The latest research in nurturing touch, breastsleeping and babywearing

adele grantWhat do you get when you bring together Dr. James McKenna, Dr. Kersten Moberg, Dr. Ann Bigelow, Dr. Henrik Norholt, Dr. Charles Price and Dr. Raylene Phillips?

You get the latest research on skin-to-skin, oxytocin, “breastsleeping,” bedsharing and all things babywearing presented at the first annual Bond Conference in New York City — which I was privileged to attend.

Here is some of the research I found to be most interesting:

Nurturing Touch

  • Infants are born with immature brains and therefore need skin-to-skin and tactile stimulation for their brains to grow.
  • Skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding are the means whereby the immature-term infant continues gestation outside the womb.
  • Skin-to-skin promotes oxytocin release in mom and is shown to improve breastfeeding rates and improve bonding with baby.
  • With elective cesareans, no oxytocin is released. Thus, it needs to be compensated for through skin-to-skin, massage, babywearing and breastfeeding. While Pitocin injections are used to bring on labor, it is very different to natural oxytocin because it only affects the uterus and does not affect the brain, which would lead to the feel good feelings and bonding.
  • Oxytocin release is especially critical in the early days and months. If it’s missing, such as in the Ukrainian orphans that were studied, it is much harder to form secure attachments later on. When mom and baby get close after birth, there is an oxytocin release — they feel good, because dopamine is being activated; they see this happening in the context of the other; and with repeated exposure, this trains the sympathetic nervous system to expect the same response, which leads to a secure attachment.
  • Prolonged exposure to oxytocin has long-term positive effects of reduced risk of stroke and many other illnesses.
  • Some women naturally have lower oxytocin levels. But the good news is that it can be compensated for with skin-to-skin, massage and breastfeeding.
  • Nerve reflexes of the skin trigger an oxytocin release. If triggered very early on, it will have lifelong effects. The front side of the body has extra sensory nerves with the chest being most sensitive.
  • Skin-to-skin could be used as a possible alternative treatment to depression. Mothers with skin-to-skin contact reported fewer depressive symptoms in the first few postpartum weeks.

Safe Sleep

  • The further babies get from mom (non-bedsharers or solitary sleepers in separate room), the fewer feeds there are. Bedsharing babies nurse or “snack” more, because breastmilk is digested faster.
  • Bedsharing and breastfeeding are positively correlated. Dr. McKenna suggests the term “breastsleeping,” as there is no such thing as an infant — only the mother-infant dyad — so there is no solitary sleeping and breastfeeding: only breastsleeping.
  • Approximately 70% of new parents were found to bedshare at least occasionally. This would equate to 2.5-2.9 million mothers if the study were representative of the larger population.
  • Bedsharing in the absence of other hazards was significantly protective for infants older than 3 months.
  • At age 6, babies who bedshared had increased cognitive capacities. Babies who cosleep and get more touch and reassurance become happier and less fearful toddlers who make friends easier and are cognitively more advanced. Then they become less fearful and more optimistic adolescents who trust their own judgment. As adults, they become parents mimicking their own experiences with their own children.

Responding with Sensitivity

  • Infants as young as 3 months are aware that their behaviors’ impact others. When mom does not respond to baby, the infant increases vocalizations to get mom’s attention.
  • Increasingly, orthopedists are seeing more hip issues. They believe this is because of widespread swaddling. The latest recommendation is to leave hips loose until baby is 3 months old. If a baby’s hip does become dislocated and is not treated by 6 months of age, the hip may need surgical intervention for proper development. Lot of skin issues can be sorted by using discoid eczema treatment but sometimes yu may need ortho help.
  • Parents should also be mindful of baby’s hip development when choosing a baby carrier. In the baby’s first 6 weeks of life, the joints are very loose and the hips should not be forced into extension. Side-carrying positions are ideal for proper hip development. After 6 months of age, the position doesn’t matter that much.

This is all such reassuring information, because it backs up what I intuitively did with my first child before I even found Attachment Parenting and what Attachment Parenting International promotes for all children and families.

With continued research from these and other medical and scientific professionals as well as parents providing support to other parents, Attachment Parenting practices like babywearing, keeping babies close by holding them, ensuring safe sleep by keeping babies and children close at night, and extended breastfeeding will become the new norm. This is at least my hope for all the children out there and what I strive to promote in my community.

Unconditional Love

When we were moving a few months ago, I stumbled upon an on old journal from my childhood. I sat down, amidst a pile of boxes, and ignored the surrounding mess to go back to a place that I hadn’t visited in a long time. The pages were laden with my 12 year old scribbles. There were entries about my loves , my friends, and trivial problems, but in between those pages were some hauntingly poignant entries about the abuse that filled my childhood. As I read, it wasn’t the entries describing the latest attack, it was a simple statement, ended with a question, that I think I sent out to the universe:

“I feel like I will never be good enough. Like I will never measure up. I feel like unless I do what they want, and only what they want, they will never love me fully. They call me names, they insult me, they punish me when I stray from their beliefs. Is this how a parent is supposed to treat their child? Is this normal?”

As I grew up, I spent a lot of time asking that question over and over again. It wasn’t until I had my own child and pulled out this journal that I recognized the answer to that question was supposed to be a resounding “NO!” I’d like to say this discovery has ended any self-doubts, but daily, I still ask “Is this enough? Am I enough?” The impact of this emotional abuse as a child has left a permanent mark, even so many years later.

Continue reading “Unconditional Love”

Adventures in Night Time Parenting

My son doesn’t sleep well.  He never has. He doesn’t sleep through the night, as per the textbooks, or sleep experts. He needs to nurse to fall asleep; he will co-sleep when he feels like it, but other night’s requests to be in his own bed, in his own space. He needs to have my shirt in his bed, snuggling up to it if he does sleep in his own bed.  Some nights, he needs my husband or I to rub is back or stroke his hair before he finally gives into sleep. And, yes, he wakes up countless times during the night.

This is my life. This is my night time parenting life sans sleep training, sans the societal pressure to have him on a schedule, or allow him to cry it out.

I learned quickly as an attachment parent, that many think that my ideas about his ability to sleep on his own, with my guidance, on his own terms were not nearly as accepted as some of the books that you can find for sale at your local bookstore.  I have had to be polite to friends and family as they roll their eyes, mock our belief that cry it out should never be a solution, no matter how sleep deprived you are. I’ve had to refuse advice from strangers, or well meaning relatives, who tell me what they heard a sleep expert for babies say on the latest talk show or even better, what worked for them, and their children turned out “fine”.  I mean, at the end of the day, tired, or not, I know my child, and I know what I believe in.
Continue reading “Adventures in Night Time Parenting”

The Journey To Attachment Parenting

Since this is my first post, I thought I would use a piece I wrote when my son, Matteo was just a couple of months old. It was written late one night, when I realized just how I had gotten to believe and feel as strongly as I did about my parenting ideals. My journey towards the attachment parenting spectrum started long before I started I had my son, Matteo.

So here is my story:

I was 17, I didn’t know better. I didn’t know the joy of motherhood, I didn’t know the blessing that having a child was. I did know that my little *Simon needed a better Mom, a better home, a better life. I knew I couldn’t give this to him at the ripe age of 17. I knew that he was bigger than me in so many ways, so I had to let him go. I’ve never regretted that choice. I know to this day that I did the best thing for my little boy. I gave him physical life, and I gave him his life; a life that he deserved, and one that I knew I couldn’t give to him. For him, I became a birthmother.

Now, I’m a mother again. This time, a different kind. The real kind. The kind that wakes up in the middle of the night. The kind that worries non-stop, the kind that claps in joy at the silliest things that her son does. I am a mother. Matteo is my pride and joy, I love him fiercely, with a love I never thought could possibly exist. His existence has opened new horizons, new feelings, new thoughts, and a new life for me. While he is learning so much from this big world, in the short time he has been here, he has taught me more about myself then I have been able to learn in my entire life thus far.

I love both my boys, but my love is so different for each of them. Simon shaped me for the mother I would one day be, and because of the selfless love I had for him, he’s made me a better mother for Matteo. Simon taught me how precious a child is and how beautiful it is to be a mother and watch your child grow. Without him, I would have never learned how much you can miss when you aren’t there.

I’ve contemplated my parenting choices. Everywhere I look people are trying to train their children into their schedule, mould them into the beings they want them to be. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; it’s what feels natural for some parents. However, what’s natural for me is so different. I’m learning every day the things I missed with Simon, and because I know I missed them with him, I’m soaking every small, extraordinary moment up with Matteo. If he wants to stay up all night, I’ll let him. If he wants me to stick out my tongue over and over again, just so he can smile at me, I’ll do it. If he wants to nurse for hours on end, I’ll let him. All of this, because I didn’t get to do it with Simon. I want Matteo to be what he wants, because I want to watch him, I want to see what sort of amazing being I created without trying to make him into the baby he isn’t. I want to soak up every single moment, because I know I’ll never get it back.

At night, when Matteo is wide awake, when my eyes are heavy with sleep, I turn on some country music, and we two-step around the apartment. I sing to him, I snuggle him closer. His eyes flit about excitedly, taking in every color, every picture, every shadow, like he’s never seen it before. Every so often, he’ll put his soft little head on my shoulder, and snuggle into my neck. Within seconds, his head is bobbing up again, trying to remember where he last looked, before he took the time to show me that he felt safe. He’ll be crying, and the moment we start dancing, he stops. Matteo usually looks at me with wonder for a second, and then turns his attention to the objects in the room. We dance for hours at a time, until my arms get tired, until he needs fed, until he’s sleeping, whatever. We just dance, and it’s my favourite time of the day. He’s the best dance partner I’ve ever had, and I sure wouldn’t trade those late night dances for even a bit of sleep.

People talk about all the things that are awful about parenthood- no sleep, lack of a social life, not showering, having no time. The list goes on. What they don’t realize is that when you didn’t get to have that, when you didn’t get to experience those things, they are things you want to have. I didn’t get to see Simon’s first bath, or first smile. I didn’t get to see him cry real tears, or say his first word. I didn’t get stay up all night and rock him to sleep. The thought of all the things I missed with Simon haunted me for years, and even to this day, I sometimes wish I got to sample a bit of his life in real-time. Yet, because of this, I’m embracing all of the imperfections of parenthood. I want the late nights, I want the lack of a social life, I want all of the things that come with parenthood. I want to experience the terrible, the good, the amazing, the awful, all of it. I’m amazed by the simple beauty of all of these experiences, even the tiresome ones.

There are no words, no amount of ‘thank-you’s that will be enough for Simon. I always thought if I ever saw him again, he would thank me for giving him his beautiful family. I never imagined that I would want to hug him tight, and thank him for teaching me how to be a better mom, a more attentive mother, a mother who appreciates the beauty in things that others might miss. A mother who will be happy to learn from her child, who will want to soak up every moment with her child, and will go to all lengths to make sure that her little one is happy, comfortable, loved, and protected.

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons

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