Kelly Durbin, Austin, Texas, USA
At Series Meeting 2, we talk about all the elements of bringing home a newborn and how to get breastfeeding flowing in a positive and effective manner. This meeting gives us a chance to discuss the basics: recognizing feeding cues, how often to feed the baby, feeding positions, latching techniques, overnight feedings, sleep arrangements and more. But sometimes the discussions turn to the baby equipment or “gear” (items and gadgets) that one may need, instead of how to meet the baby’s needs.
There is no shortage of things to buy for a baby these days. Some baby equipment and infant technology (tech) is quite useful but some of the gadgets run the risk of interfering with breastfeeding. Some parents come to LLL meetings specifically looking for advice on the best new products. While it is not our responsibility to provide the pros and cons of all baby gear and gadgets, it can be helpful to have some strategies for dealing with a discussion of infant tech, especially if the gadgets seem to interfere with breastfeeding.
What can a Leader do?
- No recommendations. New parents often want input on the best breast pump, the best breastfeeding pillow, nipple shields, bottles, or nursing bras. Remember that as Leaders, we do not recommend specific brands or products. Parents can read reviews online or talk to other parents about their favorite items.
- Is it necessary? Sometimes, before the baby arrives, new parents get the impression that they need to buy all kinds of things. Who can blame them? Parents want to be prepared and most infant gadgets are heavily promoted with savvy marketing schemes. It can be helpful to discuss how to meet their baby’s needs without buying another piece of equipment. For example, instead of using commercially made breastfeeding pillows many mothers use traditional bed pillows that they already own—or go without pillows altogether.
- Most people share their favorites with good intentions. Years ago, before I became a Leader, I attended a meeting where one regular attendee in our Group always recommended a certain book about infant calming techniques to everyone with a newborn. She had very good intentions about sharing her beloved book with others, but she didn’t realize that one size does not fit all. After months of recommendations, she had a second child and the calming techniques she knew and loved were ineffective—she realized that the book didn’t work for all babies.
- Empower parents. For those who are brand new to parenting, the array of infant equipment and baby tech can be overwhelming. Sometimes, new parents want someone to tell them what works and what doesn’t. They are looking for someone to show them the way. But instead of weighing in on the best or the most useful type of gadgets and gear, it is important for us to empower parents to find their own favorites, experiment with items that appeal to them or explore the items that are best suited for their personal needs. Encourage mothers to evaluate their needs before committing to a purchase, especially if it is a big expense.
- Breastfeeding friendly gadgets? Not all baby gear is created with the breastfeeding relationship in mind. Consider the humble pacifier/dummy. This is not exactly the latest state-of-the-art baby gear; it has been popular for decades. It is designed to calm a fussy baby, but if overused, it can lengthen the time between breastfeeds. Research offers some insights: full-term infants who used a pacifier or dummy in the hospitalization period after birth were less likely to be breastfeeding and less likely to be exclusively breastfeeding after ten weeks of age (Kair & Colaizy, 2017). Another study showed that termination of breastfeeding by six months was associated with the use of dummies/pacifiers at two months of age (Hermanson & Astrand, 2019). However, there is some research that shows that restricted use of pacifiers and dummies can be used for therapeutic purposes to improve suck reflex, improve neurobehavior and state organization, and reduce the risk for SIDS or cot death with vulnerable infants (Lubbe & Ten Ham-Balyoi, 2017).
- Is there an underlying need? Sometimes parents can rely on a device or gadget because of an underlying problem or need. For example, one mother might use the car seat, even when not riding in the car, because she may find it easier to transport her baby or to keep her baby calm. In this scenario, look for ways to discuss baby-friendly carrying and calming techniques in addition to the use of car seats and infant seats. Ask other mothers to share their baby calming methods and infant carrier choices. This scenario may also reveal that a mother is overwhelmed and needs more support.
- The skills of parenting are irreplaceable. The promise of virtually every gadget available in the infant tech market is for the purpose of making life easier. But there is always a trade-off. Every time we introduce a gadget whether it’s a white noise machine, a nipple shield or an infant swing, the use of that item usually brings some separation between parent and child. While sometimes infant tech can truly be a lifesaver, we cannot forget the skills of parenting that promote mother-baby togetherness. At times, the white noise machine and infant swing are perfect solutions. At other times, the baby will need closer human contact: shushing, singing and rocking in a mother’s arms.
- Balance skills with tech. Remember to share with parents low-tech breastfeeding skills and parenting skills so they can strike a balance between the use of both. At a recent meeting I attended, parents were discussing the advantages of certain breast pumps. The conversation eventually revealed the idea that not everyone needs a double electric breast pump. For some mothers, hand expressing or using a manual pump is sufficient.
Parents today are using more infant tech than ever. As Leaders, we can encourage parents to balance their baby gear with the skills of breastfeeding and parenting. We can also bring the conversation back to breastfeeding, reminding parents that aside from providing a clean nappy or diaper, breastfeeding usually does meet all infant needs!
Hermanson, Å., & Åstrand, L. L. (2019). The effects of early pacifier use on breastfeeding: A randomised controlled trial. Women and birth : journal of the Australian College of Midwives, S1871-5192(18)30290-7. Advance online publication. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2019.10.001
Kair, L. R., & Colaizy, T. T. (2017). Association Between In-Hospital Pacifier Use and Breastfeeding Continuation and Exclusivity: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Admission as a Possible Effect Modifier. Breastfeeding medicine : the official journal of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, 12, 12–19. doi:10.1089/bfm.2016.0137
Lubbe, W., & Ten Ham-Baloyi, W. (2017). When is the use of pacifiers justifiable in the baby-friendly hospital initiative context? A clinician’s guide. BMC pregnancy and childbirth, 17(1), 130. doi:10.1186/s12884-017-1306-8
Kelly Durbin has been a Leader for about ten years in the United States with experience leading meetings in five different states across the country. She, her husband and their two daughters now live in Austin, Texas.