Eco Family Life. Right Here. Right Now. Be The Change.
Is onomatopoeia in the ear of the beholder? Babymoon is such a cosy, intimate, beautiful word. What could be more precious for a new baby and his or her parents, than time spent snuggling and getting to know each other after nine months’ sweet-as-honey anticipation? Keep the visitors at bay and focus on yourselves as a new family at home, for a few days, weeks, maybe even a month; it is a babymoon after all.
Babymoon, babymoon, babymoon; time to snuggle in bed, skin-to-skin, to learn the art of the breastfeeding partnership between mama and baby, to forget the clock and the calendar and spend time doing what you need to do, when you need to do it, to learn to recognise and respond to your baby’s cues for feeding, for sleep, for nappy changes (or maybe not, if you are going nappy-free!) It’s time for Mama’s partner to nurture her too, to bring her food and drinks, to rub her back, her shoulders, her feet, and generally make sure she is as looked after as is humanly possible.
‘Babymoon’, I thought, was a well-established word, and indeed concept. It’s less than three years since I became a mother, but I’ve been aware of ‘babymoon’ and what it means for far, far, longer than that. However, leafing through a the catalogue of a well-known maternity and baby things shop the other day, I found myself doing a serious double take. “Everything you need for your babymoon!” Apparently this mainly consists of glamorous and rather expensive maternity swimwear, sarongs and other beach ‘must haves’. Wait a moment, did they say babymoon?
Well, a few seconds’ internet research revealed to me two whole new definitions of babymoon, one being a final fling holiday for the expectant parents before the baby is born, and the other being a holiday a couple takes with the plan for some conception-inducing relaxation… Nothing wrong with a bit of romance, oh no, but can’t they think of a new word for these modern marketing inventions? For surely the idea of couples holidaying isn’t new, but this rebranding feels like an opportunistic light bulb moment for some advertising person somewhere, jumping up and down and rubbing their hands together with glee as they realise that by persuading couples they need a special holiday, with special new clobber to complete the look, they will be laughing all the way to the bank. Hands off babymoon, I say. This is misappropriation of a precious, so-needed word, and by defining it differently, it also detracts from the original meaning. Real babymooning needs to be promoted as widely and as whole-heartedly as possible, because babies need it; families need it; we all need it. Babymoon time plays such a strong part in a baby and his or her parents and siblings developing strong attachments, the attachments that form the basis for all future emotional wellbeing and so much more.
So, curious to find out where and when the term ‘babymoon’ was first used, and perhaps also where and when it was first stolen too, another spot of light research led me to read that it was the fabulous Sheila Kitzinger who coined the phrase ‘babymoon’, in her 1994 book, ‘The Year After Childbirth: Surviving the first year of motherhood’. Kitzinger (ibid) mentions the babymoon in passing, as if it is the most natural part of life after birth: ‘The transition to fatherhood is easier when a man can take time off to be with his partner and baby in what I call a ‘Babymoon’. A couple lay in food and other necessities, lock the door, and go to bed with their baby for a few days.’ But this book references Kitzinger’s earlier work, ‘The Experience of Breastfeeding’ (1987) which gives a little more detailed description: ‘A babymoon is a holiday spent by the new parents with their baby which takes place for the most part in the bedroom… They do not receive visitors, and make it know beforehand that they will be otherwise occupied.” It sounds luscious and wonderful. Kitzinger also suggests that the couple stock up on food and celebratory treats before the birth, so that they can totally focus on babymooning without having to go out and shop. I also love that she suggests some candlelight, ‘… for creating the right atmosphere. Birth is a celebration!’ (ibid) [If anyone reading this knows of an earlier written, or spoken, reference for ‘babymoon’, please do let me know.] And a celebration it should be!
The way most people live now though, there are so many things ready to divert new parents’ attentions away from babymoon-type thoughts. The medicalisation of birth, and the resulting huge number of births that take place in hospitals, with or without various interventions, mean that time spent away from home immediately after the birth of a baby is quite possibly the hardest part of the whole birth and postnatal experience. It can be incredibly challenging to feel snuggly, special, nurturing and nurtured on the busy postnatal ward, whereas an undisturbed birth at home sets a family up for a much more personal, intimate experience postnatally. There is also the question of visitors. Locking the door and only allowing the midwife into one’s home could be seen as a mighty insult by keen friends and relatives who are bursting to ‘see’ the new baby. Depending how relaxed the parents are in various relatives’ company, this may not be a huge issue, but having to get up out of bed and sit making polite conversation, cater for them, and indeed see your baby passed around like a package in a game of pass-the-parcel is never going to be conducive to attachment or rest and relaxation. Other people, and perhaps grandparents in particular, need to wait to be invited, and then can come and meet the new arrival when they are truly welcome. Babymoon time is about baby, parents and siblings, and this needs to be respected.
How long is a piece of babymoon string? Sheila Kitzinger’s few days of babymoon sound realistic in terms of locking the door and staying in bed. But the snuggling, the skin-to-skin, the nurture and the gentle pace of life that is required if parents really are to continue learning to recognise and respond to their baby’s cues and thus form strong, positive attachments, needs to last much longer. Indeed, I would suggest that a babymoon should never finish abruptly with a sudden return to ‘normal life’, although if mum’s partner returns to work after taking leave, this may be a precarious time and mum could probably do with some practical help. Now there will be a flood of offers along the lines of “I’ll come round and hold the baby while you get on with things.” No thanks very much, why don’t you offer to come round and get on with things while I hold my own baby?! Again, allowing mum continued physical contact with her baby, and the two of them time to play, rest and feed together, is vital and precious. Too many social expectations say otherwise, but babies are not toys, amusements, or pretty little things to coo and gurgle at when it suits you, and to put down and ignore when it doesn’t. They are real people with real and very immediate needs and feelings. Being passed around or jollied along by some random relatives when all they want to do is snuggle up on mum or dad is an insult to everyone. Treat babies with the same respect you would like to be treated with yourself. Allow them to come to you when they are ready, and of course before they can crawl to you themselves, allow mum or dad to judge their mood and make that decision, for the relationship between them is the strongest and must always come first.
‘The Continuum Concept’ by Jean Liedloff describes the ‘in-arms phase’, the period between birth and when a baby starts to crawl, moving away from his or her parents independently and of his or her own free will. Until they are crawling, and indeed for much of the time afterwards, babies need to be in physical contact with mum, dad or another loving and trusted carer. Babywearing comes in here ~ slings and carriers can make such a difference to the ease with which parents can continue to keep babies close and go about their daily routines without having to put their babies down. Arms are there for extra cuddles of course, but the sling takes the weight and, if correctly chosen and worn, spreads the baby’s weight over the parent’s back quite comfortably. During the first few babymoon days, as while inside the womb, baby would have heard mum’s breathing, her heartbeat, and felt all her movement, as they were as one. Recognising and respecting the in-arms phase is the natural progression of this, and has so many benefits for everyone. Babies who are held and carried more are more likely to be happy, to cry less and to feel more secure and relaxed. Being in physical contact with mum or dad helps them to regulate their own temperature and breathing too, and proper co-sleeping at night does the same. Babies belong with their parents ~ Babymoon and Beyond!