Normalizing Extended Breastfeeding

The Momosphere is all atwitter over Time Magazine’s cover story: “Are You Mom Enough?” From its “shocking” cover photo to its provocative title, it’s obvious Time was shooting for “mommy war” controversy (something I work hard to stay away from).

If I shy away from controversy, why would I ever agree to the possibility of being on the cover of Time? Because I want to normalize breastfeeding past infancy. Extended does not equal extreme.

People have said that my son (and moreso Jaime’s son, who is on the cover) will be upset or embarrassed someday by this article. But that is the attitude we are trying to change – we do not want the sight of an older nursling to cause a stir ten years from now. By agreeing to be a part of this photo shoot, we wanted to create opportunities for conversation and education about how normal and natural it is to nurture our little ones by nursing past infancy. We want our children to never bat an eye at the sight of a mother breastfeeding past infancy.

So how can one photo stir up such controversy and negativity? And why would any mother choose to nurse for longer than a year?

The Decision to Breastfeed – For Three Months or Three Years – Is Culturally Influenced

Western culture tends to focus on the sexual aspect of the female breast much more than on its biological role of breastfeeding, despite the fact that we are mammals. The word “mammal” is derived from mammary glands. Mammary glands are those amazing parts of our breasts, the primary purpose of which is to feed our young. So while we often hear about nursing moms being asked to leave or cover up, you rarely hear about petitions to have Victoria Secret ads removed from evening television or city billboards. Go figure, eh?

In addition to our culture’s fascination with breasts as sexual objects, breastfeeding is also “modified by a wide variety of [cultural] beliefs, not only about infant health and nutrition, but also about the nature of human infancy and the proper relationships between mother and child, and between mother and father1.”

That must explain many of the objections I’ve read whenever there is an article about nursing past infancy. There are vague complaints about it being “too sexual.” That it encourages children to be overly dependent on mothers. That it is somehow at odds with a child’s development (ever heard the one about children old enough to “ask” should not be nursing?).

Nursing older children, however, is not a new thing. Not only is there evidence that mothers have nursed past toddlerhood throughout human history (and have been recommended to by physicians!), but cultures around the world continue to nurse to three years or beyond today2. If nursing past infancy were a harmful practice, the human race would not have flourished so.

And so while the “median age of weaning throughout the world is between ages three and five[,]” here in North America we are weaning our children when they are far younger.

Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy Benefits Children and Mothers

The biologically normal benefits of breastfeeding do not magically disappear once a baby turns a year old. Breastmilk still provides nutrition that is far superior to cow milk. It contains an abundance of antibodies. “In fact, some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process3.”
Think about it like this:

Suppose you have an oil well in your back yard. Like all oil wells, its yield is highest in the first year. You get a check for $100,000 dollars. Great! So now do you cap the well? The next year you get a check for only $10,000. Do you cap the well? The next year you get a check for $1,000. Do you cap the well? The next year you get a check for $100. Do you cap the well? [The] point [is], the well will *always* yield a benefit. . .

Breastfeeding works something like that. Its nutritional and immunological importance wanes over time. But there’s never, never a time when it’s not a good food or a good source of antinfectives. And, of course, this analogy doesn’t address the emotional value, the place breastfeeding has in the mother-child relationship4.

For the record, the American Academy of Family Physicians has said: “As recommended by the WHO, breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years.

So this idea of a mother breastfeeding her three or four year old as unnatural? It’s incorrect.

Breastfeeding can continue to be a normal, healthy part of your relationship with your child into toddlerhood and beyond. It has been one reason that my son counts my embrace as the most secure, loving place he knows. (He told me!)

Did you breastfeed past infancy? Why or why not?

References, and for more information

1. Jen Davis, <a href=”http://www.lalecheleague.org/nb/nbsepoct07p196.html”>Breastfeeding Beyond a Year: exploring benefits, cultural influences, and more</a> quoting Dettwyler, K.A. “A Time to Wean” in Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995.

2. For more on these studies, check out Breastfeeding Beyond a Year and the studies cited therein (along with the reference to physicians recommending extended breastfeeding), A Natural Age of Weaning by Kathryn Dettwyler, Natural Weaning by Norma Jane Bumgarner, and ChildInfo.org.

3. Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet (citing Goldman AS. et al., Immunologic Components in Human Milk During Weaning, Acta Paediatr Scand. 1983 Jan;72(1):133-4; Goldman, A., Goldblum R.M., Garza C., Immunologic Components in Human Milk During the Second Year of Lactation, Acta Paediatr Scand 1983 May;72(3):461-2; Hamosh M, Dewey, Garza C, et al: Nutrition During Lactation. Institute of Medicine, Washington, DC, National Academy Press, 1991, pp. 133-140)] The longer you breastfeed, the less risk you have of developing breast cancer, endometrial cancer, or ovarian cancer.[6. See Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet and citations therein, and 101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child and citations therein.

4. Nursing Past a Year at The Compleat Mother

TIME Magazine Shows Attachment Parenting is Going Mainstream, Not Extreme

When we, Attachment Parenting International, learned that TIME Magazine decided to take on attachment parenting in its May 21, 2012 issue, we had to ask, “TIME, are you news magazine enough?”

Beyond the incendiary attempt to pit mothers against each other asking, “Are you mom enough?,” and a strategic cover contrived to sell copies, what did TIME actually say about attachment parenting?

In case you don’t get very far past the cover, here is what TIME happened to acknowledge to the world about attachment parenting:

Dr. William Sears, with Martha Sears, deserve recognition for changing the course of parenting and giving parents The Baby Book 20 years ago. Dr. Sears is noted by TIME as “The Man Who Remade Motherhood” and author of many parenting books, including The Baby Book: “First published in 1992, The Baby Bookis now in print in 18 languages, with more than 1.5 million copies sold.”

Attachment parenting is changing how we parent: “Chances are also good that, consciously or not, you’ve practiced some derivative of attachment parenting or been influenced by its message that mothers and babies evolved to be close to each other.”

“Fans and critics of attachment parenting can agree on two things: there has been a sea change in American childrearing over the past 20 years, and no one has been a more enthusiastic cheerleader for it than Sears.”

“So many of the ideas of attachment parenting are in the culture even if you don’t believe in Dr. Sears per se,” says Pamela Druckerman , author of Bringing Up Bébé.

“[Attachment parenting] is a new common sense.”
(TIME, The Man Who Remade Motherhood, Kate Pickert)

Nurturing touch fosters security: “…it’s hard to argue with his overall message that babies who are cuddled feel secure.”

Breastfeeding promotes bonding: “He surely deserves credit for promoting breastfeeding and the idea that the bond between mother and baby is critical.”

Consistent and loving care is key: “The difference between children without consistent relationships with parents (or parental figures of any kind) and well-parented children who are fed formula (instead of breastmilk) and put in bouncy seats (instead of slings) is huge. The former, science says, are headed for developmental and emotional problems.”

Fathers are not incidental to attachment parenting:
“Much of Sears’ instruction for fathers revolves around the supportive role they can play for their wives.” “Sears also encourages “attachment fathering,” pointing out that dads can wear their babies just as well as mothers.”

Many AP moms work outside the home: “[Sears] says about 60% of mothers with children in his pediatric practice work outside their homes, and indeed, some career mothers are drawn to an attachment parenting model that helps them get close to their babies when they finally come home from work.”
(TIME, The Man Who Remade Motherhood, Kate Pickert)

Breastfeeding beyond infancy is … natural: “In 2008, the American Academy of Family Physicians did its part to try to destigmatize nursing toddlers and older children, applauding the WHO guidelines even as it acknowledged that extended breastfeeding “is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement.” The group added: It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years. Family physicians should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits to the child of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment and having a sustainable food source in times of emergency. The longer women breastfeed, the greater the decrease in their risk of breast cancer. There is no evidence that extended breastfeeding is harmful to mother or child.”
(TIME, Extended Breast-Feeding: Is It More Common than We Think?, Bonnie Rochman)

Weaning happens naturally: “So I rarely had to contend with strangers’ stares because the older my kids got, the less they nursed. That’s the normal progression of things – it’s how weaning is ideally supposed to work.”
(TIME, Extended Breast-Feeding: Is It More Common than We Think?, Bonnie Rochman)

Attachment parenting advocates societal change to accommodate family wellbeing: “More power to all of us. Let’s not blame our breasts for the other societal issues – like unequal pay, lack of daycare and having to protect our babies from toxins – that are holding us back.”
(TIME, Why Breast-Feeding Isn’t the Bugaboo, Dominique Browning)

Greater acceptance of nursing, including in public, helps families meet their babies’ needs: The world wonders what the discussion is: “But much of the world doesn’t share America’s uneasiness. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breast-feeding up to a child’s second birthday ‘or beyond.’ Most U.S. mothers don’t even meet the recommendation made by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Surgeon General that they skip infant formula and breast-feed exclusively for a mere six months.”
(TIME, Extended Breast-Feeding: Is It More Common than We Think?, Bonnie Rochman)

Parenting with intention may be healing and address unresolved needs: “Our parenting preferences matter deeply to us – they boost our self-esteem, or perhaps soothe and heal us from having been parented in a way that didn’t meet our needs.”
(TIME, “Parents Do What’s Right for Them,” Judith Warner)

There is value in being responsive to infant cries. We know responding will not spoil an infant. So if the research on “cry it out” is not conclusive, no need to support ignoring cries and the parent urge to respond, in lieu of building trust and a stronger relationship, and relying on support if needed. After finding in his research the science behind Dr. Sears’ work lacking, Jeffrey Kluger does acknowledge: “None of this means that Sears’ larger philosophy of attachment parenting is fatally flawed – as his millions of believers and their happy, well-adjusted babies would surely attest.”
(TIME, The Science Behind Dr. Sears: Does it Stand Up?, Jeffrey Kluger)

Attachment Parenting holds up to scrutiny: “[Mothers] research; they seek out best practices; they join a group, form a committee and agitate for their version of feeding/disciplining/sleeping. If you don’t believe me, just visit a breast-feeding support group with former litigators, marketing executives and investment bankers.”
(TIME, How Feminism Begat Intensive Mothering, Belinda Luscombe)

Parents are actively advancing the field of parenting; the sciences of development and attachment are affirming their parenting instincts: “We’ve educated women to forge a new path. Why did we think they’d treat raising children any differently?”
(TIME, How Feminism Begat Intensive Mothering, Belinda Luscombe)

Balance and support are essential to parenting: “Sears tells mothers, “Do the best you can with the resources you have”; he tells husbands to book massages for their wives and shoo them out of the house so they can get a break from parenting.”
(TIME, The Man Who Remade Motherhood, Kate Pickert)


This TIME magazine issue does have parents reading between the lines, pleased to discover the attachment parenting name to what they’ve been practicing.

We certainly don’t expect Attachment Parenting International promotional material from TIME magazine, so the work remains to shift culture to responsive and compassionate parenting, and to make clarifications as needed:

Attachment parenting is motivated by a desire to raise well adjusted, strong, independent children, as parents meet the trust and other emotional needs of the child from the very start and it’s not the case that: “…it’s more about parental devotion and sacrifice than about raising self-sufficient kids.”
(TIME, The Man Who Remade Motherhood, Kate Pickert)

The essence of attachment parenting is loving care that features a reciprocal, relational approach that goes deeper than this simple formula: “The three basic tenets are breast-feeding (sometimes into toddlerhood), co-sleeping (inviting babies into the parental bed or pulling a bassinet alongside it) and “baby wearing,” in which infants are literally attached to their mothers via slings.”
(TIME, The Man Who Remade Motherhood, Kate Pickert)

“Attachment parenting is in many ways the practical application of my father’s theory,” writes Sir Richard Bowlby Bt., who “lectures to promote a much broader understanding of his father’s work [Dr. John Bowlby] on attachment theory,” in his endorsement of API co-founders’, Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, book Attached at the Heart: Eight Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children, just to begin addressing the criticism that “The science on attachment is also easily misunderstood and misused. The father of attachment theory is John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst who in the mid – 20th century studied orphans and children abandoned by their mothers.”
(TIME, The Man Who Remade Motherhood, Kate Pickert)

There is nothing that prohibits a parent who works from incorporating the heart of relationship with attachment parenting. Perhaps they may elect to breastfeed or bottlenurse; babywear; or cosleep safely (not necessarily in the adult bed) to get more sleep; and at least nurture their child without spanking or shaming; and respond with sensitivity most of the time. Many find attachment parenting makes parenting and working more compatible, not “impossibly demanding” as Judith Warner perceives: “That’s why William Sears, for all his insistence on flexibility and admonitions to ‘do the best you can with the resources you have,’ strikes so many of us as impossibly demanding for any woman who wants or simply needs to keep out-of-home work a viable part of her life.”
(TIME, “Parents Do What’s Right for Them,” Judith Warner)

Yes, the AP crowd is on average pretty well educated, but it isn’t affluence that determines their choices — many continue to make financial sacrifices based on what science (and their own hearts) say is best for their children.“The affluent, slightly older and well educated moms who are most likely perusing parenting books like those written by William Sears have already tasted financial independence, self-sufficiency and freedom of movement.”
(TIME, “Parents Do What’s Right for Them,” Judith Warner)

We welcome TIME Magazine giving attachment parenting a public platform for discussion. For many years we have been witnessing a silent transition of the mainstream culture to attachment parenting–not extremism, as parents experience the benefits of parenting compassionately and become more confident in trusting their instincts.

TIME, the blame for mother guilt does not lie with attachment parenting or with any other type of parenting philosophy or culture — the complexity and balancing act of motherhood, encompassing mommy guilt or even typical healthy doubt as we navigate our way, existed before attachment parenting resurfaced. In fact, while TIME perpetuates the idea of an epidemic of immobilizing mommy guilt, moms of every stripe are in no uncertain terms countering, “Yes, we are mom enough.” AP brings balance and self-acceptance to mothers, embracing our imperfections and even recognizing how the repairs we make with our children strengthen and grow the attachment relationship. Now, we must move past the misconceptions and myths some of the conversation is dominated by and collectively think of the future we are raising.

Attachment parenting has a pedigree that goes to the beginning of history, rooted in a theory that has 60 years of formal research behind it, and 20 years of reclaiming our parenting instincts from disproven constructs of baby training and ignoring infant cries. If examined without bias and preconceptions, TIME may well one day report on attachment parenting as a “new” scientific discovery. The front cover and title would hail attachment parenting as the next life-changing advancement in society that benefits children, mothers, fathers, families, and society; but it’s enough for now.

Attachment Parenting International
www.attachmentparenting.org

A Mother to Mother Conversation With Mayim Bialik

“…neuroscience and developmental neurobiology and psychology support a style of parenting that fosters healthy dependence. It’s simply biologically true.”

We know of Mayim as Blossom, the Mayim who earned a PhD in neuroscience, Mayim as Amy Farrah Fowler in the hit TV series, Big Bang Theory. She adds “author” to her impressive list of titles with her new book, Beyond the Sling, scheduled to release tomorrow. I recently had the pleasure of talking to Mayim Bialik about her new book and her preferred role, Mayim the attachment mother.

First, I’d like to hear how your book came about.

I’ve been the spokesperson for Holistic Mom’s Network for a while now, and I started writing for this website called Kveller.com, and I guess sort of became this unofficial spokesperson for a style of parenting that I don’t see as particularly bizarre or strange at all. But obviously it’s really out of the norm of the way a lot of people parent. And so honestly, I was kind of just asked to write the book.

I was being interviewed by an actress named Theresa Strasser. She’s a comedian and she had just written a book about pregnancy, and she said to me, I would never want to parent the way you do and I think it sounds ridiculous in theory, but, she said, the way you talk about it makes it sound so not judgmental and it actually sounds like it makes sense even if I wouldn’t choose it. My book agent wants to talk to you. And I’m thinking, book agent? I spoke to him, and four months later we had a book proposal. Kind of an unlikely way to write a book, but I basically wrote the lifestyle that me and all my friends and everybody at Attachment Parenting International and La Leche League sort of know about but I guess once you put a celebrity name on it people will pay attention. I don’t know, I guess that’s the sad state of our culture.

It seems like it covers a lot of myth vs. fact, a lot of, the why behind outward appearances. What do you think people most misunderstand about attachment parenting?

I think people misunderstand a lot of things about the kind of children that people think you raise if you practice AP. People think that my goal, or anyone’s goal who parents this way is to raise spoiled, manipulative, whiny children who are clingy and never gain proper independence. But I think also one of the main things of the book is trying to take on is, not that you need a PhD in neuroscience to write a book about parenting or to be a parent, but that neuroscience and developmental neurobiology and psychology support a style of parenting that fosters healthy dependence. It’s simply biologically true. And that attachment parents don’t choose this because we’re lazy, or because we don’t know how to get our kids out of our bed, or because we don’t know how to say no to them when they keep asking to breastfeed. So I think the notion is that this is a conscious choice and parenting philosophy that is believed in. It’s not passive parenting, it’s not lazy parenting, and it’s not careless. It’s very conscious and concerted.

And there are a lot of different ways to do it! There are families with a lot of structure and discipline that also are attachment parenting families and there are families that are a lot more permissive. It’s a broad term that really describes a lot of people.

What is your biggest parenting challenge going on right now?

[Laughs] Um, how to pick? We don’t have easy kids. A lot of people think I have easy kids simply because they seem easy, but they’re high-needs kids. As anyone with a high-needs baby or child knows, it takes a lot of work to keep that going, and sometimes I feel like I don’t have much more attention to give. But I’m getting clear signals that they need more attention and it’s a huge challenge and especially, my husband’s home with them when I’m working, so I’m here even less than I need to be. But there’s still so much that needs to get done. I joke with friends of mine, we say, how can they need more attention? I’m giving them all I have!

Having so much on your plate, author, blogger, neuroscientist, homeschooler,  and obviously Big Bang Theory, and with attachment parenting being the most hands-on parenting philosophy, at least the most hands-on I know of, how do you strive for balance? That’s one of the attachment parenting principles, so what do you do for Mayim?

I try and find small, not time- or money-consuming ways to kind of replenish. I think we’re in an unusual situation where I was the primary caregiver, you know, hands-on, 24/7 for years, and it’s only recently that I’m working and my husband is the one home. So I think it’s important also, for the primary caregiver which is my husband at this point to also find ways to replenish. So, I think he feels that sometimes I get to leave the house, and that’s my replenishment.

But I think that in weeks that I’m off, and all of those times that I am just me with them – I don’t do a lot of social things, I don’t go out a lot with girlfriends, I read, I study a couple times a week with a Jewish study partner, which is an intellectual exercise and also a social one. And I do small things. Like simplifying life so I can catch up on things that make me feel organized and like the house is in order. So for me, sometimes it’s relaxing to know that, like last week me and the boys, we re-did all of their little shelves where they keep their clothes. And things like that give me a sense of peace and balance because it’s one less thing that I have hanging over me.

You mentioned your husband is staying home with the kids full-time. The traditional role has the man as provider and the woman as caregiver. How does he handle that, and how does the family handle that?

It’s unusual for sure. It’s still an adjustment for him. It’s an adjustment for the whole family, but now that Fred is now out of the stage where he’s breastfeeding as much as he had been, it’s much easier. My husband has always been super supportive of breastfeeding and extended breastfeeding. And Fred does still nurse, but he’s not at the point where I’m pumping anymore, which I think is in some ways easier for my husband. He has more autonomy, now that he’s settling in and now that they’re both older and they can do more active field trips together and that the day is not dictated by naps, you know, for the little one.

This particular unit study is about medieval England. This unit study is called Time Capsule: Medieval England by Michelle Caskey. There are daily lessons to keep your children engaged and learning for 12 weeks (300 activities in all)! For each day you also have a variety of activity options to choose from to suit your child’s interest and needs. The unit study also includes a supplies list and suggested reading list.

In this unit study your child will experience being:

  • A Peasant in Medieval England
  • A Tradesman/Tradeswoman in Medieval England
  • A Knight/Lady-in-Waiting in Medieval England
  • A Monk/Nun in Medieval England
  • A Baron/Baroness in Medieval England
  • A Knight/Queen in Medieval England

Your child will get to create and wear peasant clothing, listen to Old English, go on a field trip to a local farm, one of my kids has dyslexia so when i try to find a place to go i make sure they have  dyslexia tutors to give to children with dyslexia where they can , learn to whittle, make a water clock, design their own castle, make a medieval battle axe, and much more.

While these activities would be fun for boys OR girls, they are especially suited to active boys. Not only will they be reading and writing, but doing lots of fun physical activities too.

I read that you’re the only parent on the cast of Big Bang Theory. What’s that like?

Many of our writers have kids, and I’ve actually done a little lactation consulting, on the side I guess, for one of our writers in particular. As it is, when you’re the only in a group of friends to be the first to have kids, it’s a little bit like being an alien species. And I think also, until you have kids, you can’t imagine how much of a part of your brain and your heart are always devoted to them, no matter what you’re doing. I can argue a lot of things about a lot of different styles of parenting, but I will say that when you choose this path, it really is a constant part of you in ways that sometimes I meet other parents who don’t feel that way. I meet a lot of people who say, I’m happy for someone else to handle them. I’m not really thinking about it, it takes a village, and I don’t want to be involved. For me, that’s not our choice. I always miss my kids in a very specific way.

What do you do when you mess up – when you’re short with your child, when you find yourself yelling and kind of losing it? What do you do to repair that relationship?

I guess I’ve been told it’s called a “mommy time out.” I need to know, literally, when to shut my mouth and walk away, meaning to stop the, you know, bad mommy behavior. And I think promptly admitting you’re wrong to your child is extremely powerful. I think I make a very very conscious effort to not make excuses when I apologize. Meaning, I don’t say, I yelled at you because, or I’m angry at you and I used harsh words because you blah blah blah. There are times to explain to a child why or how there may have been a trigger situation but when you’ve hurt a child I believe very strongly all that needs to be communicated is that your intention in life is not to hurt them, and that you feel bad and will do things to not repeat that with them.

And you cannot apologize to a child as if it’s a spouse. They’re not on the same intellectual or emotional level. That’s something I try really hard – I try to do that with adults too! To say, I’ve hurt your feelings and I’m sorry, is different than, I’ve hurt your feelings and I’m sorry but, you’ve really let me down, you know?

And I think also, something I try and do is I try and, especially with our oldest son who’s six, I’m not afraid – well, I’m afraid and I’m not afraid to try and be real with him and tell him, Mama messed up. Mama doesn’t know how to be the mama of a six-year-old except through this experience and we’re trying, and I’m learning. That’s one of my favorite things I say to them. I’m learning too. And I’m not perfect.

And I’ll make a joke out of it too, I’ll say, I know you think I’m perfect because I make the best pancakes, but I’m not. So a little humor also can take the edge off, so that you can have access to them because they put up a wall when they’re hurt. It’s what people do. It’s protective.

What do you say when people negate your parenting style?

I think with my first I was very sensitive and I was defensive and I questioned a lot, and I doubted myself, but for me a big part has been to find a community of like-minded parents and that’s sort of what API and places like API are doing. Once you have that support and you can have your behavior normalized, it really can give you a lot of strength.

And now I’ve learned which battles to fight and which not to fight. And even with family members, even well-meaning friends, I’ve learned a couple key phrases, like, “it’s working for us,” or, “thanks for your thoughts,” or “I guess we all get to do it our own way,” or, “I’ll keep that in mind, thank you.” But I really don’t get into the complicated discussions with people, especially when I can tell that they only want you to have their opinion. Because some people want to have a healthy debate, or they’re interested in decisions and why you make them, but a lot of people really just want to be right, and I don’t always have to have that conversation.

You mentioned the organizations that support you, such as API. What individuals make up your support system? Who are your rocks?

I have a group of girlfriends, who we kind of formed a renegade mom’s group and I single them out in the book. One of them is actually my friend who took the photographs for the book. She took the cover photo and, she’s one of those people. I have one La Leche League leader and mentor in particular who I kind of go to for all things even beyond breastfeeding, and she’s sort of my attachment parenting, well, everything. That’s pretty much it. I mean, we have a small circle. I do participate in La Leche League still and Holistic Moms’ Network events and things like that, but for me to have three people, three women in my case that I know I can turn to, even if they don’t agree or do it the same, I think that’s been the most helpful.

I personally struggle with this: how do you just do your thing without making other moms feel like you’re judging what they’re doing?

I know that other people’s opinions are none of my business now. And if people have guilt, it’s not for me to either create or take away. I simply keep it within my circle of my family, and know that what’s working for us works.

I had dinner the other night next to a very prominent celebrity mom and she was there with her nanny, and her two kids and I was there alone with my two kids, and it was very friendly and very nice, but I was kind of wondering, does she look at me and think, how’s she doing it? Why am I not doing that? Why can she do it? Do I even what to do what she’s doing? And I looked at her and I was kind of wondering, wow, that would be really nice to have an extra set of hands right now!

But again, I learned early on that you never know what goes on in people’s families or what they need, or why they’re doing what they’re doing or not doing what they’re doing, so I really try to mind my own business. I mean, honestly I try to mind my own business and I also make sure to use general concepts and phrases that I do believe are true. That we all want to do the best for our kids. It may mean different things to different people, but we all want to do the best. And once you kind of level the playing field, then you can open up a conversation and then you can get away from all that stupid mommy wars stuff.

Do you remember a turning point when you decided that attachment parenting was the way you wanted to do things?

Before we had our first son, both my husband and I were both planning on research professorships. I don’t know, I struggled a lot with breastfeeding. I had a difficult, slow learning curve, as it were. And I think making the commitment to stay home for 40 days, which is something we did after both of our sons were born, I think that tuned me into a new rhythm that I decided not to fight. Because I know a lot of people fight it, and I know people who go back to work after 2 and 3 weeks, you know? But I think for me it really helped tune me into that rhythm, and help us make that decision.

Does your husband read the AP books? Does he do the research?

My husband is rarely yes dear about anything, but if he sees something for himself, that’s the proof he needs. He’s a very principled, rational, confident person, and he, honestly, he doesn’t like to read things like that. I mean, he does a tremendous amount of reading, but no, he has really become a phenomenal example of someone who is not super interested in emotional attachment or psychological development, hadn’t really given it much thought, and literally lived for himself the evolution of this beautiful, beautiful relationship that he has created with our kids and that we have in our family. Although he sees, for sure not one of the principles of attachment parenting was something he thought was totally nuts, and once he saw how it worked, totally jumped on board on his own. But he’s not the kind of person who reads up on things or says yes dear, so it’s been actually really interesting to see. It’s even worked and made sense for him.

Who are your influences as far as parenting goes?

I admire Dr. [William] Sears and Martha Sears a lot, also for their functioning in a conventional world as proponents of attachment parenting. Our pediatrician, Dr. [Jay] Gordon is a huge influence for us, and then personally I mentioned my La Leche League leader, Shawn Crane who is also sort of my everything mentor and parenting expert extraordinaire. But I feel like the real people that kind of make it happen are my girlfriends, Nancy and Denise.

What was it like to work with the Sears’ and Dr. Gordon?

What’s impressed me kind of in this whole book journey has not only been the support on the professional side, from API and the Sears’ and from Dr. Gordon, also a really really positive, healthy general notion that we’re all working toward something good and trying to empower parents to make decisions that are good for them and for their kids. And I think that’s actually been honestly surprising. I’ve been shocked at the lack of ego that I’ve run into and I’d like to think that it’s indicative of the attachment parenting philosophy at work in adults.

Mayim’s new book, Beyond the Sling: A Real-life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way, will be available in stores March 6th, 2012.

Photo: flickr/pennstatelive

Interview Series: Martha Wood

We are continuing our interview series with API Contributing Bloggers with Martha Wood.  Read on to hear more about her thoughts regarding weaning, co-parenting, and how she peacefully deals with breastfeeding criticism.

Tell us about your family.

I am a single mom, co-parenting with my daughter’s father. She is 2.5. She is my only child. We live in Austin, Tx. We are a biracial family. I am white and my daughter’s father is black. I grew up in Abilene, Tx. Annika’s dad is Nigerian born and immigrated to the United States when he was 8 years old. He grew up in Ann Arbor, MI. Annika’s dad and I were never married. We met in Detroit, MI, while attending Wayne State University. We worked together at the school newspaper, The South End. I was the news editor and he was the graphic designer.

Martha and Annika

What led you to Attachment Parenting?

I was drawn to attachment parenting through a series of random events and a background of being raised by a mother who was involved with La Leche League. I was nursed until I was 3, and slept with my parents until I was 4. I would not characterize my parents as “AP” but there were some similarities in their early parenting style, such as extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping.

I began being interested in the AP world when a friend gave me a copy of The Baby Book by William Sears. I liked what he had to say about co-sleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing and positive discipline. During my pregnancy I met a neighbor of my mom’s who had given birth to her first child just six months before me. She told me about the local API meetings at the library and I began attending mostly because I wanted to get out of the house and I thought I would meet some other moms to hang out with. After the first meeting I was hooked! I loved the speaker, although, I don’t even remember who it was. I was blown away by all the wonderful and alternative parenting methods I had discovered.

When I was pregnant I knew that I wanted to breastfeed and use a sling. I knew that I wanted to avoid spanking as a method of discipline. I knew that I wanted to have a better and closer relationship with my daughter than I had with my own parents. After this meeting, I knew that I had found the answers to my questions. Luckily for me, the first meeting I attended was when my daughter was about four weeks old.

I had begun co-sleeping about two weeks after she was born, after realizing how frustrating and tiring it was getting up to nurse twice a night. (I was lucky, in that my daughter slept really well as a newborn, believe me, that changed after a few months. 🙂 )

How do you deal with friends/family/strangers who don’t understand or who disagree with AP practices?

My parents are very supportive about the way I parent. My daughter’s father and I have disagreed on some of it, but overall he is a really good dad and often more patient than I am! He wishes that I had weaned her at a year, and doesn’t like the co-sleeping, but he hasn’t fought me on it.

It depends on the situation whether I just smile and nod, or try to educate. If I think someone is open to hearing about my views, I definitely try to educate and give supporting information about my parenting practices.

My daughter’s paternal grandmother has been very vocal about disagreeing with my parenting style, and for the sake of familial harmony, I usually don’t say anything. They live in another state though, so it has not been a real issue. When she was 18 months, and I nursed my daughter in front of her grandmother, she commented, “Are you STILL nursing????” I just said yes and looked away. Then her sister, who was visiting from Nigeria, leaned over and whispered that she had nursed her babies until they were 2.

After that, I just avoided nursing Annika in front of her grandmother. My mother told me that when I was that age, if she needed to nurse me, she would just take me in the other room. So that’s what I did on our next visit. I am normally not the type of person to avoid confrontation, but in this case, I felt like it was the easiest and most harmonious route.

Have you ever had an affirming moment in your AP journey?

So far I haven’t seen a lot of payoff. But there have been some brief moments. My daughter is unusually compassionate with other children. I’ve been told by other parents that they are surprised by how sweet she is with other children. Once she was staying with a small group of children at a Buddhist meeting that we attend sometimes. When one of the other babies was crying for her mom, I was told that Annika went over to her and put her arm around her and told her that it would be okay. (She’s 2.)

She also loves to “wear” her babies, and she nurses them.

What does 2011 hold for your family? What goals do you have for your kids/ family in the coming year?

2011 holds for us, more time away from mama, and possibly weaning. I always wanted to let Annika wean on her own, but I am really ready for it. I am thinking that we will give up nursing around her third birthday in May. We have started talking about it and are down to three times a day. We are also forming a Montessori co-op with a group of AP mamas from our playgroups. I am looking forward to keeping her world small for a few more years while giving both of us a little more freedom.

When to stop breastfeeding is such a hard choice to make.  What factors are you considering in your decision?  How are you going about weaning?

The idea of making any final decision on when to stop breastfeeding stresses me out, so I haven’t made any hard and fast rules about when we will stop. I keep thinking that I’d like to be done by the time she’s 3 (this May). Sometimes I tell myself that I will definitely do that, (I may have even told you that in my last e-mail, now I don’t remember) and sometimes I start to think maybe I will just keep nursing her for a while longer if she really needs it.

Another AP mom here in Austin, gave me some advice. You may know her — or of her. Her name is Camille North (she edits one of the API newsletters). She said that when her youngest was around 2, she was so ready to be done. He was her third child and she had been nursing pretty much solidly for several years. She began *offering* the breast when he was busy with other things.

I started doing that recently and it really helps a lot! It gives me the feeling that I have some control over the situation, which I think breastfeeding moms often lack, therefore making it more frustrating.

Sometimes she even says no, which I think it huge for her, because it is giving her the feeling that it is available all the time, so she can afford to turn it down.

Basically I think it gives both of us a feeling of control. It releases her overwhelming desire from it, by worrying that it won’t be available if I do the opposite and limit her based on my needs.

It helps a lot. And she is recently down to nursing two or sometimes three times a day. And the best part, she doesn’t ask for it constantly like she was before, so I don’t feel like a jerk for saying no, or feeling resentful sitting there with my 2.5 year-old’s long legs dangling off my lap and wondering why she can’t just eat some cheese. LOL

Actually, I only had to do the offering thing for a couple of months and now she only asks to nurse once during the day, most of the time, so I almost always say yes. We also bargain. Sometimes, we’ll agree that she can nurse, but only for five minutes. Sometimes, she’ll even say it, “Mama, can I nurse for five minutes?” I think that’s her way of saying she just wants a little and it’s really important to her.

I guess, basically, these are the steps I’m taking toward weaning. Trying to give her control over it without feeling like I’m trapped. I have read How Weaning Happens, by Diane Bengson, a couple of times. I like the idea presented in the book that, weaning, is just like any other developmental stage. Just like we help our kids learn to walk and talk, we help our kids learn how to stop nursing. We don’t expect them to just wake up one day and be walking. So we can’t expect that they will just up and wean all by themselves. Some children do that. But I think that most of the time, moms prod them in that direction, even if they don’t realize they are doing it.

Can you talk some more about the Montessori co-op?  That sounds like a beautiful thing.  Is it an informal kind of thing?  Do you anticipate sending Annika to a Montessori school?  What about that kind of learning style appeals to you?

The Montessori co-op is very new and relatively informal. I foresee that we will stick with Montessori for pre-school. What I like about Montessori is that the style is very much child-led, but it’s not a free for all. I like that the stages of learning are developmentally appropriate. The theory behind it is that you teach observation skills, and engage the children in their personal interests. Then they learn because they know how, and they are intrigued by the topic. I think learning is, in itself, a skill.

Beyond that, I don’t know. The public school situation is very tenuous right now here in Austin. They’ve just announced the potential closing of several schools. Aside from that, the options here in Austin vary greatly. There are a wide array of private schools, with all sorts of methodology. The homeschooling network is pretty big from what I hear. I recently joined the Yahoo group, but I haven’t participated much at all. And the public school system has some dual language programs, with some new ones starting up in the next couple of years.

I think we will just keep examining our options and then see what fits best with her learning style.

Thank you Martha! Everyone please stop by her blog to learn more about her and her attachment parenting journey!

Following the Principles: Use Nurturing Touch

Part 4 of a series of 8: Carrying our little LF#5 (Loin Fruit Number Five) in my body is the ultimate in nurturing touch. A tiny body wrapped up inside of mine.  Bouncing. Rolling. Rocking. Swaying. Swirling. Surrounded by warmth. We are hoping to have another gentle homebirth for our new little one . We will enjoy our Babymoon as long as we can, remaining in bed and nursing for 2-3 weeks while my body heals. Of course we have made preparations (as much as anyone can prepare for the unknown at any rate) in case of an emergency need to transfer our care to a hospital and are prepared to do whatever it takes to make even the most medicalized situation a high-touch, high-compassion one. No matter what happens with our pregnancy and birth, we know that we are committed to our attached and connected parenting principles. We trust that our new baby will be lovingly connected to our family even if that means finding new ways to apply the attachment parenting principles to whatever circumstances LF#5 is welcomed into the world under.

A Rare Moment: Everyone together! T-Bird, Sir Hubby, Bug, Brent, Ella
A Rare Moment: Everyone together! T-Bird, Sir Hubby, Bug, Brent, Ella

But what about the rest of us? We are already dealing with situations which are challenging our ability to stay connected. It seems as if the past few months could be defined by one word: Distance. Distance keeps our family apart while Sir Hubby attempts to balance his business, his father’s health, and our family. Distance has my son several hours away at college.  Our older girls are both at ages where they are pulling away (in healthy ways) to explore independence, self-directed learning, and social pursuits without holding our hands. But the biggest distance I feel is the one between my little T-Bird and I. Continue reading “Following the Principles: Use Nurturing Touch”

“Holiday” Wean: I Almost Fell Into That Trap

It’s something that every nursing mother experiences at least once. It’s mostly known as “The Holiday Wean”, but really it can happen during any major transition or stressful period.

Like moving.

Because my husband and I were in a hurry to get our new house painted and us moved in, my girls, ages 2 and 4, spent a lot of time over other people’s houses while we packed, painted, and unpacked. In fact, the night before the move, my 2 yeard old and I spent our very first night apart: she slept over her Grandmother’s while my husband and I stayed up until midnight to finish the painting. I figured she would be okay with it.

The next afternoon, after the move, when my MIL brought her home, I thought she would want to nurse immediately. Imagine my surprise when she wanted nothing to do with me. She was angry.

It took about four hours before she would finally come over and give me a hug and kiss. And it wasn’t until the next day that she decided she would nurse again (to the relief of my sore and engorged breasts).

You would think that I would’ve been more aware of what was happening. I did mention to my husband once or twice that she wasn’t nursing as often during the packing phase, but didn’t really think much of it. I got too wrapped up in other things in life, and forgot the important lesson that my daughter teaches me every day: sit down and rest, slow down, take care of yourself.

Thankfully, my daughter is now back to her regular nursing schedule. She and her sister love their new room and the house. We are all grinning ear to ear over here.

Have you ever experienced the Holiday Wean? How do you remind yourself to take time to make sure your nursling is getting his or her “na nas” during stressful and busy times?

Weaning in the Context of AP

My son Cavanaugh is a little over two now and we recently embarked on night weaning. Night weaning then researching weaning for our API meeting last month got me thinking about breastfeeding in the Attachment Parenting  community. So many of the AP mamas I know were planning on child-led weaning and many of them are changing their minds as their kids move further into toddlerhood. But a lot of us have mixed feelings about weaning, whether we decide to partially, gradually, or abruptly wean or to nurse as long as our kids feel like they need it.

So here’s how I’ve been thinking about weaning in relation to the Eight Principles of API

Continue reading “Weaning in the Context of AP”

AP while on vacation

We have just returned from a holiday which lasted 4 weeks. We have been to 4 countries, visited our extended families, went to the beach and stayed at 7 different places.
I was a bit anxious that it would be too much for our 20 month old daughter but she handled it very well.
We don’t need many things to keep our baby secure and content, even in unfamiliar places. Attachment parenting allows us to travel lightly. We never need to carry a travel cot or think about where our baby will sleep. We don’t need to take a stroller with us, our baby carrier does the job, all we need to worry about is having insurance, luckily, now a days you can even find travel insurance for seniors, which is great because we travel with our parents most of the time.

During the first 2 weeks, we were in Belgium visiting my sister. While we were there, we decided to go to Paris for a day trip. One morning we took the train from Brussels and within one hour we were there.

We visited all those well known places and around six o’clock we headed to the Eiffel Tower. We would just have a look and leave. We were already tired and hungry and we were reckoning that there would be a long queue of people who wanted to go up. However there wasn’t and suddenly we decided to go up and see what it is all about. So our visit took longer than we anticipated. Poor Daphne was very hungry and wanted to breastfeed. She was in the carrier, so most people didn’t notice it but a few women smiled at us. Who would have thought that I’d breastfeed her at the top of the Eiffel Tower?  Well, it was a lovely moment that I’ll never forget.

Isil writes about attachment parenting and vegan cooking at Veggie Way.

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