Bonding with Charlee through Infant Massage

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The first time we met Carolynn, I was still on my parental leave, and Becca and I were taking Charlee to her first mummy group.

8 mums, 8 babies, and 1 dad (yours truly) sat around in a circle in the basement of one of the neighbourhoods oldest churches, and Carolynn got right into it.

She welcomed us all to the class, introduced what the next 12 weeks was going to look like, and then whipped out her ukulele and gave a playfully gentle disclaimer that while she had a masters degree, it did not imply any special musical talents.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend a couple classes before heading back to work, and I know that Becca and Charlee had a blast. It’s often through these types of meet-ups that parents are able to meet other parents with similarly aged babies, and foster new friendships.

With us, we were able to connect with Carolynn as well, and had the pleasure of having her over the other day to teach me about infant massage, and the bonding experience it can have for fathers.

Carolynn wrote a fascinating white paper that is perfectly in line with the material that dad’s are so often seeking; new opportunities to bond with their infants.

During that delicate time before babies can vocalize their feelings, it is a constant struggle to connect with our kids the same way mum’s naturally can.

As Carolynn writes, “fathers may feel dissatisfied with their ability to form a close attachment with their infants in the early postpartum period, which, in turn, may increase their parent-related stress.”

Their study sought to align infant massage between a father and their child and the subsequent reduction in stress and increase in bonding.

I implore you to read the white paper on Carolynn’s site; it is a fascinating study and the outcomes offer a fundamental opportunity that no father should miss.

Carolynn’s research did not stop there. She in turn is a certified infant massage instructor, and offers both group and individual classes on baby massage.

As determined in her paper, there are numerous benefits to massage, both for the baby and the parent themselves! These benefits include:

Benefits for baby
• Promote longer and deeper sleeping patterns
• Relieve symptoms of “colic” or gassy periods
• Improve cardiac and respiratory output
• Help baby develop sense of self

Benefits for parents/caregivers
• Enhance and facilitate parent/child relationships
• Increase confidence and sensitivity as you learn to read and respond to your babies’ cues
• Provide special, focused time together
• Decrease stress

The first thing Carolynn did when she came over, after settling down and giving Party (our dog) some attention, was to pull out the ukulele and sing a few tunes for Charlee.

Right off the bat, Charlee was beside herself! The power of song is so evident, and it put a huge smile on Charlee’s face as she remembered the music from a few months back.

Becca had helped me out and set up a calm space upstairs to go through the tutorial, so we headed up and got settled.

Carolynn reiterated that she wasn’t there to massage Charlee, but rather to guide me through the process. She brought out a doll for demonstration purposes, and we sat across from each other as I got Charlee prepped.

One of the very first things Carolynn guided me on doing, was seeking permission from Charlee before massaging her. I thought it was such an odd premise, but when she explained that it’s one of the first opportunities to teach Charlee about boundaries, and consent, I was all for it.

Carolynn walked me through the stages of several massage techniques, starting from Charlee’s legs and moving up to her head. Every move was well thought out, methodical, and explained in detail. My favourite part, was that every massaging move was accompanied by a little song to sing through the motions.

Charlee was a gem and enjoyed the whole process immensely. I was taught how the direction of the massage can be a huge influence on relaxation versus stimulation, so it was important to not overdo it on such a tiny person.

The days following our session with Carolynn, I continue doing to the techniques she taught me, and Charlee is growing more and more comfortable with it. We’ll usually have ‘leg days’ for a few in a row, followed by arms and maybe face. Charlee has always been brought up with massage in her routine, but now having some technique to accompany it makes me more confident, and Charlee even more receptive.

As new dads, we’re often searching for things that we can implement that will help us feel more involved in the child raising process, and give us that opportunity to bond with our little ones. I was grateful to have met Carolynn and been giving a lesson on infant massage, and I whole heartedly recommend it to all the dads out there.

Make sure to visit Carolynn’s websites, at either http://carolynndarrell.weebly.com or www.discoverytoys.com/PlayLadyCarolynn and contact her directly at carolynn.darrell@gmail.com.


A little about Carolynn, in her own words, from her website:

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Ancient wisdom, modern parenting is a tagline I created to describe my parenting and teaching philosophy.  There has been a recent surge of interest and research in parenting practices of long, long ago.  Swaddling, infant massage and breastfeeding are a few of these practices that are high on the modern parent’s radar.  My philosophy honours thousands of years of evolutionary wisdom, but also values the needs and realities of 21st century families. 

My interest in parenting really began as an interest in infant development.  I  studied child health at Brock University and graduated with an honours B.A. I became a certified Child life specialist through a post graduate program at McMaster University.  I practiced Child Life for many years at  both Sickkids and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab.  I really enjoyed helping children and teen’s navigate and gain mastery over their healthcare experience.  But my smallest clients and their parents troubled me.  I wasn’t sure how to truly help them until I became certified as an infant massage instructor. The benefits of this instruction went well beyond the baby, and perhaps helped the parents the most, by empowering them when they feel most vulnerable, especially when their baby wont stop crying or has colic.  A desire to help more parents in this effective and powerful way led me  again to further graduate education. I completed a Masters of Arts degree from Brock University where I was able to study some important questions about infant massage and parenting.  I have attached a PDF at the bottom of this page describing my most relevant work with parents and their babies.  My greatest experience of all however, has been the birth of my own beautiful children.  They teach me everyday that each child, family and parent is unique and they deserve to be treated that way.

Beer and Cookies to the Rescue!

I knew it would happen! I logged in today and realized that it’s been almost an entire month since I’ve blogged.

I had read somewhere that the best way to keep yourself honest was to assign a writing day. Let me just say, that aside from showing up to work every day, I can hardly commit to much more! Just as I think I’m getting better at my time management skills, Charlee throws us for a loop and we have to rethink EVERYTHING.

So suffice it to say, there have been a few things that have happened over the course of the last month, and so today I’m writing two… yes TWO blog posts!

Let’s start with the recap:

First and foremost, Charlee got sick… again! I’m pretty sure this time was my fault, or at least I was the conveyor of said illness. She took another 2 weeks to get through it, but she seemed to have done better this (her third) time. We did nose-frida the crap out of her, but she never got a fever thank god, so it was really just something viral.

The cold happened during the most inopportune time (not that it’s ever ‘opportune’!) and we missed what would have been Charlee’s first Passover seder. There will be more, and we truly tried, but she was having an absolute meltdown and we couldn’t make it out the door.

The sickness, this time, had another residual effect, and that was the old ‘too plugged up to be able to feed properly’ syndrome, but this time, it really took it’s toll.

Looking back and even dealing with the onset of her rebounding now, we’re probably dealing with a series of events happening simultaneously, which I will refer to as STIF – sick, teething, introduction of solids, and fussy.

Sickness

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Not being able to breath is making her uncomfortable while feeding – she can’t breath through her nose, and there’s the chance that she’s associating this discomfort with the breast rather than the boogers

 

Teething

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Nothing has “cut” the surface yet, but we know, nay, we are POSITIVE, that she is teething. There is no other excuse for the compulsive goobering, red cheeks, and all in all discomfort that Charlee is going through. Becca’s mum said that Becca didn’t get her teeth in until late, but they came in one fell swoop. Mine were fairly quick according to my mum. Charlee appears to be somewhere in the middle. For what it’s worth, we’ve been giving her this stuff called Camilia which really seems to help. It’s a natural formula that we can give Charlee before the real teething starts and we need to resort to Tylenol.

Introduction of Solids

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Trying to find a balance for solid food has been a struggle for us… and evidently for Charlee too. If you feed her solids too soon, she forgoes milk and doesn’t get enough nutrients, which then leads to crappy sleeps. Feed her too little, and you miss out on the opportunity to introduce these new foods to her and close the gap on any allergy issues. It’s a tough balance and many different debates.

Fussiness

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Remember that app I told you about? It’s called the Wonder Weeks and is based off of the book by the same name. Charlee has been living her life in direct correlation to what this chart forecasts. It’s kinda frightening.

Well, with our luck, we’re getting Charlee sick and teething, just on the cusp of one of her fussy stages. On the positive, this does mean that she is perfecting some new developmental milestone, but on the flip side, we get a fussy little munchkin who is quite the handful.

Through all the STIF, it’s been taking a toll on Becca and my patience, but more importantly, Charlee’s feeding habits based on the above have been totally thrown outta whack.

Her feeding being off schedule therefore throws her sleeping off schedule, which throws us off schedule and better yet (sarcasm), Becca’s having some issues with her production, and yes, I mean the milk kind.

Now, historically I’ve chatted about breastfeeding as one of those things that we dudes just can’t do, and maybe for some of us, that’s that. But lately I’ve gotten the sense of how impactful it is on our partners, and how in the end, we have to remember one of the large roles we play throughout all of this child rearing journey – supporter.

I’m a huge proponent of men playing a co-starring role in parenting, obviously. I’m super proud of the National At-Home Dad Network’s campaign to distinguish the fact that “Dad’s don’t babysit!” And I’m also hugely aware of the fact that there are many things women can do that we guys just can’t, and with that there is a level of importance and determination that come along with it that we dads need to recognize, admire, support, and encourage.

I know the breastfeeding debate goes back and forth – “breast is best” vs. formula feeding.

First and foremost, you’ll have to get a catchier slogan than simply ‘formula feeding’ in order to compete.

How bout “breast is best” vs. “fuck that, formula’s fine”

Not bad… let’s call it a work in progress.

Well, in my mind, I understood the debate and would support Becca regardless of her choice. I’m a huge fan of the health benefits behind breast feeding, and was very happy when Becca decided that this was the choice she was going to make.

The initial phases during our time at the NICU, and then subsequently being home and getting into a routine, were all huge learning experiences for us, and I’m proud of Becca for how she handled it all.

Our main goal was to get by the 6 week window, where studies had shown that it was the most valuable, physiologically, for the baby.

Of course, the act of breastfeeding continues to be a bonding experience for Becca and Charlee; one that Becca was aiming to hold onto until Charlee reached at least a year.

Now back to present day STIF Charlee, and we have been forced to supplement her meals with bottle feeding formula, as her routine while being STIF has been near impossible to keep up with, and we’d rather “waste” formula when Charlee is snacking, then liquid gold aka breast milk.

Unfortunately, this has caused Charlee to not only completely toss her sleep schedule out the window, but it has also cause Becca’s supply to drop as Charlee is on a milk strike.

Pop quiz Dad… what do you do!?

Well, first I can tell you what not to do…

Do not assume that 8 months was a good run, and that getting food into Charlee is all that’s important. Of course, it is the most important thing, but understanding the impact a drop in breastmilk production can have is something else altogether.

When your partner has their heart set on something, and that something is important to them, you should make it important to you.

Once we talked and I had a better sense of just how impactful the drop in flow was, I did what I always do solve a problem.

I picked up a six pack

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Come on now – when was the last time beer actually was the answer!?

Along with that, I bought Becca some lactation cookies by a company called Stork and Dove and some tea which also promotes lactation.

The most important thing though, was chatting about it; getting an understanding of the importance and trying to destress from the situation.

Fortunately, we’re also surrounded by a good support network. Within walking distance, we have a very good (and free!) breastfeeding clinic at the Michael Garron Hospital, so Becca swung by for a consultation.

Just as important, was her mummy’s group, where she could compare notes with other mums who had gone through, or were going through the same thing. There is an odd sense of reassurance knowing that other people have some of the shitty experiences you go through with your kids, and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel… I guess that’s the premise of my blog sometimes too.

Well, at the end of the day, I guess two things happened.

First is that Becca is much more at ease about what’s happening with her production, and she’s doing what she can to increase it (which is so far working quite well) while at the same time she’s comfortable with the fact that through the breast milk she is providing and in addition the solids and formula, Charlee is getting the nutrients she needs.

The other thing that happened over the course of the last month was mother’s day – Becca’s first.

Last year we celebrated cause Charlee was the little bun in the oven, and I got Becca a ring.

This year I went for the spa retreat gift certificate, cause no one deserves a break more than my wonderful lady does.

Now if only I can convince her to leave the breast pump at home.