Henrietta Levy also known as Natural Mama Co on Instagram is nothing short of inspiring. She has a background in Psychology and Anthropology – studying tribal cultures, as well as natural medicine. It is needless to say she has a real passion and an innate wisdom into what is to live instinctively. With success Henrietta implements the natural principles she believes in into bringing up her young daughter.
Through her Instagram page, Henrietta offers many women advice and support around breastfeeding, including myself after having my own insecurities around long-term feeding. Her advice allowed me to feel much more at ease. After reading the articles on her Natural Mama Co link tree site coupled with her advice she regularly gives on instagram, I felt compelled to find out more about her…
Hi Henrietta, can you tell us a little about yourself and your family…
Sure thing! I’m 38, mama of one cheeky 2.5 year old daughter and live with her and my beautiful husband (who I met on a blind date 5 years ago!) in Melbourne’s Inner West. Becoming a mama has been the most amazing and empowering thing that’s ever happened to me and I’m passionate about encouraging other mamas to trust their instincts.
My family is pretty cool and have been super supportive (especially my husband) in the way I’ve wanted to parent. My mum has always been pro-breastfeeding and really helped me in the early days. My sister in law has three boys, is a fountain of parenting wisdom and is the one who got me onto Pinky McKay – from whom I draw a lot if inspiration. I’m also really close with my mother in law, who is incredibly strong. She’s really good at putting things in perspective and is proof you can be strong but gentle at the same time. I have a sister too who has a bubba about the same age as mine so it has been awesome to have them hang out (aka get into mischief!) together.
Can you explain what instinctual parenting means and why it is important to you?
To me, it means blocking out all the noise of websites, baby books, social media and advice from others and instead tuning in to your instincts and doing whats right for YOU and YOUR baby – which is usually very different to what the baby books say you ‘should’ be doing. It also means looking at the way people have been parenting for hundreds of thousands of years and implementing their tried and true methods rather than what the latest trend in parenting is. I think we have so much to learn from communities who still live the same way they have for thousand of years.
“I was completely shocked by the way Western mamas are expected to treat their babies. It all seemed very detached and clinical focused on measurements, timings and control.”
Seeing my tiny human grow and develop has been absolutely fascinating for me, and given what I knew about how other cultures raise their kids, I was completely shocked by the way Western mamas are expected to treat their babies. It all seemed very detached and clinical focused on measurements, timings and control. It was like we were telling our babies what they needed instead of listening and learning from them what they actually did need.
When we are too focused on all the measurements and all the ‘shoulds’, for example how much they are eating, sleeping etc, we lose the ability to read our babies cues and what they are trying to tell us. After seeing a lot of mums around me struggling with their new babies, trying to enforce all these unnatural rules and regulations, it became increasingly obvious to me how out of touch western mums were with both their instincts and the basic emotional needs of their babies, as well as their own needs for the closeness and connection with their newborns.
I suppose it’s important to me because, in my experience, tuning in to your baby creates a happier, stronger mother/baby relationship, free from attachment trauma and emotional insecurity, which can go on to affect people well into adulthood. I see it as important to society as a whole, if you are familiar with the works of Freud you’ll know that most issues in later life can be traced back to the relationship with the mother. So fostering a strong mother/baby relationship right from the start can stop a multitude of issues down the track.
It’s unfortunate that most of the popular parenting advice these days seems designed to deliberately drive a wedge between mother and baby – and goes against our mama instincts – such as “only feed every four hours” or “don’t pick them up too much” or “leave them to cry” and these are incredibly stressful to the nervous systems of both baby and mama (and our milk supply!) and create a vicious cycle of self doubt, stress and resentment, which leads to things like post-natal depression, and for babies a loss of security and trust which cause anxiety and lead to problems with feeding and sleeping. This anxiety often stays with a child into later life, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that our society has high rates of “detached parenting” and high rates of people with anxiety or on anti-depressant medication…
I think it’s when mamas ignore their instincts, and instead listen to the advice of others, that the trouble starts….. But it’s not their fault! They’re just trying to be a good mama and so desperately want to do what’s ‘right’.
One of the hashtags I like to use – and I suppose one of the main messages I’m trying to get across – is #keepyourbabiesclose and really that sums it up for me. Historically speaking babies were with their mamas 24/7 for about the first three years, and now, sadly its down to only a few hours a day. I think mamas who are able to spend more time in close contact with their bubbas seem to know instinctively what they need, their babies are more content and secure, and that skin to skin contact releases oxytocin, guarding against PND and the stress of being a new mama.
Trusting your instincts is also incredibly empowering – mamas who trust what others say ‘think’ they are doing the right thing but mamas who trust their instincts KNOW they are doing the right thing, and that’s an amazing feeling.
What inspires your decision to bring up your daughter with instinctual parenting?
I suppose it was a mix of two things, one being what I had studied and the other being the way that I was brought up. I studied Psychology and Anthropology (studying tribal cultures) at Uni and also a bit of Natural Medicine, so I knew that I wanted to raise my daughter as naturally as possible – not just in terms of the food she ate and staying away from chemicals, but also in line with what’s most ‘natural’ for humans, things like breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby wearing. (I probably sound like a bit of a crazy hippy but I’m not really lol! I love all the usual stuff, food, wine, yoga and online shopping for cute kids clothes that I don’t really need… 😜)
I grew up on a farm and I saw many puppies, calfs, lambs etc born over the years and was fascinated by how their mothers all seemed to know what they were doing without any help. You don’t see animals in the wild putting their babies in a separate room to cry every night! And after I became a new mum, I thought about them a lot and how they would just patiently lay down to feed their babies with no timers or schedules or pressure…
My mother was very passionate about the importance of breastfeeding and instilled it in me. She was stuck out on a farm in the middle of nowhere with 3 kids and had a lot of support from the lady from the farm across the road from us who was one of the founding members of the Australian Breastfeeding Association. My father was fascinated by tribal cultures and i suppose that’s where I get my interest in anthropology from. More importantly he taught me how to think for myself, that doctors and ‘experts’ don’t know everything, and to always trust your gut instinct.
You discuss co-sleeping and breastfeeding in such a positive way, can you tell us why they are so important to you?
Thank you, its nice to hear you say that! I guess I talk about them positively because they have both been really positive, beautiful, empowering experiences for me.
To put it simply, they are the most natural ways of raising a baby. People have been breastfeeding and co-sleeping from when they came into existence, and without either none of us would be here!
I always knew I wanted to breastfeed, but had absolutely no idea how important it would become to me and my daughter. It is about so much more than just food.
Co-sleeping was something that came a bit later for us, and was the culmination of a few different reasons. Since birth my bub had been in a bassinet beside our bed but she fast out grew it and at about 4 months old we moved her into the cot, still in our room, but she didn’t like it at all and just would not settle in there. She had also just learnt to roll and I found that I was getting really stressed out because I was so worried about her rolling onto her front and not being able to roll back again. Around the same time, I was starting to get a really sore back from feeding. I read that you could lay down to feed and once I mastered that it wasn’t long before we were both snoozing happily away next to each other in the bed. I found I was more relaxed, she slept better and longer and it just worked.
We exclusively co-slept for about 4 months (between her being 4-8 months old, which got her through the worst of teething etc as well) and then we started slowly to put her back into the cot again, once she had fallen asleep with me. It was actually a surprisingly easy transition and now she loves her cot just as much as she loves sleeping with us.
“When in doubt, Boob”, is a phrase on one of your Instagram posts, what does that mean to you?
Hahaha! This is one of my favourite phrases. In my experience, boob fixes everything. Hunger, thirst, overstimulation, pain, tiredness, boredom, stress can all be fixed with boob. I think that in the west our boobs are heavily underused as a mothering tool and we tend only to associate them with food for the baby. However other cultures seem to know the “power of the boob”, and as soon as a bubba makes a noise they are given boob straight away and it keeps their babies calm and happy (which makes for a calm and happy mama too!!).
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Pretty much any baby drama can be solved with boob, it’s about so much more than just food🤱 Fussy baby? Boob… Crying? Boob… Tired? Boob… Hungry? Boob… Uncomfortable? Boob… Bored? Boob… Stressed? Boob… Scared? Boob… Overstimulated? Boob… Boob is the one thing that will 99.9% of the time settle a baby or toddler, and I personally think it’s a really underused mothering resource these days… Babies and toddlers are so easily overstimulated and the sucking motion is a great, easy way of bringing them back to a place of calm… There is this stupid idea in the west that we shouldn’t feed for comfort, which is ridiculous, like why would you want to make things hard for yourself? There are mothers are driving themselves crazy trying NOT to do this, it must be exhausting, not to mention expensive buying every gadget that is supposed to settle a baby when all you need to do is get your boobs out! So when I doubt mamas, get your boob out, anytime, anywhere, it’s always there! * * #whenindoubtboob #boobin #breastfeedingmoms #whenindoubtboobsout #boobing #breastmilk #boobinalldayboobinallnight #breastfeeding #feedtosleep #normalisebreastfeeding #babies #normalizebreastfeeding #mumlife #extendedbreastfeeding #momlife #fulltermbreastfeeding #mum #normaliseextendedbreastfeeding #keepyourbabiesclose #mom #attachmentparenting #baby #gentleparenting #cuddles #peacefulparenting #love #notears
My daughter was bout 4 or 5 months old when I came across the article “Why African Babies Don’t Cry” by Claire Niala, and it changed everything for me. The piece talks about how, in Africa, babies are allowed to suckle on the breast any time they like and if they are fussing they are given the breast straight away. So I tried it with my own daughter and it was amazing, people were constantly telling us how little she cried and how ‘chilled’ she was, and I’m telling ya, it’s all because of “the boob” lol!
Your daughter, like Frankie is still happily breastfeeding beyond 12 months old, this makes them whats known as ‘long term breastfeeders’, can you tell us your thoughts on that?
So great to hear that you are still breastfeeding! I’ve done a lot of research on this and what I have found is that it is only relatively recently (the last 200 years or so) that babies have been breastfeed less that 12 months. I think it largely due to the influence of Queen Victoria in the 1800’s. Although she had 9 kids, she absolutely hated babies and thought breastfeeding was revolting. As we know, she was a highly influential queen, she was the one who started the trend of wearing a white wedding dress and now it’s something the whole world does! So when she rejected breastfeeding, this took off amongst the women of the time and those who could afford it would recruit a wet nurse to feed their babies. Previous to her, all babies were fed for about 2-3 years MINIMUM. Even the World Health Organisation recommend that babies are breastfed for two years.
“So when it’s referred to as “long term” its actually referring to something that is biologically really normal.”
In many other cultures around the world, kids are breastfed up until around 5-6 years age. Not only is feeding for longer great for nutrition and immunity but I think its great for their nervous systems as well. Have you noticed how as soon as a baby has a nipple in its mouth it seems to calm right down? I think the longer you can provide this comfort to them the better. So when it’s referred to as “long term” its actually referring to something that is biologically really normal. It’s almost like feeding less than 12 months should be called “short term” breastfeeding instead!
Interestingly I found out the other day there was immense pressure on upper class women from the middle ages onwards to produce an heir. In order for them to have more babies, they would employ a wet nurse, so they could avoid breastfeeding in order to get their periods back quicker! The wet nurses would still feed them for 2-3 years though, often at the expense of their own child’s health.The poorer people who couldn’t afford a wet nurse would feed their own babies and have children much further apart than what we do now!
Please tell us some of your thoughts on the wonderful article on your link tree site ‘the importance of the in arms phase’ by Jean Liedloff..
Oh I absolutely LOVE this article, it really reinforced for me how the ‘tribal’ way of doing things is so much more conducive to having a happy baby! These days, we are taught to ignore our baby’s cries and to put them down all the time, for fear that they will become too dependant on us, but Liedloff explodes that myth by observing how these babies are held ALL the time and are so happy, hardly cry or have tantrums and are actually very independent – and much more respectful – much sooner than their western peers.
There are two main things that resonated with me when I first read the article, one was how babies like to be in the action of daily life but without being the centre of attention, and the other was how before they crawl or walk, their excess energy is dispelled through the person carrying them.
After I read this, I began babywearing my daughter more and when I saw she was getting sleepy, I would hold her to my chest, put some music on, and literally start doing laps of the hallway. It worked every time. No tears, no training, just really peaceful sleep. I also want to point out here that dads can babywear too, and it’s just as beneficial for the babies. My husband wore our daughter a lot and did just as many laps of the hallway with her as I did!
Interestingly, amongst Pigmy tribes, where adults are much smaller than average, the fathers carry the babies almost exclusively. Even though the adults are smaller than we are, babies are born the same size as ours and so after a few months are given to the men to carry because they become too big for the mothers. The children will often suckle on the fathers nipples if they need comfort (could this be the reason men still have nipples????!) so it goes to show how important the role of the father is in looking after our young.
Do you think our society will ever be fully ready to embrace the ways that the Yequana tribes take care of their babies as mentioned in Jean Liedloff’s article?
That is a great question, and I think the short answer is no unfortunately, but, I also think we are getting better. There definitely has been a shift towards baby wearing for sure, however I think people are still hung up on the idea that babies need to be “put down” and on their backs at that, which is incredibly unnatural. Liedloff mentions in the article how their babies rarely vomit or suffer from colic and I think it’s because they are kept upright most of the time, and fed smaller amounts more regularly.
“I would love to see a world where women could baby wear their babies to work, especially within the first 6 months.”
Also I think one of the greatest obstacles is the pressure for mums to go back to work these days, which in itself isn’t a bad thing, but it means leaving their babies behind, so they are both missing out on all that contact with each other. I would love to see a world where women could baby wear their babies to work, especially within the first 6 months.
You talk about Elimination Communication or EC as a little known concept in the West, I myself hadn’t heard of it either. Can you tell us briefly what it is and how it can play a part in instinctual parenting?
Elimination communication basically means not using nappies and instead learning your babies cues of when they need to ‘eliminate’ (wee or poo) from birth. It’s funny because the more I learn about this the more I realise how important it is and plays a huge part in instinctual parenting. We look at nappies as a modern convenience, which they are of course, but they actually inhibit us from learning what’s making our babies grumpy or uncomfortable. Quite often parents don’t think of a wet nappy when their bub is fussing, so they’ll try to feed them or rock them but 9 times out of ten it’s because they are wet! Also the need to wee is one of the main reasons babies wake up at night. When you think about it makes perfect sense, it’s the main reason we as adults wake up too! And nobody wants to sleep in their own wee!
Have you ever noticed a newborn will wee once their nappy has been taken off? It’s because they are “programmed” not to soil themselves, because evolutionarily speaking this would have led to infection and sickness. So in a sense we are almost “nappy training” our babies.
(I often say to new mums, remember the 3 B’s if your baby is grumpy, Boob, Burping or Bum – they seem to fix most problems, but the bum one is often overlooked!)
In the West, society puts pressure on women to get back to a pre pregnancy state of being long before we are ready. Do you think it’s possible that we can get back to our instinctual roots with our babies while balancing the demands of modern living?
That’s a great point, yes I think we are getting further and further away from our instinctual roots here. There is so much pressure for women to get back to work or get back to their pre-pregnancy body and it puts enormous pressure on them both physically and emotionally. Yes we have better medicine these days, but our bodies still need time to heal and we still need to take time to get to know and bond with our babies. So many women are forced to give up breastfeeding before they are ready or to put their kids in childcare when they really would rather not. It can be incredibly stressful.
I think its up to us as women and mothers to come together on this and really fight for better maternity leave rights, wouldn’t it be great to be able to have two years minimum. Sometimes I think the only thing that benefits from women going back to work is the government, that just wants women to go back to work for the sake of the economy….
Have you ever faced any obstacles with your parenting choices? What did you do to overcome them?
Yes I definitely have – I’ve definitely been given “the look” from other people when they hear I’m still breastfeeding or co-sleeping – but for the most part I’ve been pretty lucky by having a partner that’s supported me in my choices, because he understands the importance of them too.
In the first few months, when I realised that I was doing things a bit differently to the rest of my mothers group, I felt very alone and unsupported – and I’m pretty sure they all thought I was crazy lol! I started to doubt myself and wondered if I was the only one who kept my baby in the same room as me and who didn’t let her cry, it was a very lonely time.
“I have also perfected my “resting bitch face” so if people see me feeding in public and have a problem with it they know not to say anything lol!!!”
It wasn’t until my sister in law one day liked an article from Pinky McKay, which then came up in my news feed on Facebook, that I realised I was not alone, it talked about everything I was thinking and feeling at the time, and from then on I just stopped worrying about what everyone else was doing and started believing in myself, it was actually really empowering. I have also perfected my “resting bitch face” so if people see me feeding in public and have a problem with it they know not to say anything lol!!!
Finally, If you could offer any words of wisdom for all the lovely Mamas out there what would they be?
Trust your gut, trust your baby. If something feels wrong it usually is, don’t do it. But most importantly, know that you are not alone, there ARE other mamas like you. Search out your tribe, even its just online, we all need support and connecting with like minded mamas will go a long way in making you feel better and give you the strength to continue doing what you are doing. You got this mamas!
Follow the lovely Henrietta on her natural parenting Journey..