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Breastfeeding, Weaning and Sleep

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This page tells a little more about the 'advice' part of the clinic's rôle, rather than the development check and vaccination side. I am attempting to give you a feel for some general Dutch attitudes, as they may be different from those in your home country, so that you can see where the clinic staff are coming from in their approach to child-rearing.

The clinics are essentially mainstream in that they do not tend to advocate co-sleeping, baby-wearing, late weaning, baby-led weaning and the like. This doesn't necessarily mean they object to this kind of thing, though, as long as it's doing nobody any harm (although they might, depending on the individual). If you bring a contentious opinion to the clinic, you should see the good side of Dutch tolerance, in that although the nurse might quite patently think you're totally bats for even thinking about doing it, she'll just nod politely and say 'Oh really?' at intervals. My clinic was extremely entertained by my accounts of baby-led-weaning my (obviously thriving) son, for example.

Breastfeeding - Best, of course

Dutch clinics are very pro-breastfeeding, and will (or should) give you all the support you might need. Since the maternity leave here is relatively short, though, a very high proportion of mothers stop feeding around three to four months - when they return to work - and the clinic may well assume you will do this too. Mine was certainly impressed with anything beyond six months, which meant I got lots of lovely appreciation and encouragement! If you need more help then ask them about lactatiedeskundigen , breastfeeding consultants, or consult (in Dutch). 



Advice has gently but definitely shifted here from start-around-four-or-five-months (they said for my oldest in 2002) to a very definite six-month 'frontier' for weaning these days (they said for my youngest in 2008). You will now be advised to give only breast (or formula) until six months, unless there are pressing medical reasons dictating otherwise, and after that to start with gentle additions of solid food while retaining breast as the main source of nutrition.

As you might imagine given the twice-daily Dutch boterhammen (sandwiches), there is a big emphasis on BREAD in an early diet, and crusts (easy to hold) or breadsticks (soepstengels ) will be recommended as early snacks. They tend to expect a fairly rapid shift in infants' eating habits, encouraging you to move rapidly towards three meals a day (two of which are bread meals, broodmaaltijden ) plus milk feeds. Your child eating 'met de pot mee' , ie. joining the adult evening meal (at 6pm, of course) is a tremendous milestone and will be inquired about.

The clinic (and the Dutch in general) is not on the whole paranoid about allergies and intolerances, and if you suspect problems in your infant you may need to push slightly (is this theme starting to sound a little familiar now?) to get it further seen to. Advice is to avoid gluten until after six months (a no-brainer if you're weaning late) and honey until a year. They counter-advise cow's milk as a drink (or in porridge etc.) only in the sense that it's not as nutritionally appropriate as breast (or formula) and should therefore not replace a feed. Cow's milk and milk products can be introduced into the diet before a year.

My general experience with food is that they give advice in this area if you or the child's development indicates there's a concern, and otherwise leave you more or less to your own devices. Should the clinic dwell on some non-medically-crucial aspect of your feeding of which they disapprove, however, just say politely but firmly that you're quite happy with it actually, thank you, and would prefer not to discuss it. And be economical with the truth next time they ask you about the subject...


Children of all ages - and their parents! - can have all sorts of issues with sleeping and the clinic is also there to help you in this area should you need. At most appointments you will be asked various questions about the child's sleeping (does he wake? how often?) and also how you feel about this behaviour, which is just as important, since a night where a child wakes twice might be hell to one parent but an incredibly good night for another. There are people who can help you and your child if there are serious issues; ask the clinic.

As far as advice goes, be aware that official policy is clear on co-sleeping; it can be dangerous for the infant, because of the danger of overlaying and of suffocation under the bedclothes. I quote: 'You would be better advised to put the baby to sleep in a cradle or bed next to your own bed'. I suggest therefore that you think carefully beforehand about how you will answer questions about sleeping arrangements, if you are (as I did!) totally ignoring this advice. A tactfully evasive answer (see Ignoring advice could save you long and tedious discussions.





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