Your baby’s feeding process is intricately linked with her developing psyche. If there have been difficulties with sucking, problems with milk supply for whatever reason, or frustration and mutual distress around feeding, this could possibly be associated in some way with psychological struggles later on. Feeding difficulties are exceptionally stressful for both you and your baby. Hunger is acutely uncomfortable and greatly distressing for a small baby, and an inadequate supply of milk is likely to be experienced as traumatic.
A smooth and easy early breast-feeding relationship is very strengthening for a baby’s developing psyche. It forms an essential part of the beginnings of psychological growth. It also forms the basis of relating to others later on.
Breast versus bottle
Parent tips for breast-feeding
Your baby’s experience of hunger
Most psychoanalytic clinicians believe that forcing a hungry baby to wait for a feed because it is too early for its scheduled time to feed causes extreme stress and rage in the infant. It also creates unnecessary and perhaps destructive conflict between mother and baby. This is especially true for young babies under three or four months of age. As your baby grows she becomes more and more able to tolerate frustration and she develops some understanding of and control over her impulses. Only then should you bring in your own agenda and time-schedules for feeding. Battles between you and your baby over feeding during the early weeks and months of life present are very stressful for your baby.
Sometimes your baby will have psychological wobbles. She will feel like she is falling apart. Your job in the beginning is to show her how regulate herself or to put herself together again. The breast, bottle or dummy is often the solution, because sucking helps a baby to feel soothed. So you are not wrong when you offer the breast or the bottle to your crying baby, even when she is not hungry. The sucking experience in itself is psychologically beneficial at this stage of development.
Being in the oral phase of psychological development, your baby needs to feed and suck. This is what your baby cares about and where her mind is. Remember also during the oral phase, your baby needs to learn about trust. You are the person most likely to teach that lesson of trust. Feed your baby when she is hungry and try to keep her as comfortable as possible. Your continued presence, your responsiveness to her, and your supply of milk (breast or bottle) all contribute to making your baby feel safe. This builds trust.
© 2009 Jenny Perkel