What About Bob?

I don’t know how Bob got the name.  Something about Bob wanting to break up with Ben, my son. I said it in jest and it just took. During the times I didn’t want to breastfeed, somewhere between a meltdown and bad day, I would say to myself or maybe even out loud, “Ben — Bob wants to break-up with you.”   Some days  I will be honest, I hated breastfeeding.  I wanted to slip out the back Jack, make a new plan, Stan…”  but I continued breastfeeding because I finally got to a place where I trusted my instinct and my choices.  I knew that Ben would decide when it was time to end breastfeeding.  I dropped the worry.  I dropped the internal criticism.  I just followed my heart.

Photo by Megan Oteri

I had a hard time with breastfeeding at first.  It was awful. Nipple scabs. Bloody nipples.  Pain.  PAIN. And more pain. I remember being determined to make it work, but it was awful.  Those first weeks of breastfeeding were some form of torture.  When my son latched on, it was so painful.  I felt like my nipples were rocks with the sensitivity of an ocean full of neurotransmitters right to my breasts and nipples.

We got through it.  I called La Leche League. I called friends. I called my mom.  But I felt like a failure. Nobody had told me it would be this hard.  Nobody mentioned my nipples would have scabs and bleed.  My husband came home with four different bags of candy on a particularly hard day. In his hands, he held two bags of  candy, creams, Soothies (gel like cooling pads you place over your nipples) — and kindness that can not be measured.  He was also draped in some sort of patience suit — he had to have been because I was not at my best those early weeks of breastfeeding.  He hugged me. He kissed me.  He knew this was something he could not empathize with, but he did offer sympathy.  I devoured the bags of candy.  Then I put on the cream and placed the Soothies over my breasts.  I had a sense of relief for about fifteen minutes, until the next time my son wanted to breastfeed.

My son and me.

I did it all wrong.  I had no clue what I was doing.  I had never heard of Attachment Parenting.  The lactation consultant that the hospital sent over to do a check-in at the home made a ten minute stop at my house.  I stumbled to the door and managed to say hello. She gave me a hand held breast pump, quickly explained how to use it and sat with me on the couch for five minutes watching me breastfeed.  I was desperate for information.

“Is this the right position?” I asked impatiently.

“Yes,” she offered.

“Are you sure?”   I was so desperate — so clueless.  So hormonal.  OK — I was crazy.  I hadn’t slept in a week.  As they say in the South, I was a hot mess!

“Is this the easiest way to breastfeed?” I asked, hoping to dig an answer out of her.

“Yes,” she offered again, this time checking something off on her clipboard.

“Can you please show me an easier way to breastfeed? I feel like I am doing it wrong.”

“You’re doing it right.”

She showed me the football hold, telling me this may be easier for me.  As my son fumbled in my arms, I felt foreign in my own body.  I felt clumsy, unsure, and awful.

Why does it feel like I am doing it wrong? Why does it hurt so much? I wanted to ask.

She left my house. I wanted to scream at her, “Get back over here. We’re not done here. In fact we have not even started. Cancel all your appointments — you are mine for the afternoon.”  But I said goodbye and she went on to the next home, the next mom, who was probably just as afraid and insecure as I was.

I called La Leache League immediately after she left and was hysterical, gasping into the phone.  I think I thought they too were the enemy and asked them a slue of questions, ending each one with, “You guys probably think I am doing it wrong.”

For some reason they were the enemy. My own breasts were the enemy. The nipples scabs were the shrapnel wounds.  My own son, the heavy artillery.

My son, Ben

So, what did work? How did we get to a happy healthy breastfeeding relationship?  I worked at it.  I suffered through the pain.  I called my friend, Debra — who nursed all her children until they were three. She sat with me while I nursed.   She watched me.  She assured me I was doing it right.  I finally allowed myself to believe her.  She was very honest. She told me it would hurt until Ben and I got used to each other.  She said it took time.  It was something new for the both of us.  He was learning how to breastfeed, just as much as I was learning to breastfeed.

I went to a local nursing mothers support group.  We sat in a circle with our newborn babies — staring at each other and our babies.  I broke the ice by saying, “My boobs feel like they are going to explode.”  Then we all exchanged stories, fears, laughter, tears.  A good friend of mine who was in my Lamaze class suggested I switch my nursing pillow. I ditched the one I was using and took her suggestion.

During the first few weeks, I used to set the alarm for every three hours, then take my Moses Basket filled with pillows, blankets,  my safety pin (to remind me where I had nursed last), and the notebook where I wrote down every detail of how long my son nursed for. The basket held my pillows, the Boppy, and the nipple cream; it held my insecurity.  I would slather on the cream, turn on the light to the living room, and arrange my pillows so I could start nursing.  It was three AM might I add. And I insisted on turning on the living room light. I was so rigid.  I was unable to let myself flow in this breastfeeding relationship. It had to be by the book, but I had no book to follow.  I should have read more. I should have practiced.  I should have…I should have…kept ringing in my ears. I had never heard of Attachment Parenting.  I was determined to do it by the book. I even called a friend to ask her about using a pacifier.  “I don’t want him to get nipple confusion.” We had an awkward conversation, filled with frantic questions, but answers seemed so far away.  I felt alone and lost.

My friend, Debra, who came over and supported me with her smiles, tender looks, and approving nods, just said simply, “Why don’t you nurse him in your bed?  Let’s try it. It is much easier lying down.”

I said, “No way, he is NOT coming into our bed. I might roll over him and crush him.”

She just smiled.  I knew she knew something I didn’t.  I was so determined to use the football hold and the across my chest hold.

Organically, Ben found his way into our bed and we co-slept as a family.  I did not roll over him; I did not crush him. In fact, my husband commented on how protective I was of him when we slept, with my arm arching over him like a rainbow.

Photo by Megan Oteri

The truth is, I had to go back to work when my son was four months old; I was exhausted waking up in the middle of the night. I stopped setting my alarm every three hours and learned to trust the fact he would cry when he needed to be fed.  He did.  We figured it out.  Along the way, I learned to trust my own instincts. I became the gardener in our organic garden of mother and son.

Photo by Megan Oteri

We learned together and found our way.

I told my friend, Debra,  that there was no way my son would reference my breast by name. There was no way.

She told me a funny story about her three year old having a temper tantrum over wanting Ninny. Her daughter was eating spaghetti by the handful in her high chair.  Messy red clumps of sauce on the floor, on the chair, on her hair.  Her daughter called out, “Ninny, Ninny, Ninny. I want Ninny.”

Well, now that my son is two and half, he often would ask for the breast by name. In this case, “Bob.”  He would say, “Bob inside.  Can I have milk inside Bob?”  Bob became his comfort,  his nurturer, his friend.  We decided that we would stop breastfeeding when Ben was ready.   Ben has recently stopped.  He sometimes lays his head on my breast, smiling and patting Bob.

 

 

Observations in Attachment Parenting in Bangladesh – Guest Post by Annie Urban

Around the world, parents love their babies. They do what they think is best to keep them safe, to nurture them, and to help them grow into exceptional human beings. In many Western countries, attachment parenting is being celebrated as a positive choice that parents can make, while in may traditional cultures it is what they’ve been practicing all along.

In September, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Bangladesh with Save the Children Canada to visit their health and nutrition and education programs. While the main goal of the trip was to understand the needs of children in those countries and have the opportunity to observe the positive results that Save the Children’s programs are having, I found it fascinating to be able to observe similarities and differences in parenting styles and choices.

Although I didn’t have the opportunity to spend enough time with families there to get an in-depth understanding of their parenting styles, there were some observations I was able to make as it relates to some of the principles of attachment parenting.

Prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting: A lot of remote communities in Bangladesh haven’t had access to health workers or authoritative health information to help women in the community to prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting. Women have given birth at home, on dirt floors, without a trained birth assistant present. Through Save the Children Canada’s programs, communities are able to found birth centres that act as a central point to care for midwives to care for mothers throughout their pregnancy, birth and postpartum period. The health workers there visit mothers at home during their pregnancies to check in on them and educate them. These communities have also established community action groups and engaged community volunteers to help identify health problems that mothers and babies are facing and to find ways to address those through education and care in their communities.

Feed with love and respect: According to the WHO Global Data Bank on Infant and Young Child Feeding, 98% of babies in Bangladesh are breastfed and the average age of weaning is 33 months. Dig even deeper and you’ll see that 95% of one year olds are still being breastfed as are 91% of two year olds. I was incredibly impressed with these statistics. The idea of a mother being unable to breastfeed is foreign to them because it is so rare that significant breastfeeding problems occur. Breastfeeding is a part of their culture and formula is something that is unnecessary and unaffordable for most. Breastfeeding on cue is the norm in Bangladesh and if anything mothers there need to be taught about the importance of introducing solids at the right time instead of relying on just breast milk to meet the baby’s nutritional needs for too long.

Use Nurturing Touch: One of the ways that women around the world keep their babies close to them is through babywearing. Many traditional cultures have types of wraps or carriers that they use and a lot of those have been adapted and adopted in Western cultures. I was curious to see how the moms carried their babies in Bangladesh and was surprised to find out that they don’t use carriers at all. It isn’t that they were using strollers (they weren’t) or that the babies weren’t being held (they were). But whenever I saw babies they were being carried on a mom’s hip or sitting on a mom’s lap. When I asked why no carriers, I was told that it just isn’t part of their culture and that there are always enough hands around (grandmothers, aunts, friends, etc.) that when the mother needs to put the baby down to do something, someone else can hold the baby. That made a lot of sense to me within a home or community environment, but I have to admit I was tired just watching some of these moms walk along long paths or roads with a large baby on their hip supported by their arm.

Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally: Cribs? What cribs? In all of the homes that we visited in Bangladesh, it was a given that the mom would sleep with the baby. In fact, most homes had only one or two rooms and the whole family slept together in one bed. Educational materials around breastfeeding always picture the mom lying in bed with the baby to nurse at night.

Provide Consistent and Loving Care:  In most families and in the Bangladeshi culture, it seems as though consistent and loving care is the norm. Babies are kept close and as they get older, they are given more independence and responsibility, but families remain very close with everyone living in one small space and often working together in the family business. Unfortunately, for some families, that isn’t the reality. If they cannot afford to feed all of their children, they may send some of them away to work as servants (child domestic workers) in another family’s home, often far away. Those children may be sent away as young as six years old, will have no regular contact with their families back in their village, and are often mistreated and abused by the families they are working for.

Overall, from what I saw in Bangladesh, the principles of attachment parenting are very much a part of their culture. They are very community-minded and the village steps in to help raise children in a nurturing environment, helping them to overcome some of the challenges to attachment parenting that are created by the isolation of the nuclear family in Western cultures. The challenges they face are due to the dire economic circumstances that sometimes prevent them from being able to parent in the way that they would like, creating a lot of heartbreak for families and having dire consequences for children.

The good news though is that the work that non-profit organizations like Save the Children are doing in Bangladesh is having exceptional results. The programs are designed in a way that fits with the local culture and that is sustainable, so that communities can take control of their own health, education and destiny.

For more information

Save the Children Canada

Getting Results for Maternal and Child Health in Bangladesh Through Community Empowerment.

More on breastfeeding in Bangladesh

More on child domestic workers 

Save the Children Canada’s health and nutrition programs for mothers and children

 

Annie has been blogging about the art and science of parenting on the PhD in Parenting Blog since May 2008. She is a social, political and consumer advocate on issues of importance to parents, women and children. She uses her blog as a platform to create awareness and to advocate for change, calling out the government, corporations, media and sometimes other bloggers for positions, policies and actions that threaten the rights and well-being of parents and their children

The End of Extended Breastfeeding

A nursing 3-year-old doesn't look much different than an infant

In the attachment world, we hear a lot about the importance of breastfeeding. And lots of women breastfeed for an extended period of time.

In our culture, more than a year is considered extended breastfeeding. So that’s what we call it.

I just considered it breastfeeding. I was nursed until I was 3. My mother was a La Leche League leader when I was child, so I grew up understanding the importance of breast milk and hearing the “breast is best” message all my life.

What I never heard was that extended breastfeeding is hard.

Lest you get the wrong idea, I don’t regret doing it. I nursed my daughter for four years. She weaned in May on her fourth birthday. To be honest, it was my idea. I have no doubt in my mind that if it had been up to her, she would still be nursing at least once a day still.

But I was done. And for all intents and purposes, so was she. She just needed a little tiny bit of encouragement and I needed to set the boundary.

Here is a slightly edited version of the post I wrote right after we weaned. I feel it is an important one to share. Because even though I always knew I would breastfeed my child long before she was even born; and even though I never had any supply issues or trouble with latching, there were things about it that were hard. It was hard on my back. Hard on my breasts. And hard on my psyche. And it was totally worth it.

Here is the post written in May of 2012:

We are done. Finally. After four years, exactly four years. My daughter is done nursing.

We made a deal a few months ago that on her fourth birthday she would be done nursing.

It still trips me out that we nursed this long. Even for me, a kid who was nursed for at least three years, the idea of nursing a child for four years seems long to me.

Most of my attachment parenting mama friends weaned in between 2 and 3 or a little longer. But even in my circle of mama friends who nurse their babes way, way longer than the average American nursing mom, I am still an anomaly.

And, in case someone takes it the wrong way, I’m not bragging. It’s the opposite. It feels weird to think that I actually nursed my child this long, even though women around the world do it all the time and many cultures don’t think anything of it.

The truth is, I didn’t love nursing. When my daughter reached 18 months, I remember having thoughts of weaning. I was tired. But I knew that it couldn’t be done without lots of drama. I couldn’t traumatize her. This was one of those instances where some advice from another mom friend echoed in my head that said something to the effect of, “I have to remember who the adult is in this relationship.”

So the adult part of my brain pushed aside the cranky, selfish teenager and said, “You know she is not ready to wean.”

So we plugged away.

I fought it. I reveled in it. I loved it. There were moments when it was the only way I could make it through the day with sanity. And there were moments when I hated it because if I had to sit down one more time while I was in the middle of something else, I was going to scream. But then there were the moments when I was so happy that all I had to do was pop my boob out and five minutes later, heavenly sleep had descended upon my child.

And in the end, I was finally resigned to the idea that I was going to be a mom who nursed her kid way longer than most people. And I’m okay with it. I have a long, cozy relationship with being the odd woman out. It’s all good.

But we’re done. And I don’t really know what to say about it except that we’re done.

For the first week, there was a tiny part of me that whispered, “Keep going. You can do it. She’ll quit eventually on her own.”

That’s what I really wanted. But when she was an infant, which seems so very long ago, I imagined that would be sometime around the age of 2 or 3.

As time went on, I began to imagine that it would be around 3.

That birthday came and went without any signs of letting up. But for my own sanity, I had to set some limits.

She’s told me how much she loves mama milk. It tastes like ice cream, like strawberries. It’s so good, and right before she weaned, she’d been saying she wanted to nurse “forever and ever.” But she also wants to marry one of her female friends (which would be totally fine with me) and sleep at her school on the playground at night after everyone has gone home. She has no real concept of “forever and ever.”

It’s been almost two weeks since we nursed. She asked me last night if she could nurse and even begged a little. I stood firm. And for the first time since we began nursing, it felt like a solid boundary and not an arbitrary no. She didn’t like it, but she also didn’t get overly upset. It was almost like she was testing me.

So, it’s done. We are finally weaned. I don’t feel super emotional. I don’t think I’m hormonal. I’ve always heard of women who get super weepy and sad when they wean their kids. That didn’t happen to me.

I needed to just let Annika nurse as long as she really needed it. We made it. I made it. And in looking back, I’m super proud of myself for just letting it be for so long.

Feeding Solids With Love

Vegetable stand
flickr/comprock

Feeding with love is an incredibly challenging yet important part of our parenting adventure. My husband has a ridiculous number of food allergies, as a toddler I had tons of allergies and my daughter is at risk for allergies. Early in my pregnancy, I came to the decision I would delay solids for our daughter, Arbor, to give her a better chance at avoiding the allergy issue. To me, this was feeding with love. Arbor is exclusively breastfed, which is a great victory to me because she spent her first ten days of life in the NICU. We had some challenges getting started with our breastfeeding relationship so our success has meant the world to me. I had great support and managed to avoid formula, thanks to the great ICN staff and lactation team at Duke. This was also feeding with love.

Now I have a happy and healthy five-month-old who nurses like a champ. Our nursing relationship is one of the single most important parts of our family dynamic. However, we’re getting to the age where most babies start solids. I was really hoping to avoid this until she was a year old. Some people have told me that’s utterly ridiculous while other moms have shared their experience with delaying. Arbor is at the age and developmental phase where she is gaining an interest in food. She’s started grabbing at our plates, has attempted to snatch food from our bowls and follows our every motion as food is moved from fork to mouth. She can now sit independently, has lost the tongue-thrust reflex when her lips are touched and can grab her toys, bring them to her mouth and chew like there’s no tomorrow. Developmentally she’s exactly where she should be in order to begin experiencing solid foods. I’ve been sticking to my guns about waiting until a year though. If you want to learn more about bay food nutrition facts, check this dailymom.com out.

This weekend we had a total game-changer. While my husband was snacking on a bowl of oatmeal, Arbor began her usual visual analysis of this whole “eating” thing Daddy was doing. Then she started chewing her mouth along with him and imitated his motions. She began grunting and leaning in towards him, all but begging for a bite. She grew increasingly frustrated that Daddy was not sharing that marvelous goop with her and I felt like we were being mean for upsetting her. I asked him to go eat in another room so she wouldn’t be as mad, so he hid behind a giant pillow where she wouldn’t see hIs food. I offered her the breast in case she was just hungry… she had no interest. She wanted Daddy’s oatmeal. Fortunately, out of sight, out of mind works for little babies. This frustration didn’t last long but it did open up the weaning discussion for Izzy and me.

We weighed out the pros and cons of both options… but it’s definitely not an easy decision to make. I almost went to the store that instant to pick up some avocados for her to try but Izzy reminded me that it’s only another three weeks until she hits the six-month mark. She might really need those three weeks to let her gut finish closing. After that date, we will keep good wholesome foods on hand that can be her starter foods when she is expressing a deep interest in starting solid food. We believe in baby-led weaning, so it’s important to us to allow Arbor to initiate the process, within reason. This too is feeding with love.

It’s my job as her mother to protect her and I take this role very seriously. It’s equally important that I not get so hung up on my individual goals for her that I’m preventing her from a normal, healthy and even fun part of her growth and development. I’m incredibly excited to see how she reacts to her first taste of flavorful food and am allowing that excitement to be greater than my fear of allergies. So we are preparing to lovingly usher in the next era of our parenting journey. Time to stock up on drop cloths and fresh veggies!

Fighting the Battle Against Oversupply

And just because someone has the opposite problem, doesn’t mean that oversupply isn’t a problem in its own right.

This was originally posted on the blog of Pittsburgh area doula and childbirth educator Vanessa T. 

breast-pump
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/54490598@N07/

Fighting the Battle Against Oversupply

With less than half of women breastfeeding at the six month mark we have to assume that many women believe they don’t make enough breast milk. But what about the others? The ones at the other end of the spectrum, making enough to feed a small village of babies? As one of these women, I can say that we are often told to be grateful for it because women who don’t make enough would be happy to have our problem. Well… I’m here to say that oversupply ain’t all it is cracked up to be. And just because someone has the opposite problem, doesn’t mean that oversupply isn’t a problem in its own right.

Oversupply isn’t just about having too much milk. If that was all there was to the problem, it probably wouldn’t be a problem. Oversupply is usually accompanied by a letdown that causes mom to spray milk at a high rate, which causes the baby to choke and swallow air. What eventually happens is that the baby fills up on the milk, which contains very little fat and air and this leads to gas and stomach pains. This causes the baby to appear colicky and have explosive gas and bowel movements. And also want to nurse constantly, perpetuating the cycle of oversupply and colic.

My oldest daughter had colic. It lasted way beyond the typical three months. In fact most of her first year is a blur due to her constant crying and nursing. My middle daughter didn’t have it, mostly because I was still nursing her older sister as a toddler and she helped mitigate any extra milk. When my milk came in, three days after the birth of my youngest, I recognized the signs of strong letdown immediately.

We tried block feeding (nursing on only one side per session) for several weeks. This along with positioning the baby above my breast really didn’t seem to help at all. I resorted to pulling her off when my milk let down and spraying into a cloth then relatching her. But women have multiple letdowns during each nursing session, so this was extremely inconvenient when not at home. I was desperate for answers… so I turned to Dr. Google and came across a very interesting study in the International Breastfeeding Journal.

The Protocol
You can read the study for free here. But basically the protocol consists of pumping your breasts dry. I used a hospital grade pump from A Mother’s Boutique, but I’m sure you could use a regular double electric pump. Followed by a nursing session where the baby nurses freely from each side. This lasted several hours! And was followed by a very deep, comfortable sleep by my baby. When she woke up, I began nursing from one side and stayed on that side for 3-4 hours. Then I switched for the next block and continued on for the next week.

Day One
The day after doing this our baby was noticeably less fussy. She also had a really nice poop that she did on her own without much fuss. She was less gassy and easier to nurse. I did experience a bit of engorgement about 30 hours after the initial pumping session. This led to a crazy letdown. But I did not repeat the pump out and just allowed the milk to spray into a towel and then relatched.

Day Two
I was noticeably less engorged, but still full. Again, I had to take her off for the first couple of letdowns during the first nursing session of each block. But other than that, I did notice that my breasts were softer at the end of the block and I was certain she was getting more fat. She was still much less gassy and fussy.

Days Three and Four
I almost never have to take her off for any letdowns. I am leaking way less during feedings and even though I have spontaneous letdowns in between nursing sessions, I don’t leak at all during them. Her gas is back to a normal amount for a baby. She is still not really pooping regularly, but I no longer feel worried that it is due to an imbalance of too much fore milk.

Day Five (today)
No engorgement and my breasts always feel soft. I never have to take her off for letdown and my leaking is almost nonexistent. She was a little more fussy and gassy last night and today, but I suspect the six week growth spurt is the culprit. We are planning to return the pump tomorrow or Thursday because I am sure I won’t need to repeat the draining.

I am so happy that I discovered this study. It does not seem to be well known because the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh consultant that I spoke to had never heard of it. I hope that writing about it on my blog will help others find it.

Nothing on API’s website should be construed as medical or legal advice. API articles are provided for information purposes only. Consult your healthcare provider for your individual health and medical needs and attorney for legal advice.

Dr. Sears Comments on TIME Magazine’s Attachment Parenting Cover Article

Guest blogger Dr. Bill Sears shares his thoughts on the much talked about TIME Magazine Attachment Parenting Article, “The Man Who Remade Motherhood.”

Hello parents!  The cover was risky but a brilliant hook by Time Magazine to attract readers, and they achieved their goal.  The writer, Kate Pickert, herself a new mother and one of Time’s most diligent writers, sincerely wanted to increase awareness of the Sears’ family contribution to parenting and family health.  She lived with our family for two days, followed me in the office, and spent hours with me on the phone in an attempt to be factual.  While the cover photo is not what I or even cover-mom Jamie would have chosen, it accomplished the magazine’s purpose.  And, as some attachment dads observed, finally a magazine displays a woman’s breast for the real purpose for which they were designed – to nurture a child, not to sell cars and beer.  Cover-mom Jamie is a super-nice person and highly-educated in anthropology, nutrition and theology.  I enjoyed the several hours I spent with her family and her kids shined with the social effects of attachment parenting.

Even though I’m used to being misunderstood and misquoted, as is attachment parenting (AP), I had a few concerns.  AP is not extreme.  It’s very natural and instinctual.  It’s the oldest parenting style in the world.  Nor is breastfeeding three years extreme, at least throughout the world.  The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends for optimal health children be breastfed for at least two years and sometimes recommends three years.

Another misconception was AP is difficult for the mother who works outside the home.  It’s just the opposite.  Women are the greatest multi-taskers in the world.  AP, modified to the parents’ work schedule, helps busy parents reconnect with their child, which actually makes working and parenting easier.  It’s attachment moms that forged the long overdue workplace-friendly breastfeeding-pumping stations and laws which respect and value the ability of a working mother to continue part-time breastfeeding.

Regarding the science criticism, it’s impossible to scientifically prove by a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized study (the gold standard in science) that AP works better than a more distant style of parenting.  You would have to take a thousand mothers who practice AP and another thousand who don’t, and see how their kids turn out.  What parent would sign up for such a study?   Yet there is one long-term effect that science does agree on: The more securely-attached an infant is, the more securely independent the child becomes.

I’m disappointed the article did not pay more attention to the bottom-line of attachment parenting: how AP children turn out – and that’s where this style of parenting really shines.  In my 40 years of studying the long-term effects of what parents do to help their children turn out well, AP kids generally are more: empathetic and compassionate, relate better to people, are easier to discipline, and are just nicer to be around.  When I walk into an exam room in my office, an AP baby, like a little sunflower, naturally turns toward my face and lights up.  I’ve yet to see an AP child be a school bully.  On the contrary, they are the ones who try to comfort a hurting child.

Attachment parenting is not an all-or-nothing, extreme, or indulgent style of parenting.  I advise moms and dads that the seven Baby B’s (birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bedding close to baby, belief in baby’s cries, beware of baby trainers, and balance) are starter tools (remember, tools not rules) to help parents and infants get to know each other better.  And families can modify these tools to fit their individual family situation.

Over my years of mentoring attachment parents, the main two words of feedback I have heard is empowering and validating.  My “helper’s high” file is filled with thank you letters such as: “Thank you, Dr. Bill, for validating what my heart and gut tell me is right.”  “Thank you, Dr. Bill, for empowering us new parents with your personal experience to help us enjoy our children more.”

As an investment banker dad once told me: “AP is one of the best long-term investments you can make in giving your child a greater chance of growing up happier, healthier, and smarter.”  Aren’t those the three main qualities we all want for our children?

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

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