Routine Questions

Dear Daughter,

As a parent with a four month old I’m asked “routine questions” as a part of every pediatrician’s visit, every time someone strikes up a conversation about your cuteness, and when you cry a little more than usual.

Routine questions have a distinctive feeling of stale bread, yogurt warmed up with a sheen of dried crust across the top from sitting on the counter too long, or the numbness that comes from seeing an unmemorable advertisement so many times that you can’t forget it- but still don’t remember what product it is for.

Routine questions were a great source of anxiety with your oldest brother, a source of annoyance with your older brother, and simply background chatter with you.

They are things that someone wrote down on a checklist for pediatricians who need to make conversation with dozens of parents each day. They are things that someone asked the asker before and that has stuck in their memory as one of those things that you ask people with babies.

Isn’t the weather hot? I wish it would rain. The snow is so heavy this year, I don’t remember it snowing this much before. Ever.

How many times does the baby nurse each day? How many ounces does the baby eat? Does the baby sleep well at night? Is she a good baby? Is she still eating just breastmilk?

Some of these questions sound like things that a doctor might need to know, even though they make you anxious and wondering if you are doing things right. Some of them are just fluffy little questions that no one really needs or wants the answers to.

Sadly these questions don’t give the doctor the information that the doctor needs.

I don’t know how many times you nurse each day. I don’t count. Counting the minutes and hours spent nursing is a sure path to insanity during cluster-feeding and growth spurts. Sometimes you  nurse constantly. Sometimes you go forever where you wrinkle your nose and act as though I dipped my nipple in lemon juice. You ebb and flow as you listen to what your little body tells you about hunger, need, comfort, contentment, and independence.

I count your wet diapers. Well. Actually I just simply count off six diapers into the basket by my bed at the beginning of the day, and then when I need to refill the basket I know that we’re doing well.

I don’t know how many ounces of breastmilk you eat each day. There are no ounce markers on my breasts, and I have never chosen to weigh you before and after every feed for 48 hours to figure out what magic number it is that you eat. This is not information that I need to know, not information that would serve any purpose.

I nurse you on demand. You demand, I nurse. You thrust your tongue out at me while making an “o” with pouty baby lips. You bob your head against my shoulder with a seeking little mouth. You chew on your fist and squeal at me as though to tell me “My demand is obvious, woman. Why is the nipple over there instead of here?” You startle and cry, and I offer you comfort at the breast which may or may not turn into mealtime as you soothe.

I don’t know how many hours you sleep. Those hours are still scattered across the day like pixels that have yet to be pulled into focus.

You sleep when you are tired. I carry you near and you fall asleep to the motion of our movement. You sleep in the car seat between chattering with the monkey wrapped around the mirror that lets us see you from the front seat. You are four months old and still settling into your sleeping patterns. When you need to nurse at night we rock and nurse in the dark because it is nighttime and we are sleepy.

You’re a good baby. You’re an awesome baby. You’re curious and learning. You fuss when something upsets you rather than simply tolerating it. You alert me to your needs. You cry when I’m not doing the right things so that I know you need a diaper change instead of a feeding, or that you need to go to sleep instead of being played with.  You are not a “good baby” in terms of convenience, but that isn’t a good baby to me. That is a baby that I would worry about, as it is normal to need and to want.

Yes, you eat “just breastmilk” because there is no need for anything else. I passed up the formula samples, declined to “supplement” something that needed no supplementation, will not start solids until there is the readiness and demand, and do not need to “top you off” to make you sleep longer than you are able.  There is nothing wrong with “just”, nothing wrong with “only”, nothing wrong with not fixing the things that are not broken.

I understand now what I wish I had understood from the beginning. Questions are sometimes just to make conversation. They do not require soul searching. They do not require me to wonder if the way I’m doing things is the “right way”. Questions about weather are sometimes a good thing, in case I forgot to pack my umbrella. But questions about feeding are never really necessary.

You see.. When something is wrong with your baby, you will know without those questions. Milestones missed, diapers suspiciously absent or strong-smelling, a baby that lightens in your arms instead of growing. You will know when there is something wrong as long as you listen to your baby.

So I don’t really listen to the questions anymore. I’m too busy listening to you. And you tell me that you are just fine.

<3 Mama

  10 comments for “Routine Questions

  1. Ashley
    August 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    I love this! I thought I was the only one who struggled to answer all those routine questions! The nurse always makes me guestimate how many times/minutes you nurse each day and it is frustrating. I unfortunately have to supplement (damaged tissue/ducts from reduction surgery) so I can at least give them a bit of info I know for sure. This seems to make them happy. I love that you address little things like this that can make us feel inadequate as mamas. Thank you.

    • sarah
      August 9, 2012 at 12:20 pm

      With my middle child I would try to guesstimate. This time around I simply blink and answer the same answer: “I have no idea, there is no answer to that question. She demand feeds. It changes every day. It’s a lot.” and they eventually do their own guesstimate based on whatever information they are looking for. If really pressured I say “fewer than twenty four hours per day and more than one hour per day.” or “Well the average number of ounces for a breastfed baby is between 19 and 30 ounces, so probably somewhere in there.”

      I’m accepting that it’s okay to reframe the questions into something that I can answer accurately. If they need different information I’m happy to give it if they tell me why that information is necessary for a routine well visit with a third child whose siblings were EBF.

  2. Dita
    August 9, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    I love your posts. As you and I are the same age and so are our 4 month old daughters, I can relate to everything you write. Especially the mundane questions from pediatricians. My favorite one being, “Is she sleeping through the night?” what EBF child sleeps through the night at 4 months??
    You have inspired/motivated me to write my own letters to my daughter. I cannot wait for the day to share them with her.

  3. Sarah
    August 9, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    This is great! I am a FTM going to the 4 month check-up in a couple of weeks. (Though my pediatricians seem quite ontop of things. And the more calm I am the more they tend to think I know what I am

    The more I read the more I realize that there are so many mother / baby combos that there is no “right” answer.

    I enjoy your writings..

  4. Meghan
    August 9, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    On the list of reasons why I love our pediatrician: her only routine questions are “is there anything you’re worried about?” and “is baby eating, peeing, pooping well?” The rest of the time our conversation is about the individual child being seen :)

    • sarah
      August 9, 2012 at 7:02 pm

      Love this. :) I like my pediatrician for the older kids, not so much with regards to breastfed babies.

  5. Vera
    August 10, 2012 at 2:52 am

    You are so right! I was just “blamed” by my pediatrician for not starting solids for my ebf 4 mos old. his argument is that early introduction of solids will minimize allergies in the future.
    When do you think the baby is ready for solids?

    • sarah
      August 10, 2012 at 9:16 am

      I start after readiness signs:

      – 6mos at least
      – able to pick things up with pincer grasp and put objects in mouth
      – able to sit unsupported
      – able to transfer food from front to back of mouth rather than pushing it out with tongue
      – at least one tooth
      – food does not come out undigested or cause constipation or other issues.
      – Baby shows an interest and willingness

  6. Tina
    August 10, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Love this! I wish I had not been so worried about what everyone else (doctor, my mom, neighbors) asked me about or advised me about with my first baby. With the others I have learned to relax more and more, and by now with my fifth baby I have learned to completely trust my own instincts. Even when my mom says “When are you going to wean that baby?” or “He’s going to sleep with you until he goes to college!” or the doctor asks me “Does he sleep through the night? He shouldn’t need to breast-feed in the middle of the night anymore at this age!”
    Thanks Sarah, for putting those thoughts so eloquently! We as mothers all need to learn to trust ourselves more.

  7. Kate Pfeifer
    August 14, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I just want to say how incredibly grateful I am for your eloquent posts. As a ftm of an ebf almost 4 mo old, I am bracing myself about his tapering weight gain and eating habits. This could not have come at a better time for me. Also, your post about the wait it out method is brilliant as I found it when dealing with a challenging sleep “regression” wherey I felt bullied from a sides to let him cry it out, something that went against every fiber of my being! You have given me the courage to stick w my instincts and I plan to follow your blog loyally. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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