Thursday, December 27, 2012

Our survival as a human community

"...our survival as a human community may depend as much upon our nurture of love in infancy and childhood as upon the protection of our society from external threats." Dr. Selma Fraiberg Child Psychoanalyst, author & social worker These are haunting words from Dr. Selma Fraiberg that have also been a guidepost for me on my journey as a mother, teacher, parenting educator and child advocate. The shooting of 20 people at an elementary school, mostly young children...just babies really, is a tragedy beyond imagination. Our country has experienced 15 mass shootings in this year alone, which has brought us to a new level of violence that unfortunately is unparalleled in the world- unless compared to terrorism in other countries. Our response to these horrors is sadly becoming predictable; "Why or how did this happen?", "Where there signs that were missed?", "How can we prevent this from happening again?", "This was an act of pure evil." We react by trying to make our schools safer- so now we will have law enforcement patrolling the halls of elementary schools like we already do in middle and high schools, often with guard gates and ten foot fences in place. But the root reasons fail to be addressed, the deeper questions fail to be asked, real solutions fail to be implemented. For the most part, we know what creates a violent person but now it's becoming increasingly complicated. The solutions are multi-faceted and must not only include stronger gun control but better better care of children and better mental health care. Prescription psychotropic drugs could very well be at the root of many of these mass shootings, suicides and other forms of violence like familicide. Watch this trailor about a documentary on the dangers of psychotropic drugs and the drug industry called "Making a Killing: The Untold Story of Psychotropic Drugging." While I believe nurturing young children is the best model for prevention of many societal problems, it's not the only answer. Drugging our children may be causing lasting negative effects on their developing brains and they may have put the young shooter over the edge. Since the nineties it has been known that drugs like Ritalin can cause brain shrinkage and central nervous system damage over time. If abused it can cause psychotic behavior and violence, as can antidepressants. As we think about this horrible tragedy, my hope and prayer is that their lives will help us change as a society, that we pay attention to the emotional needs of children, that we teach them peaceful ways to solve problems and that we let them know we care because many don't believe that adults care about them. We have to wake up and become informed about what is going on in our families and our communities. We have to be advocates for ourselves and our children- if we don't educate ourselves, no one will do it for us.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Cover Shot Heard Round the World

Shockwaves still reverberate from the Mother's Day issue of TIME Magazine; you know the one with mother Jamie Grumet and her nearly three year old son (at the time)breastfeeding standing in a chair in his camos. Well, I'm happy, no thrilled to report that there's been a "do over" of that infamous cover shot. One of the most frequent criticisms by those who support child-led weaning is that a) it was exploitative and intended to create a visceral reaction and b) the TIME cover didn't accurately portray how a mom would actually nurse her toddler. So the editors of Pathways to Family Wellness Magazine decided to right this wrong and sent a photographer to photograph Jamie's beautiful family...check it out, it's gorgeous! The photographer is a former doula, Lori Dorman, who spent four hours photographing the family. Many other beautiful photos are included in this September issue. Here's how she felt about the whole thing: “Most mothers are shoved into the closets when it comes to nursing toddlers,” says Dorman. “It’s considered taboo in our culture, when in fact millions of women do it every day. The Time cover made it more difficult for those women to find acceptance. My goal was to correct the misperception that was created on the Time cover. Its message was that nursing a 3-year-old was outrageous and inappropriate, when in fact nursing a 3-year-old is a normal, healthy activity in the world today. There couldn’t be a healthier interaction between a mother and a child.” Also, I'm proud to say that Barbara Nicholson and I also have an article in this issue on The History of Attachment Parenting that is an excerpt from our book Attached at the Heart. After all we need to look at the big picture from a historical and theoretical perspective. Pathways to Family Wellness is an international, nonprofit, educational magazine with over 250 gathering groups meeting worldwide through Pathways Connect, an outreach project where families can safely explore holistic insights and empowering resources and find respectful support for their individual wellness choices. Order your own issue today at the Pathways to Family Wellness website.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Science of the Heart

My husband and I watched a documentary last night called
I Am
written and directed by Tom Shadyac, who set Jim Carrey on his career by directing him in Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty and many other movies. His story is about his journey, after a life-threatening accident, to answer two questions
What's wrong with the world?
What can we do about it?
We found the documentary fascinating, especially the information about the science of the heart, being conducted at the Heart Math Institute. What does this have to do with parenting? A lot! It helps us to understand how powerful the human heart is and that it has a stronger electromagnetic field than the brain, that our magnetic field influences other peoples electromagnetic fields, either positively or negatively. I know,it sounds very woo-woo but bear with me here. The heart has its own neurotransmitters and sends messages to the brain. Science also confirms that the heart produces hormones, stress hormones or oxytocin, the love hormone. What the documentary also showed through interviews with scientists was that new science supports that we humans are genetically encoded to be cooperative and compassionate rather than violent, it just depends on how we are raised in the family and the influences of the culture. It's no wonder that infants are so sensitive to our moods and to separation from their primary caregiver. An infants heart rate will synchronize with the mother's heart and the mother's brain will also synchronize with the infant's heart. It is a reciprocal physiological process in many known and unknown ways. It's very likely that the heart plays a large role in the parent-child attachment process. For certain, our heart is the seat of intuition and instincts, a fundamental principle of our book, Attached at the Heart. You can check it out yourself at the I Am documentary website. There's another You Tube video that's ten minutes long called Language of the Heart that's an interesting compilation of television clips on the heart science. The video quality isn't great but the information is very interesting. Ironically in the end, Tom Shadyac found a lot more of what is right with the world; that if we all just do our part to make the world a better place, no matter how small, it will significantly change our world for the better. I'm inspired by all the mothers, fathers, grandparents...all child advocates who truly get this message and are the conscious chain-breakers in their families.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Quit acting like a brat!
Stop acting like a sissy!
I brought you into this world, I can take you out!
Shut up or I'll slap you to kingdom come!
And the worst
I wish you had never born.
You may have heard these horrible words from your own parents or heard other parent say similar things to their children. Sometimes we get so frustrated we slip into another reality and hear ourselves saying the very words we told ourselves we would never say to our child. You are not alone. Just this month, in the August 2012 issue of Pediatrics, the Journal for the American Academy of Pediatrics published a study that found that verbal maltreatment and abuse is the most challenging and "prevalent form of psychological and emotional abuse and neglect" in our country. Verbal abuse has been linked to attachment disorders, socialization and conduct disorders, as well as educational problems. Given given is ironic that they mention that there are no known universal interventions but write that
prevention before occurrence will require both the use of universal interventions aimed at promoting the type of parenting that is now recognized to be necessary for optimal child development, alongside the use of targeted interventions directed at improving parental sensitivity to a child’s cues during infancy and later parent-child interactions.
This has long been the goal of Attachment Parenting International, a nonprofit I cofounded with Barbara Nicholson eighteen years ago. Barbara and I spent many years sifting through and compiling the research that supported optimal child development for our book Attached at the Heart. Lo and behold, most of the research was supportive of the principles of attachment parenting (AP). There are mountains to climb yet because some researchers and academics claim it isn't so, which only speaks to their lack of knowledge about AP. The media's portrayal of AP as extreme only serves to harm and confuse parents. While the results of the studies in this article may seem obvious, we still have a long way to go in learning how to treat children with respect and kindness. There are many tools and many programs available to teach positive parenting and positive discipline, including our new curriculum based on our book (still in testing mode at this date.) As they say, "when we know better we do better." It's been a lifelong journey for me and although my sons are adults now I am still learning and wishing I had evolved faster. It takes several generations to make lasting changes in families so I've learned to be kinder to myself as I have grown as a parent and a person and I have every confidence you will too.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why babies should never sleep alone

Below is a piece I wrote in response (slightly edited) to a discussion on cosleeping and bedsharing with fellow parenting educators which included placement of the baby. It's important to put this into dilemma into a larger context. This is long but necessary to explain the deeper layers of this debate. Read Dr. James McKenna's article Why Babies Should not Sleep Alone. Biologically speaking the human infant is designed to stay in close proximity with its mother or primary caregiver, with whose voice and smells it is accustomed to. The brain of the human infant is the most neurologically immature of all mammals with only 25% of the brain developed at birth. In many ways the human infant needs a fourth trimester of care similar to in utero. Yet our culture is driven by a need to force our infants to become independent, sometimes as soon as it is born! I've heard countless horror stories of mothers being told to let their baby cry-it-out within two weeks of birth by their pediatricians (who in general have no child development background by the way). One mother called me and said she had let her baby cry for seven....that's 7 hours trying to teach it to sleep on its own. She said she finally gave in to the baby...who was under a year old. There is also a belief that infants can manipulate, even at weeks and months old. This myth is common among parents and pediatricians. It's the underlying theme of sleep-training books that advise parents not to pick up their infant if it cries to much that it vomits in the bed. Just clean it up and put the baby back down because otherwise it would be reinforcing negative behavior (the old behaviorism model.) Neuroscientists will tell you that infants area incapable of manipulating. That would require higher cortical functions that have not yet developed. They are totally right-brained beings that initially use the right side of their brains, which means they only know what they feel: hungry, lonely, cold, hot, frightened, happy, joyful etc. Anthropologists have found that human infants are what are considered "carry" mammals, whose mothers produce milk that is low in protein and high in carbohydrates, which means it digests quickly , within a couple of hours, thereby requiring more frequent feeds, compared to cows, deer etc. whose milk is high in protein, low in carbohydrates. Accordingly, the offspring of different mammal subspecies are born with innate instincts and expectations of feeding and care upon birth. In our book, Attached at the Heart, we talk about the 4 Ps that human infants are born to expect: Proximity, Protection, Predictability and Play. In our care of human infants, we adults try to force them into being something they aren't designed to be, which creates tremendous stress for them. For many parents, they too have instincts but are often suppressed by societal pressures. The cry of the infant is meant to be disturbing to adults so that we will respond. It is the only way they can communicate. If left alone and not responded to, research has shown they they eventually shut down. I'm talking about infants under a year, not toddlers necessarily. If we look strictly at the research that has been conducted on infant cosleeping and separate sleeping, it was found that by having the infant in the same room as the parent reduced SIDS deaths by 50%, breastfeeding reduced SIDS by 50% as well. In thousands of hours of video tape taken by researchers of mothers bedsharing with their infants, never once did the researchers ever witness the mother come close to rolling over on her baby. I might add here too that in most instances infants are on their side, while breastfeeding and lay on their back more comfortably with the mother close by, encircling the baby with her arm. When an infant lays on her back any movement or sound can stimulate the startle reflex which is why, to a mother, seems like an unnatural way to put a baby to sleep. I just want to add that the research on infant deaths is still unclear and the research that is currently used is based on coronor's reports, emergency room reports, death notices etc. As of now there is no standard protocol when investigating infant deaths, although there are efforts to do so in certain cities and states. Unfortunately infants die for many reasons that we may never know. For decades it was called crib death and now that term is no longer used yet still infants die in cribs as do some in the adult bed. It is often assumed that when an infant dies in the adult bed that that the baby was accidentally suffocated rather than being an actual SIDS/SUID (Sudden Unexpected Infant Death. A complete death investigation needs to be conducted rather than relying on the opinions of coroners or unlicensed medical examiners. I and other colleagues have long been concerned about the practice of crying-it-out sleep training that is often recommended for newborns and infants under a year. In my opinion this is one of the most harmful practices we subject infants too and I am concerned that the practice is being recommended during such a fragile time of an infants life when SIDS is most prevalent. Like spanking, it may work but at what cost? Where is the evidence to show that it doesn't do long term damage to the baby's developing brain. There is growing evidence to show that extreme stress like being left to cry can cause a cascade of stress hormones that over time, can change the architecture of the brain. We must look at all variables and do a death scene investigation with a protocol in place in order to closely examine the causes for infant deaths, realizing that we may never know. I think what we are learning that a young infant should probably never sleep alone because if the baby is at least in the same room as the parent, the parent will be alerted and be able to intervene. Dr. Kathy Kendall-Tackett found in her survey of over 6,000 parents that because of their fear of sleeping with their child in the adult bed, and in an effort to comfort their babies in the middle of the night they were more likely to fall asleep on couches or recliners. A massive education campaign for safe infant sleep needs to be mounted rather than using advertising scare tactics and "just say no" approaches. Of course I would never suggest that all parents should bedshare with their infants because not every parent should. Families who exhibit risk factors should also be educated on creating a safe environment using a crib but all parents need to be educated about safe sleep. The AAP recommends "cosleeping" in other words, sleeping in close proximity, in the same room as the parents for the first six months of life but does not recommend bedsharing, as to be expected. Parents need to given good information and taught nurturing strategies to help them get through the difficult times when their baby is learning how to adapt to sleeping in their new world.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wishing You Peace

I haven' t written much lately but I wish for you and every family peace at heart and at home. Give your children your time and attention, allow their imaginations to flourish and instill in them compassion for all living things.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New research on breastfeeding- It's more than just nutrition

Here's an interesting article on breastfeeding research at LaTrobe University that examines other aspects of breastfeeding other than nutritional value or the physical mechanics. The research found a phenomenon that describes the mother and baby's relationship as "interembodied, an intense connection in which they exist as one entity rather than two separate entities. (We moms could have told them that) They observed that when an infant cried, the mother's body responded because it knew just what to do, produce milk! Breastfeeding moms have long known about the "let down" reflex that happens when they just think about their baby, the milk gushes forth- with the sole purpose of keeping baby nearby. Mother nature is incredible and so wise. If only we humans would listen and respect her design.