Help for Your Breastfed Baby and the Babysitter
By Shel Franco
Some babysitters cook dinner, throw in a load of laundry, pick up the house and unload the dishes. Others play a mean game of peek-a-boo, sing joyful songs and leave your child begging for more. But no matter how much your sitter is loved and adored, chances are there’s one important thing she can’t do for your baby: breastfeed.
“Breastfeeding is about more than what my child is eating,” says Jennifer Ward of Ashtabula, Ohio. “It’s the way I mother.”
Mom should nurse the baby really well just before leaving so that her breasts will be comfortable, and the baby won’t need to be fed right away.
That’s exactly why leaving your breastfed baby with a sitter can be so hard.
When Ward’s daughter was 6 months old, a wedding invitation came in the mail. “It was for a close friend,” says the 31-year-old mother of two. “I couldn’t say no, but I kept looking at Ashley, wondering how I could say yes. I kept willing the ‘Adults Only Reception’ phrase to disappear from the invitation.”
With the phrase firmly planted on the glossy paper and the RSVP date closing in, Ward reluctantly sent in her positive reply and started looking for a babysitter.
“I nurse when she’s hungry. I nurse when she’s sad. I nurse when she’s tired, bored, happy,” Ward says. “My first instinct is to nurse. I knew she would be a wreck without it.”
Still, Ward was able to find a sitter and set out to prepare Ashley and her caregiver for the big night.
Breastfeeding and Dating
A sitter, serving formula to her young charge, can simply look on the can for mixing and quantity requirements. When your sitter opens your fridge and freezer only to be met with plastic bottles or baggies filled with expressed breast milk, you can imagine the confusion that ensues.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Ann Calandro from the Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill, S.C. offers the following advice:
- Mom should nurse the baby really well just before leaving so that her breasts will be comfortable, and the baby won’t need to be fed right away. Then about 3 to 4 ounces for every missed feeding should be enough.
- If possible, have the sitter not feed the baby within an hour of when Mom should be home, so that if she needs to feed for her own comfort, the baby will be obliging when she arrives home. Of course, we wouldn’t want the baby hungry, so if holding the baby off isn’t possible, Mom can pump when she gets home.
- If the baby is older than 6 months, the sitter may want to feed him some solids when Mom is gone to help with keeping the baby full.
Caroline Packham of Buffalo, N.Y. has a freezer full of frozen breastmilk. At 3 months old, her son Casey is an old hat at separating from Mom, a senior-level corporate executive. But when Packham and her husband had to find a last-minute sitter one evening, she realized how much her new sitter didn’t know. “I mentioned unthawing breastmilk if Casey needed more; the teen had a perplexed look on her face,” Packham says. “I immediately followed up with, ‘Don’t use the microwave. Unthaw it under warm water.’”
Ward worried about Ashley, since the 6-month-old had never taken a bottle. “We tried a couple times when she was 3 months old. It never seemed to work.”
This is not an uncommon complaint with breastfeeding moms, and Calandro has a few suggestions for the baby that is bottle-wary: The sitter can use a little dropper, a small cup or a syringe. “It is never easy,” Calandro says. “That is why I usually recommend teaching a baby about bottles when they are about 4 to 6 weeks old. Just an ounce or so every day in the bottle so it is familiar and not foreign to the baby when a not-mom tries to feed. If the sitter wants to try a bottle, be sure the nipple is warmed under the faucet, and breast milk is on the outside so it will smell better. Turn the baby away while feeding so it will seem like a whole different thing than breastfeeding. If that doesn’t work, turn the baby in so it is like breastfeeding. Try the bottle while walking around. Use your imagination!”
Wade prepared the sitter for a fussy evening. “I totally expected Ashley to cry inconsolably,” she says.
Calandro explains that it’s important for sitters to realize that Baby is not only missing the food from the breast, he’s missing Mommy, too. “I think taking the baby outside is the world’s best trick, if it is possible,” she says. “The change in temperature and sound usually helps a baby to think about something else for a few minutes at least.”
Calandro’s other time-tested tips:
- Lots of snuggling and rocking.
- While rocking the baby, let the baby suck on a freshly washed index finger with the finger pad up.
- Try a swing.
- Try putting the baby on a blanket on the floor and lying down beside the baby to play. Bring in new toys.
- Sing to the baby.
- Take the baby on a tour of the house and point out things.Calandro also says that it’s important to remind your sitter that every baby is different and will be soothed in different ways. Remind her to be flexible, and remember that the baby is a little confused and sad, and it is not to be taken personally if the baby is upset.
Wade showed her sitter a secret weapon in the event that Ashley could not be distracted any other way: the television. “Ashley caught a glimpse of the Teletubbies at my sister’s house; she loved it,” Wade says. “I bought a videotape on sale and use it when I am desperate for a break.”
Don’t forget to give your sitter permission to take a break. “If the sitter finds themselves getting very upset with a crying baby, it is best to put the baby down in the crib for a few minutes and walk out, calm down, get something [nonalcoholic] to drink and go back and try again,” Calandro says. Acknowledge that crying babies are very difficult to deal with, and it is okay to take a short break to regroup if nothing else seems to be working.
Perhaps the most anxious time of all is bedtime. Falling asleep at the breast is a much-loved activity for breastfed babies the world over, leaving many moms to wonder, “How will Baby get to sleep without me?”
“I use the rocking and finger sucking routine,” says Calandro, who is also a grandmother with plenty of babysitting experience. “If the baby is taking a bottle well, rock and bottle-feed while holding the baby up close in a quiet place.”
There’s also the swing, the car seat, the bouncy chair, a sling or baby carrier and the stroller.
Wade made it to the wedding and stopped off at home to nurse Ashley before the reception. “She seemed happy enough, but bedtime was still a ways off, and I had only been gone a couple hours at that point,” she says.
An hour into the reception, Wade’s cell phone rang. “Ashley was so upset she was scaring the sitter. I couldn’t see putting the baby or the sitter through any more torment.”
The evening wasn’t a total loss. Wade learned a few things: “My baby has a time limit. She does fine when I’m gone for two to three hours, but any more than that is not for her. Now I know … I know exactly how long I have to enjoy myself. Three hours is an awfully long time to sip one glass of champagne.”