Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Baby self-stimulation

This is a topic I don’t see written about very often in the parenting literature, but one that we are currently experiencing – our baby/young toddler has already discovered the joys of self stimulation.

For a while now, he has loved to lean over onto an armchair or sofa. He will rock back and forth a bit and look contented. OK.

Several weeks ago, while friends were in town, he did this with a big pillow on the floor. His lower area rocked more than usual. It looked as though he was making love to the pillow. My childless friend was shocked.

“It’s a comfort mechanism,” Mark explained. Again, I was OK with it.

Back in the day, around 11 months old, River enjoyed touching himself on the potty. I figured it was natural curiosity about that thing hanging down from him. I also remembered reading about a Pacific society in which adults stimulated children by hand, even as babies, because they thought it was pleasurable for them. So I accepted he could be experiencing some pleasure. Mark however was concerned. We settled on letting River do what he wants to his own body in private. When he gets older we’ll teach him the difference between what he can do in private and what he can do in public.

His public display in front of my friends concerned me a bit. In the following weeks, when I put him down to nap or sleep, he’d often head for the stomach-down position, then begin to rock. When I come get him after the nap, he’s often in the same position.

One afternoon, I handed him his sippy cup full of milk as I put him in the crib. He placed it under his lower stomach, then started to rock. When I came back after his nap, it was still there and his little penis was larger than I’d ever seen it. Rocking against the sippy cup was having some effect.

“You should tell the doctor about this at his 18 month appointment,” I suggested to Mark. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t on the road to becoming a sexual predator or some type of freak, though it’s hard to imagine with his ever-mellow and sweet personality. Maybe the “Lock up your daughters” t-shirt my brother gave us as a gift would need to be put to use.

“I’m not going to talk to the doctor about that,” Mark said.

My instinct was that the behavior, however shocking to us, was probably normal. Yet, I felt it was important to be open about it. If it was something to hide, then that made it shameful. I admit, I worried that people would think perhaps he’d seen something he shouldn’t have (he hasn’t).

So when my parents came to visit and my mother, a former nurse, mentioned how a cousin’s autistic child flaps when he seeks comfort, I mentioned over the dinner table that River likes to hump pillows, furniture and sippy cups.

“You’re going to talk about that?” Mark asked, surprised. But my mother was unphased. I liked her clinical terms. “Self-stimulating behavior can often start in babies this young,” she said. “It is pleasurable to them.”

This makes us feel better and it’s just a needed reminder that he’s a mammal like we all are. Nonetheless, sometimes we are caught off guard. The other evening, Mark put River down to sleep.

“River went down easily,” he told me afterwards. “But after I closed the door, there were disturbing noises coming from his room.”

I thought he was in some kind of pain. But Mark explained that they were more like grunts, of pleasure.

“I had expected him to wait until he was a teenager,” Mark said, with a resigned smile.

It would be interesting to hear other people’s experience with their children’s early sexuality. How do you react to your children stimulating themselves? Does the interest and the activity go through phases?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009