Warning: don't text and feed
I must admit, I have found myself on my phone scrolling while breastfeeding probably more than once and far too often I saw my hubbie chatting on the phone while balancing our toddler on his knee in the park; far too often parents hand over their iPads to 18 months old to get through a restaurant meal in peace. These are common and innocent-looking scenes, but they are symbolic of a damaging trend, according to studies.
“One of the things we are finding is especially really, really young children are exposed to way too much screen time, and it is affecting their development and making them more vulnerable when they get into school,” said Julie van Eesteren, early years coordinator at Sea to Sky Community Services.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under age two – “none whatsoever,” emphasized van Eesteren. Young children are also being impacted by a lack of eye contact and interaction with their parents while the adults are focused on screens, van Eesteren said.
“We want parents to realize they also need to put their devices down and connect with their kids,” she said. “Breastfeeding moms are not looking at their beautiful babies, which they should be doing. Babies really need that eye contact in order for their social, emotional development to happen normally. They are looking at their phones.”
Parents don’t mean to damage their children, van Eesteren stressed; it is a lack of understanding.
“Parents are unaware this is really bad for their children,” she said.
Dr Kateyune Kaeni, a psychologist specializing in maternal mental health who works at Calfornia’s Pomona Valley Medical Center says eye-contact is vital in building a secure connection between mother and child.
She said: “When babies are first born their vision is only basically from the breast to the mothers face.
“That’s as far as they can see. So babies do a lot of staring and bonding in that way.
“If baby is trying to make contact with you by noises or smiles and they can’t and they learn over time that they can’t rely on you to respond, it runs the risk of them becoming either anxiously attached to your or insecurely attached to you and they will ramp up their behavior until you pay attention.”
She added that a distraction such as a smartphone could mean mums are missing cues that baby is “full or they’re still hungry or their latch isn’t secure or if they are having trouble swallowing”.
Worringly, it seems like these handheld distractions don’t begin when a baby is taken home.
Terry Bretscher, a nurse who works with Dr Kaeni says new mums are often more preoccupied with checking texts than nursing their infants.
She said: “You assist them latching on and you can see the phone buzzing, they’re getting an alert or something, and you see their eyes move down and look at it.
“Sometimes they will actually answer that right then and we go, ‘well let’s work on this now’.
“It is very hard to bond and talk to the baby if you are on the phone.”
Luckily, for my husband and me its not too late to change our behaviours as our kids are still very little.