideas with the families in your classes on the importance of father baby time?  In honor of Father’s Day this upcoming Sunday, recommit to encouraging these and other appropriate activities to the families in your class.  Please share other suggestions that you have for helping fathers to bond with their new babies.

Please note: I recognize that not every family is made up of a mother and a father, and that families all look different.  Today we honor the father in celebration of Father’s Day.  But a hearty thanks goes out to all the parents who work hard everyday to love and protect their children.

References

Klaus, M. H., & Klaus, P. H. (1998). Your amazing newborn. Da Capo Press.

 

Childbirth Education, Infant Attachment, Newborns, Parenting an Infant , , , , , ,

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