Family, Kids & Relationships

Bonding During Feeding Time—Is “Brexting” Hurting Your Baby?

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New parents often can’t wait until their babies arrive, daydreaming about the idyllic hours they’ll spend holding them and feeding them and gazing lovingly into their eyes.

Of course, many parents eventually come to realize that in reality, feedings can start to feel routine over time—and even a tad boring.

Associate Professor Alison Ventura, a researcher at California Polytechnic State University, published data in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior showing that mothers use a smartphone, tablet, computer or watch TV during one-quarter of feeds. Given how often babies eat (6 to 8 times per day during those early months—though sometimes it almost seems nonstop), it’s easy to find yourself passing the minutes by scrolling your Instagram feed, replying to email, or multi-tasking in other ways. In fact, there’s even a term for checking social media or texting while breastfeeding: “brexting.”

Recently, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president, Harry Nespolon, told The Courier Mail that the habit of so-called “brexting” (as well as other distractions during feeding time) may affect children’s development and relationships.

No doubt, it’s a source of tension for plenty of parents. Writer and mother of one, Rachel Morgan Cautero, shares that she often used her smartphone to stay in touch with friends, keep up with work, and escape into e-books while feeding her son, That is until one day when he got tired of trying to get her attention in other ways, physically grabbed her face with his chubby baby hands, and turned it toward him. “It was one of my worst moments as a parent thus far,” she says.

On the other hand, social connections are important to parents’ mental health and well-being. And, as one parent told Time, “I guess the attachment parenting ideal is that if I didn’t have my smartphone, I’d be gazing raptly into her eyes all that time, singing nursery rhymes. Actually, I probably would have quit breastfeeding by now if I couldn’t multitask.” Even the Office on Women’s Health, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, lists reading and texting friends as suggestions for what to do during baby’s meals.

Being connected to technology, even during baby’s feedings, might be unavoidable these days. Plus, it can certainly have its benefits (like being responsive to secondary caregivers, relieving parental stress, or buying a nursing pillow online to make the next feeding sesh more comfortable). However, there’s certainly no harm in taking steps to stay as connected to your baby as possible—and studies show that will benefit them in the long run. Here are some ways to strengthen the baby-parent bond and encourage that connection during feeding times:

Eye Contact

Whether you’re breast- or bottle-feeding, look your baby in the eyes. If they’re newborns, stay within eight to 10 inches of their face; that’s approximately how far they can see at first.

Talk It Out

Try gently speaking, singing, or cooing to them. Your voice is familiar and soothing to your baby, and seeing all of their attention focused on you will help keep you focused on them in return. If reading news, status updates on social media, or a book on your e-reader is your go-to diversion during feedings, simply read aloud to your baby!

Infant Massage

While holding them in one arm, massage their little hands and feet. The physical contact helps to bond you.

Kangaroo Care

Skin-to-skin contact (sometimes called “kangaroo care”) prompts the release of feel-good hormones including oxytocin. It’s sometimes referred to as the ‘love hormone’ or ‘cuddle chemical’, and is likely to keep you focused on baby over anything else vying for your attention.

All of these ideas help to promote feelings of trust, comfort, and security. However, if you need to hop online while you’re snuggled up with your little one, don’t beat yourself up. Self care is one of the most important things you can do for your baby, too.

Robyn is Editor-in-Chief at ParentsTogether and is co-author of several NYTimes bestselling anthologies. She lives in southern Michigan with her husband and five children.