About the Author
Luiza DeSouza began her career as a baby nurse in 1963 in her home country of Brazil. Her unique blend of confidence-building techniques, common sense advice, and emphasis on balance has made her beloved by her clients, many of whom are Hollywood celebrities. She lives and works in Los Angeles.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Eat, Play, Sleep Introduction
BABY NURSE TO THE RESCUE!
For thirty years I’ve been holding mothers’ hands. I’ve helped women like you give their newborns the best possible start. No matter how excited you are about starting a family, no matter how prepared you think you are, it’s a new role that requires a lot of education, practice, and support. I’ve never met a new mom who doesn’t need at least a little boost of encouragement. As a professional who takes care of babies, I can show you the ropes, which will help make your life a lot happier and more peaceful. As I tell my clients, I’m here for your baby, and I’m here for you.
It’s hard for most first-time mothers to know what to do. They’re caught between their own self-doubts and the conflicting opinions of others. One of my clients told me, “I don’t think I have postpartum depression, Luiza. I have postpartum confusion!” She knew how to be a wife and a daughter but had no idea how to be a mother.
Books can help, but if you’re new to the role, you still have to figure out what ideas and techniques are right for you. The way I see it, my job is to help you sift through all the parenting advice that’s thrown at you by your mother, your sister, your friends, and all those “experts” who tell you what you must do. I’m an expert, too, but my approach is to advise you to take your time, trust your own instincts, and choose a course that fits your needs and your baby’s personality.
Let me take your hand. Let me be your backup. Let me show you what to look for and what to expect. Let me help you build confidence in your choices. It’s not easy to be a mother. There’s no magic. It’s day-by-day hard work, but I can help.
Even if this is your second baby, he’s probably nothing like your first. (My apologies if you’re the mother of a girl. From this point on, you’ll see that I try to alternate “he” and “she.”) My advantage is that I come with three decades’ worth of babies in my head and in my heart. My goal here is to peek over your shoulder and whisper encouragement into your ear. I can do for you what I’ve done for the mothers I’ve worked with over the years: help ease you into what is the most important role you’ll ever play.
My Attitude Toward Childcare
Being a mother is also one of the most challenging roles you’ll ever play. It’s more difficult for some than for others, because of who they are, because of what kind of baby they have, and because of their life circumstances. I hope you’re reading this while you’re pregnant, but even if you have been home from the hospital for a week or two, you might already feel unsure of yourself. Can I really do this? Maybe you saw a program on TV, read a book, or took notes when your pediatrician made suggestions, and now you’re afraid you can’t do what “they” advise. Or perhaps you don’t agree with them, because their advice doesn’t suit your style. But instead of rejecting the ideas and moving on, you wonder, Should I be doing something different, something more, for my baby?
“Mothering” is not about programs or learning a “technique.” There is no right and wrong. Rather, mothering is about connection and relationship and getting to know who your child is. And for that reason, I believe that attitude is actually more important than approach.
When I take care of babies, I don’t have a formula in my head. How could I? No two mothers are alike, and no two babies are the same. I never know what I’m going to have to deal with. Take Roberta, for example. She had a very hard time. For the first few days, Ryan had trouble latching on. Roberta’s nipples were sore and cracked. Every feeding was very painful. I’ve seen other women give up on breast-feeding for less reason. I showed Roberta how to use breast milk on her nipples to help heal them. I told her to soak in the tub. Two years later, the two of us reminisced about my stay with her family. “It’s not what you said that calmed me down, Luiza, or even what you did,” she said. “It was your energy.”
At first, I didn’t know what she meant. I was just being me, offering her the benefit of my experience, and reassuring her that “we” would get through this. After all, I’d calmed many new mothers before, helped many babies who had trouble latching on. Thinking about it later, though, I understood that she was talking about my attitude.
In this book, I’m not going to teach you an “approach” or a structured “program.” Instead, I will teach you how to think like me. The babies I care for thrive because I bring three important qualities into my work that influence everything I do and say: patience, openness, and attentiveness.
Patience. An expression in my native country, Vamos devagar ate acertar, translates roughly into, “The way to do things is little by little . . . until we get them right.” Caring for a baby sometimes involves trial and error and always requires a lot of practice. To know your baby, you have to spend time with him. This isn’t easy for any new mother. So take a deep breath. At some point, caring for your baby will seem easier, but this won’t happen overnight. Some days will seem so long. But try to remember, Amanha sera outro dia (“Tomorrow is another day”).
Openness. When you care for your newborn, be open to new experiences and information. I will teach you everything I have learned about caring for a newborn from the day she comes home from the hospital. I’ll help you be curious and alert to what’s going on in your life and in the household. Babies are very sensitive creatures; they absorb more than we realize. You are your baby’s first and most important teacher. But I also urge you to open yourself to what your baby can teach you. Have a sense of adventure and imagination. Every day can—and probably will—bring something different. Being open will not only help you learn more about your baby, but it will also help you learn more about yourself.
Attentiveness. Many of my clients are shocked by how calm I am. In part, it’s because I’ve been caring for newborns for so long. For example, I know for a fact that your baby won’t always cry this much, and that eventually she will sleep through the night. I also know that when you’ve gotten past one hurdle, another challenge is around the corner. It’s important, then, both to enjoy the moment and to look ahead and try to anticipate what’s coming. You do this by watching and keeping track of your baby’s progress and observing how she acts and reacts to the world. You do it by planning ahead and by not encouraging behaviors you’ll have to change later and being aware of the consequences if you do. For instance, if you rock your baby every night, he learns to fall asleep that way. When he gets too heavy or you are too tired, you’re in for a lot of crying when you suddenly try to change that habit. As Brazilians say, Mais vale prevenir do que remediar (“It’s better to prevent than to have to fix”).
No matter what challenges your newborn brings, patience, openness, and attentiveness will help you rise to meet them. I have seen many confused, anxious, inexperienced women become competent and, more important, confident mothers. Success builds success. The more you feel that you can handle it, the better you become at handling it.
When I first enter a household, I always stress that I’m there for the baby—he can’t speak, so I’m his voice. But I am also very sensitive to the mother’s needs. That’s why much of the material in this book is designed to teach you how to care for yourself along with your baby. There is no greater gift that I can give a family than a mother who is calm, who trusts her own instincts, and who uses common sense to make adjustments along the way.
Oh, and in case you forget what I said earlier, it’s not easy. There’s no magic. The babies in my care do well because I put in a lot of time with them. I keep track, and I pay attention. It’s hard work, day after day, and it’s most challenging in the first three months. But the end result is worth working for.
My Journey: Why I Know So Much About Babies
By the time I was twenty, I was caring for infants professionally. Even though I never thought about becoming a baby nurse when I was growing up in São Paulo, when I look back now I realize I’ve trained my whole life to be a baby nurse. My mother, Mae, was my first teacher. Mae didn’t go to school, but she was wise, honest, and a very hard worker. She took care of us seven children, cooked, cleaned, and still made time to help others.
One of my earliest memories is of our small living room filled with mothers sitting with their babies. We lived in a poor neighborhood, where most women couldn’t afford to see a doctor, so they came to our house instead. Mae had a gift. She was a healer. She would take the crying infant onto her lap, massage his back, gently straighten out one leg and then the other. Sometimes she would put her hands on the baby’s forehead, letting the heat of her hands calm him. She would talk softly. I knew she was praying for God to ease that baby’s pain.
As the oldest child in the family, I was very close to my mother. I became strong and confident because Mae treated me like an adult from a very early age. When I was only five or six, she began to teach me how to cook, clean, and care for children—everything she did. There was always a new baby in our house, even after we moved to Campinas, a small town an hour and a half away, so that my father could take a better job in a bakery. I was twelve then; five years later, my youngest brother was born.
I had cared for many of my younger siblings, but Francisco was like my baby. When I was seventeen, although I knew I’d miss him desperately, I wanted to begin making my own way in the world. I also wanted to help my family. I didn’t know how, but life has a funny way of presenting opportunities if you’re ready for them.
Shortly after I turned eighteen, I went back to São Paulo to pay a visit to my cousin, who was then working as a nurse at the very well-respected Beneficência Portuguesa (Charity Hospital of Portugal). She thought I’d be perfect for the new two-year training program for assistant nurses. As a trainee, I would work in exchange for room and board and tuition. I enrolled immediately.
After six months in the program, rotating from one section to another, I was assigned to the maternity ward of the hospital. I fell in love with the newborns. Being there didn’t feel like work. The babies were tiny and helpless, struggling to adjust to life outside the womb. The nun who supervised the ward, Lucia, saw my passion and became my mentor. When a paid position opened in the maternity ward, she asked if I’d be willing to drop out of the training program and work full-time. It meant I’d finally earn money, so of course, I said yes.
I worked on the ward for more than a year, dealing only with newborns. I wore a starched white uniform and white shoes, a hairnet and a little pointed nurse’s hat on my head. There were six or seven nurses per shift. Each of us was assigned to several babies, depending on how full the ward was. On a typical eight-hour shift, I had three or four newborns under my care, but when the moon was full—a time when babies tend to be born—I’d have as many as six or seven. We also took turns, once a week, in the lactario, where formula was prepared.
In those days, we boiled everything—nipples, bottles, water. Babies never slept in their mothers’ rooms as they sometimes do now. Babies were in nurses’ care—that was the rule. We’d take the little ones to their mothers every four hours, like clockwork, and then take them away. We also weighed the babies before and after nursing. If a baby hadn’t gained weight after a feeding, we suspected that she wasn’t getting enough breast milk, so we’d give her formula, too. In between feedings, we also gave the babies sugar water to keep them from becoming dehydrated. Today, of course, newborns are not kept on rigid schedules, and they’re never given water at such an early age.
To make extra money on my days off, I started working as a health aide, helping new mothers. I learned that some rich families in Brazil hired private baby nurses to help take care of their newborns for several weeks, even months. I asked Lucia, “How can I do that?”
A few months later, Lucia recommended me to a doctor whose wife had just had their third child. One of the older children had a contagious virus, and the couple decided that the newborn should stay in the city with his maternal grandmother. The baby’s mother and siblings would go to the family’s beach house.
When the doctor brought me to the grandmother’s very fancy apartment, she took one look at me and said to him, “Are you really going to leave your son in the hands of this kid?”
I can’t blame her. I was nineteen but looked more like a fifteen-year-old. The doctor stuck up for me, though, because Lucia had recommended me so highly. “She’s not a kid,” he responded. “And she knows what she’s doing.”
I was hired for one month but ended up being with that family for nearly three. My next job was with friends of the doctor, and word spread quickly after that. I had the advantage of not being German, like most of the private baby nurses in Brazil in the mid-1960s. The German baby nurses were very strict and old-fashioned. Some didn’t even let mothers come into the nursery. I was different—much more relaxed, softer. I took care of the baby, but I also wanted the mother involved. I knew how important it was for mothers to bond with their babies.
Eventually, I became the number one baby nurse in São Paulo. Despite my being so young, the mothers I worked for trusted me. For a “kid,” I knew a lot, sometimes more than I realized myself. A particular scene stands out in my mind. My boyfriend Fernando and I had decided to spend the weekend in Salto de Itu, a small town on the outskirts of São Paulo. He was at the university studying sociology at the time, and I had a few days off. We stayed in a small family-run hotel. Our first night there, the sound of a screaming baby pierced the air. “Waa . . . waaa . . . waa . . .” Everyone knows what an upsetting noise that is, especially when you’re trying to fall asleep. I could tell from the cries that it was a newborn. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer, so I left our room and knocked on the door of the main house. There, looking exhausted, were Grandma and Grandpa, in their forties, and the young parents, who were probably around my age. “I’m Luiza. I’m a baby nurse,” I explained. “Can I help?”
The grandmother hesitated only a moment before she gave me the baby. Recalling that incident, I think about how brave I was at twenty-two. No one would do that today. Knock on a total stranger’s door? The family told me that they had fed the baby several times and given him chamomile tea in case he had a tummyache. But nothing they did seemed to help. With their permission, I swaddled the baby and held him in an upright position on my chest. In minutes, he calmed down and, just like an angel, fell asleep.
The four of them looked at me, amazed. But what I had done wasn’t extraordinary. I just knew how to hold the baby to relieve his distress. I also realized that the baby was so overtired from crying that he couldn’t fall asleep without help. By swaddling him, I prevented his body from moving. Keeping him in an upright position close to my beating heart helped him to calm down and fall asleep.
When I came back to our room and told Fernando what had happened, he said, “Luiza, you know you hav...
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