I’m going to care for a friend’s baby and I’m worried …

Hi Mamas,

I’m going to start taking care of a friend’s baby full-time. She’s 6 weeks old, doesn’t yet have head control, just passed 7 lbs. and seems so fragile! She’s also formula fed. I plan on wearing her a lot, plus tummy time, but I want to do everything I can to help this baby. I’m very concerned for her health.

This might sound crazy, but I’m wondering if it would be wrong to nurse her when she’s with me? I’m afraid to ask her mom, for fear she won’t let me watch her. I just want baby to thrive! What do I do?

Alyssa

Dear Alyssa,

Your concern about this little one comes through loud and clear, but from what you describe it sounds like your friend is hiring you to care for her infant. You are obligated to provide a service for Mom based on the kind of care she’s requesting, not the type of care you believe this baby needs. That said, it sounds like you’ve had experience with your own kids and this experience has raised questions for you about what’s best for this baby.

To do the best job possible you need more information before you sound the alarm: Was she premature? How much did she weigh at birth and does 7 plus pounds at 6 weeks represent healthy weight gain? Has she been followed by a pediatrician for well-baby care? Does doctor (or Mom) have any concerns about her nutrition or development that you need to know about? These are all questions you need answered to provide good care. There’s nothing wrong with asking them.

Infants come in many shapes and sizes and no two babies grow and develop at the same rate. While breast milk is the food of first choice, lots of kiddos grow up perfectly healthy on infant formula and there may be very good reasons why this little one is bottle-fed. Unless Mom chooses to share them with you (how close is your friendship, anyway?) it isn’t really any of your business.

And no, under no circumstances is it OK for you to breast-feed another mother’s baby unless you are given express permission to do so. How would you feel if the positions were reversed? Have you ever seen the movie The Hand That Rocks The Cradle? Netflix. I recommend it.

If you hire someone to paint the interior of your home you might expect them to ask if the existing color is oil or latex and make suggestions about brand and quality, but you’d be plenty mad if they took the liberty of changing your eggshell khaki shade to a high gloss teal.

Ask Mom specifically about her likes, dislikes, and the routines she’s established. Is baby fed on a schedule or on demand? Does she self-soothe to fall asleep or get rocked in the baby carrier? Does she use a pacifier? Cloth or disposables? These choices belong to Mom and Dad.

This family is way lucky to be able to hire a trusted friend to give loving care to their new baby when they can’t be there, but they will be the ones making a lifetime of decisions about this child that began before she was even born. As long as you respect those they’re sure to be open to you sharing your own parenting thoughts and experiences.

Good luck, and remember to enjoy that new baby smell, there’s nothing as wonderful!

~ The Mamas

 

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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