What a baby needs..


The Independent recently published a column purporting to be the heart-felt cry of a prospective father who was finding himself in "shopping hell" as a result of the impending birth. (Cooper Brown 1st March 2007 “For those of you still lucky enough to be without children, let me warn you to start saving up"). Someone seems to have told him that in order to have a child and to give them what they need, you have to spend a lot of money and buy a lot of things. Such articles are fairly common and whether written tongue in cheek or not, they help perpetuate one of the most destructive myths of our age.


Prospective parents are told they need to buy a whole array of "must-have" items, the purpose of which is in fact to deprive the child of what they most need. Babies do not need baby monitors, dummies, sterilising equipment, prams, cots, high chairs, cute fluffy sheep filled with organic cherry stones; what they need is the presence of their mothers and fathers. Once parents have been bamboozled by marketing executives into spending a large amount of money on cots, high chairs, prams and baby monitors, they feel it would be a “waste” not to use them. So even when they realise that the child would much rather be breast-fed than use bottles and formula, would rather be next to his mother than at the other end of the house, would rather have the comfort of a lap to eat from than be imprisoned, isolated and marooned in a high chair, would rather sleep on the bed within reach of a hug and milk than alone in some grand cot, they often grit their teeth and use these items, just because they have already bought them.


There is a persistent problem with SIDS in our society. So people buy special machines to monitor babies breathing .Yet, babies who sleep with their parents do not die spontaneously, nor in fact by suffocation either, as is often wrongly supposed. If you want to avoid SIDS, research shows the best way (unless you use drugs or alcohol) is to sleep next to your child. (See Deborah Jackson’s comprehensive and compelling review of recent research into this summarised in “three in a bed”.) Children who sleep with their mothers just do not by and large die spontaneously and there is a good reason for this, to do with the special physiology of small babies. It is common for small babies to stop breathing, but nature has designed it so that when they do, their mother’s heart-beat and breathing stimulate them to restart. If the child is all alone, they do not have this benefit and so may well die. Bottle-fed babies are at significantly increased risk of a whole range of life-long heath disorders; breast-fed ones thrive at no expense. Sue Gerhardt's "Why love matters" sets out the extensive recent research showing just how teddy bears are no substitute for the crucial physical contact from a consistent, responsive and affectionate carer, that each baby must have if he or she is to develop empathy and a sense of self.  


In our culture many learn at a very early age to substitute people and human relationships for objects and substances; what starts with a teat instead of the breast, a teddy bear instead of a hug, progresses to a Game boy instead of a conversation, a flashy gadget instead of your father's time, an alcoholic drink instead of a joke shared, "recreational" drugs instead of love.


People complain that teenagers are a pesky lot; they are de-motivated, obsessed with material goods and abuse substances; many do, but instead of blaming them when this is the case, we should be asking what deep spiritual and emotional needs we have failed to meet as parents and as a society and start giving them what they need; ourselves.


So Cooper how about replacing the credit card, putting your feet up, and spending the next few weeks with your wife instead cosily at home, planning how you will spend time with your amazing, unique little child, cuddling him, feeding him and making him realise just how loved he is?.


What do babies need?

A space next to you on the bed, may be a bed-guard to stop them falling out, a sling to carry them in  ( we used several and the best ones I have found which worked best for us were Kari-me and the Baby Bijorn), a few second hand clothes , breast feeding tops from the National Child birth Trust (or just strappy, part lycra, part cotton tops to wear underneath another top, but which can be easily rearranged to give your child access to the breast) May-be a high contrast mobile to hang in the bedroom.. But above all, he or she needs your time, your affection and your love. That’s it really. None of these items listed here have to be expensive; they can easily be bought second-hand from Ebay, Charity shops or obtained free from Freecycle www.freecycle.org or friends.